Hello, and welcome to this the second and concluding part of our look at the life and death of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Two weeks ago, we heard about the circumstances of her death and we followed the movements of her alleged killers in the days and hours leading up to the car bombing that took her life.
This week, we will review the major investigations in which she was engaged, work that angered many powerful people - work that very probably led to her death. And we will ask, who might have been behind the assassination of one of the most fearless journalists of our time? But first, I’d like to take this opportunity to ask you a question. Did you tune into the premier of our sister show, Fab Figmentals, last week? If so, then I hope you enjoyed it! If you haven’t checked it out yet, then I highly recommend that you do! Just go to fabfigmentals.com to find out more.
This is the last episode of Season 3. Can you believe it? We started this season back in March, and we’ve looked at a range of assassinations targeting journalists from around the world. It’s been very interesting to focus on the world of journalism, from our first case, when we took a deep, three-part dive to look into the recent murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And then we examined more historical cases, such as the killing of South African journalist and freedom fighter Ruth First and Taiwanese writer Henry Liu.
We’re living in a time when journalists are seemingly coming under greater risks, including in countries that have traditionally enjoyed a fairly healthy freedom of the press. So, I’m really glad that we chose this as the theme of this season. And during the mid-roll of this episode I’m going to briefly tell you about a way in which you can help to support the cause of press freedom all around the world.
We’ll also have a Patreon bonus material available this week, including a “Behind the Episode” to accompany this case - more details about that at the end of the show.
Stick around to also find out about our upcoming schedule and … drumroll please … an announcement about our fourth season! And now, let us proceed with the conclusion to our investigation of the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
There were many people who might have wanted Daphne dead.
Her investigations, published on her hugely popular blog, Running Commentary, targeted politicians, businessmen, police officials, and mobsters. Her work was focused on Malta, but because the island is low-regulation entrepôt for the world to gain access to the European Union, those investigations inevitably involved international personages of less than savory character. For example, in February of 2017, Caruana Galizia wrote in her blog about a mysterious company, based in Dubai, called 17-Black Limited. She claimed that this company was connected to Maltese politicians, though she was unable to publish confirmatory evidence.
Despite her best efforts, Daphne was not able to uncover just who owned the company. Yet there was something very odd about 17-Black Limited, and something rather fishy about its alleged links to influential people on the island. We’ll come back to this later. But suffice it to say that this was but one dark corner of life in Malta into which Daphne attempted to shed some light.
She also looked into the repercussions of Malta emerging as the epicenter of the online gambling business in Europe. Due to its light-as-a-feather regulatory system, the country is the ideal location for many Internet betting operations. In its quest to become the gambling hub of Europe, Daphne wrote, Malta had left the doors open to abuse. She alleged there were ties between Italian organized crime and Malta’s gaming industry. And she was right. In the months after her death, other journalists took up the case, helping to uncover the extensive role of the Mafia, which used the lax oversight in order to use gambling as a mechanism to launder dirty money and transfer funds across national borders.
Perhaps the biggest scheme that she investigated was the cash-for-passports program that the Maltese government offers to very rich foreigners. In Malta, an individual can gain citizenship in return for a €650,000 contribution to the island’s development fund and the purchase or lease of real estate, as well as investments of at least €150,000 in government bonds.
Malta’s scheme does not require new citizens to actually spend any time in the properties they purchase or rent. This is extremely attractive to all sorts of people because the holder of a Maltese passport has citizenship not just of the tiny island nation, but of the European Union, of which Malta is a member state.
This program, also known as “golden passports” has made the government of Malta a fortune. Since the scheme was launched in January 2014, it has brought in an estimated €850 million. This has helped to turn a Malta’s chronic public spending deficit into a healthy surplus, thanks to hundreds of wealthy Chinese, Russian, Arab, and other individuals - often with their entire families - all looking for the security and opportunities of an EU passport.
These so-called “golden passports” have become a matter of serious concern for other European governments, and their law enforcement and intelligence agencies. With a Maltese passport, anyone can move freely around Europe with very little scrutiny. Freedom of movement within the EU was designed to facilitate economic and cultural opportunity for the residents of the continent, breaking down the old national barriers. But freedom of movement was most assuredly not intended to be granted willy-nilly to people from out with the EU who just so happen to have bought a passport without actually being resident in a member state.
Many officials have expressed grave concerns that Malta’s program of selling passports provides an enormous opportunity for criminals looking to get around the EU’s various legal and border security protections. Daphne had raised concerns about the close relationship between the company that facilitates the cash-for-passports scheme, a business called Henley & Partners, with the the government of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.
The entire “golden passport” idea was designed and is run by Henley & Partners, which collects a commission on every passport sold and has so far made nearly €20m from its contract with the Maltese government. Henley also provides this “service” in a several other countries, including in the Caribbean islands that have free movement agreements with various European nations.
In her Running Commentary blog, Daphne reported on the cozy relationship between Muscat and the CEO of Henley & Partners, a Swiss man named Christian Kalin. Mr Kalin is, quite rightly, known as the “passport king”. Part of his exclusive deal with the government of Malta involves having Prime Minister Muscat fly around the world to promote Henley & Partners to other small nations who might be interested in hawking citizenship for cash.
As big a story as this was, could it be that it was another investigation, involving even more dangerous forces, that led to her demise? Caruana Galizia was investigating a smuggling ring based in Malta. Run by Italian-based mafiosi, the operation allegedly involved trafficking in drugs and undocumented migrants; untaxed cigarettes; unlicensed fishing; and fuel stolen from the stockpiles of Libya, which have become a honeypot for criminals in the aftermath of the downfall of the Gaddafi government.
As we mentioned in the episode two weeks ago, Malta has a long history as a smugglers’ paradise. Its location in the Mediterranean, located between Sicily, North Africa, and the Levant, makes it an ideal stopping off point, or place where cargoes can be transferred. In addition, Malta’s lax regulatory environment allows shell companies to be easy established, avoiding accountability, and ships can change names and flags with little oversight.
The authorities in Italy were all too aware of the sort of things that were going on in Malta. In their battle against the Mafia and its network of smuggling operations, Italian police, customs officials, and intelligence officers knew that the island was a key crossroad of illegal trafficking at sea. Italian investigators knew that smugglers either bribed hard-up fisherman, or masqueraded as fishermen themselves, in order to fill the holds of relatively small and innocuous vessels with illegal cargo. Oftentimes, these illicit goods were transferred ship-to-ship on the edge of Malta’s territorial waters. The boats would anchor in a shallow area and a million cigarettes from Turkey or a ton of hashish from Morocco or a group of terrified migrants from Libya might be transferred to another boat headed the few miles north to Sicily.
This was the underworld in which the alleged killers of Daphne Caruana Galizia operated. The brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio maintained an old shed in a seedy port area near Valletta, the capital of Malta, as their hangout. It was in this part of the island that many criminal activities were centered. Many of the crews based in these parts live on or very near their boats, supposedly so they can quickly take off whenever asked by their organized crime paymasters. According to one person who knows the area, when word comes in that a transshipment needs to take place, the captain will rouse his crew and take off at the drop of a hat. This way, the smuggling operations can remain flexible, with orders coming in via burner phones at the last minute, the locations of the handovers changing as needed - all keeping a step ahead of any watchful authorities. As one police detective put it, law enforcement’s only hope is to try to keep up. “We are in a real battle,” he said, “a guerrilla war.”
The Degiorgio brothers, and their motor yacht, the Maya, were being monitored by Maltese authorities for their suspected role in smuggling operations. The intelligence gathered by this surveillance turned out to be of great importance when it came to the investigation of the murder of Caruana Galizia. Because the authorities were watching the Maya and tapping George Degiorgio’s phone, they were able to place him in the area of the Grand Harbor of Valletta at the time when he allegedly used a burner phone to detonate the bomb planted under her car.
The alleged involvement of the brothers in the assassination did not come as a surprise to those who knew them. They were dangerous men amongst a world of dangerous men. And despite their arrest, and the ongoing efforts to target smuggling operations, the criminals still keep on doing as they have always done. As one source said to those still investigating these highly lucrative operations: “Be careful with this world of traffickers you are investigating. Who do you think killed Daphne?”
We’ll be right back.
This season, we’ve looked into eight cases in which journalists have been targeted for assassination as a result of their work, which often involved exposing the malfeasance of powerful people within government. On several occasions, I’ve used quotes from an international journalism organization called Reporters Without Borders. They work to free imprisoned journalists, expose repressive measures that undermine or attack the freedom of the press, and they promote the reinforcement of international regulations governing the safety of journalists.
The organization keeps track of those who have been killed in the line of their work. For example, just since the start of 2019, twenty-one people working in the journalistic profession have been killed around the world. One of the most high-profile things that Reporters Without Borders does is the annual World Press Freedom Index, which provides a snapshot of the media environment in every country, based on an evaluation of pluralism, the independence of the media, legal protections given to secure free speech, and the overall safety of journalists. For example, the 2019 Index finds that the best country in the world for press freedom is Norway. Britain comes in a number 33. The United States is ranked number 48 in the world. Russia is all the way down at number 147, with Saudi Arabia near the very bottom at 172.
Through gathering and disseminating data on freedom of the press, lobbying for improvements, including legislative and international protection, and organizing events to promote free speech protections, Reporters Without Borders works to save lives and defend the right to free speech, rights that are - perhaps more so than for a very long time - either denied outright or are coming under threat.
If you would like to find out more about Reporters Without Borders, or if you would like to find out how to support the important work that they do, then please check out their website: rsf.org that’s rsf.org
Now, back to the show.
All of these investigation, initiated by Caruana Galizia in her blog, have been taken up by other journalists in the aftermath of her assassination. And, as we shall see, many people are also helping her family in their pursuit of justice.
As we heard earlier, in the months leading up to her murder, Daphne was looking at a suspicious business entity called 17-Black Limited. After her death, this investigation and several others were taken up by a group of journalists under the banner of “The Daphne Project”.
Made up of 45 journalists representing 18 news organizations from 15 countries, they picked up her work and kept digging in order to get to the bottom of the many leads she left behind.
The Daphne Project was coordinated and led by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based organization established specifically to continue the work of journalists around the world who have been killed or imprisoned.
The project was provided with a home by a website called the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which, according to its website, facilitates the sharing of documents and information across the participating organizations and assigned researchers and reporters to investigate the many allegations about wrongdoing among Malta’s elite.
The global news agency Reuters, working with others, helped to unravel the mystery of 17-Black that Daphne had only just scratched the surface of.
They discovered that Malta’s anti-money laundering watchdog had identified a man named Yorgen Fenech, a Maltese property developer, as the owner of the mysterious 17-Black company. This was based on information gathered from a bank in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. It turned out that Mr Fenech is a director and co-owner of another business group that in 2013 won a large contract in the energy sector from the Maltese government. This was a 450 million euro (or $517 million) gas-fired power station on the island. This alone is not suspicious. But further digging uncovered some quite extraordinary details.
In 2015, Fenech’s company received emails from accountants representing two senior officials within the Maltese government. We encountered these two men in the last episode: Konrad Mizzi, who was Malta’s energy minister from 2013 to 2016, and Keith Schembri, the prime minister’s chief of staff. It seems from the emails that Mizzi and Schembri were both expecting to receive payments from 17-Black Limited. Up to $2 million was expected to be paid to Panama companies owned by the Maltese officials - the very same companies that Caruana Galizia had identified as belonging to them, following the leak of the Panama Papers in 2015.
Schembri and Mizzi both told Reuters in October 2018 that they had no knowledge of any connection between 17-Black Limited and Yorgen Fenech, or of an agreement to make payments relating to Fenech or regarding the power station. Mr Fenech denied making any plans to pay any politician. A statement from the prime minister’s office confirmed that the activities of 17-Black were under investigation, and that it was necessary to “await the conclusion of this process and act accordingly”. No charges have so far been leveled by Maltese authorities against anyone associated with the 17-Black affair.
Just as Daphne’s friends, family, supporters, and fell-journalists have committed themselves to continuing her life’s work, they have also striven to get justice for her death. The three Maltese men who were arrested in December, 2017 for the murder have still not been brought to trial. Unless they get to have their day in court soon, they will be released on bail. And, crucially, nobody has been arrested for ordering the assassination.
Daphne’s sons and supporters have taken the case to international bodies in an effort to pressure the Maltese authorities to take the necessary steps to punish the men who set off the car bomb and also find out who was ultimately responsible for the crime.
The Council of Europe, a human rights organization encompassing 47 members states across Eurasia, issued a report in May of this year, calling for an independent public inquiry into the case. They also criticized the, quote, “glacial pace” of the investigation thus far in Malta.
In its report, the Council of Europe - of which Malta is a member state - listed the corruption scandals identified by Caruana Galizia and pointed to the systematic shortcomings in the island nation’s legal and regulatory systems. Regarding the failure to bring the three accused men to trial, the report stated:
The police investigation was delayed by the authorities’ refusal to remove an officer with a conflict of interest. The police failed to obtain information from Ms. Caruana Galizia's laptop when it was offered to them.
Regarding the general situation in Malta, the Council of Europe report stated that the rule of law in Malta has been undermined by the weaknesses in its system of checks and balances. Noting that powerful individuals such as Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri appear to enjoy impunity, thanks to the patronage of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, the report expressed the belief that the death of Caruana Galizia, and the problems with the investigation into her death, illustrate the serious damage that can result from Malta’s systems of law, order, and government accountability.
The Council of Europe stated that Malta needs to carry out fundamental reforms, such as introducing effective checks and balances, ensuring judicial independence, and strengthening the ability of law enforcement to investigate allegations of official corruption. Pointing to the so-called “Golden Passports” scheme, the report claimed that Malta’s problems inevitably became a source of vulnerability for all of Europe, as granting Maltese citizenship to anyone willing and able to pay means giving all sorts of questionable characters access to European Union citizenship, free movement across much of the continent, while an account with a Maltese bank gives people and businesses access to the European banking system. In short, the report stated, and I quote: “If Malta cannot or will not correct its weaknesses, European institutions must intervene.”
The Maltese government criticized the report as “riddled with inaccurate and gratuitous statements exposing a very biased agenda, which is not based on the true picture of the matter.”
Whether all of this results in meaningful change on the island, or even just taking a step forward in achieving justice for Daphne and her family, remains to be seen.
Speaking with the Guardian newspaper, Matthew Caruana Galizia, her eldest son, who is also an investigative journalist, said that he had never met anyone like his mother.
She had the energy of 10 people. She could do so many things at the same time, accomplish so much. She never did anything half-heartedly; she did everything with passion and intelligence.
Matthew added: “My mother was living in fear, but she was also focused on doing her work. She refused to give in to intimidation.”
He said that the Daphne Project would continue, regardless of the outcome of the investigation into her death. “We have no choice – and that’s the position of my entire family,” he said.
Asked if he was concerned about his own safety, he answered: “Yes, I am frightened, especially for my father. He is in Malta almost all the time, whereas I am often away. But unless we carry on, there will never be justice.”
Matthew went on:
Growing up, even from a very young age, I knew the problem was not with my mother but with the people who were telling her to stop writing the things she did.
I remember going to school the day after the front door of our house was set on fire, and the teacher in my class saying “your mother should not have written these things”. The problem was not my mother. It’s like blaming a woman who walks down the street wearing a skirt for her own rape. It’s just another kind of victim-blaming.
Even though the threat of violence is still there, we’re not going to let it paralyze us. I’m proud of my mother. Of course I wish she was still alive, but I’m proud of the fact that this is what it took to stop her.
Thank you for tuning into this episode of Assassinations Podcast.
This is the last episode of Season 3, and we’ll be back three weeks, on August 5th, with the first episode of Season 4 of the show.
We’re glad to announce that our upcoming season will be on the theme of dynasties. We’re going to look at assassinations by and within powerful families throughout history.
If you’re looking for something to get you through the next few weeks when Assassinations Podcast is off air, then please check out our sister show, Fab Figmentals. Launched last week, the show is hosted by our very own Lindsey Morse, producer of this show. Each week she shares a story about a mythical creature before going into the background of the legend.
On Wednesday of this week Lindsey will be telling an original story and talking about the legend of the Japanese baku, a strange creature who can eat nightmares.
This episode was researched & written by me, Niall Cooper. Lindsey Morse produces and edits the show. Our theme music was created by Graeme Ronald.
For our Patreon supporters, this week we will have three - yes, three - bonus mini-episodes for you. There will be a “Behind the Episode”, to accompany the Caruana Galizia case; a Season 3 round-up; and also a short episode in which I’ll talk about the case of an Indian journalist whose work has recently been honored with the Anna Politkovskaya Award.
You can gain access to these bonus episodes, and also support the show, by making a pledge through Patreon at patreon.com/assassinationspodcast.
Thank you so much for tuning in, and we look forward to seeing you in three weeks’ time.
Until then, goodbye.
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