Matthew Caruana Galizia: "ever since then it’s just been like one long day"

One year after the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder the investigation in Malta is stalled. This is an in-depth interview with her son the journalist Matthew Caruana Galizia speaking about the toxic price of impunity, the day of the murder and the future of his home country.

Matthew Caruana Galizia Investigative journalist Matthew Caruana Galizia (photo: Berge Arabian)

How do you remember the 16. October 2017, the day that changed the life of your family as well as the way that  Europe thinks about itself?

I had gone back to Malta about a month and a half before, to live at my parents’ house and to work together with my mother. Because I could see that things were getting worse and worse in the country. After the publication of the Panama Papers in 2016 it was clear that my mother was the last, greatest threat to the impunity of these corrupt individuals. She was the only person holding them to account.

But because she was the only one holding them to account, it meant that all of the pressure was on her. While the prosecutor was doing nothing and the police were doing nothing, all the attacks from the corrupt politicians and business people were focussed on my mother. There was impunity for the corruption and there was also impunity for the attacks and intimidation that my mother suffered. I was really worried about the situation in Malta during the summer of last year. So I went back.

The 16 October 2017, was a normal day, a Monday. I was working on my computer, and my mother sat in front of me. That’s how the two of us normally worked, facing each other. At that time we shared a car. I didn’t have one, and she was renting one. That day she needed to go to the bank. My mother’s bank accounts had been frozen by the Economy Minister, so every time she needed to manage money in her account or to pay someone she had to physically go to the bank. So that afternoon she closed her laptop and she told me, “I am just going out for about two hours, I have to go to the bank. When I come back you can have the car“.

My parents’ house is in the countryside. The only thing you can hear is birds. I could hear my mother drive away and I continued working. About three minutes after my mother had started the car, I could hear a very loud explosion. I knew it was a car bomb straight away.

I was just wearing jeans and a T-shirt, no shoes, and I ran out of the house, all the way down the road. I could see a big cloud of black smoke that went very high. I just ran towards it. But because the car had been completely blown to pieces I couldn’t see the car anywhere. I just saw the fire.

Ever since then it’s just been like one long day. Even though it happened a year ago, it still feels like it happened yesterday. But I knew right in that moment that we would be fighting for the rest of our lives.

Before the murder, people were trying everything to discredit her and to isolate her because of her work. Could you describe this technique of turning a journalist into the enemy?

My mother described it as a process of making her from a positive role model into a negative one. This was one of the things she worried about most. The idea was to make an example of her and to show other people: “this is what happens if you step out of line, if you don’t obey“. And because she was a woman and a mother, a large part of the attacks were highly misogynistic. The party that is currently in government as well as members of the current opposition party would depict my mother as a witch. During the last election in 2017 and even before that in 2013 the currently governing party put my mother’s face on a billboard without any explanation. Just my mother’s face on a billboard. It was a very unflattering picture, obviously designed to mock my mother, so that people would look at it and laugh. It was a long process of dehumanisation but in the last couple of years it has accelerated. As her reporting on corruption intensified, because it became worse, the harassment also became worse.

In this sense the campaign of intimidation and harassment is something that is very well organised, by the state in a sense, because the state has been taken over by this political party. It’s not a question of tolerance, it’s entirely rooted in corruption and impunity.

I mean this is the way organised crime works in Italy. When, for example, a teenage girl is murdered in the streets because her boyfriend is part of the Camorra in Naples they would say that she was a prostitute or something like that. They would dehumanise her and make it seem like she deserved it, she was asking for it. It’s the same kind of technique. With all the previous attacks on my mother the attitude was always that she should just keep quiet. If she just keeps quiet nothing will happen to her.

Your mother did ask for police protection, but they didn’t help her enough, not like the police do in Italy where we know dozens of journalists have round-the-clock police protection. Is there an explanation for this difference?

Because it presents a problem for the government! If 90 percent of her reporting is about corruption within the government, and then the government gives her police protection, the implication is that the people in government are dangerous.

In Italy the government can say, look, the problem is organised criminal groups that operate outside of the political system. But in Malta one cannot say that, because the reporting is on corruption within the government and business and criminal links within the government. There was always a reluctance to give my mother protection precisely because of this. It would recognise that the people she was reporting on were dangerous. The last time that there was police protection, there was one policeman outside the house for two weeks or less after the election last year. Even many months after the protection ended, members of Parliament from the governing party were asking questions in Parliament saying, ‚How can we justify that she has protection? How much money is being spent on her protection?’ So they would deliberately spread the rumour that my mother was being protected even though she wasn’t at all,  to make it seem as if she was a burden to the state.

Right after the murder, members oft he government celebrated it in closed Facebook groups and those people are still in office. What does this say about the morality in politics and the rule of law in Malta?

As I said, there is impunity for corruption and there is impunity for violence against people who denounce corruption. There were absolutely no repercussions for any of these people, absolutely none. Even though they are people that are kind of disposable, they are not very important to the government. The government’s response to criticism like this is that they are exercising their freedom of speech while celebrating the assassination. The PM would say, “I don’t agree with celebrating the murder but these people are free to say whatever they want. I cannot stop them.”

ECPMF’S Legal Advisor Flutura Kusari was just in Malta and also met Prime Minister Muscat. When she asked him when there will be a proper investigation into your mother’s murder, he said that he is satisfied with the arrests of the suspects and that he refuses to be the scapegoat of the media. How to find the masterminds of the murder? Do you still see any chance?

I see a chance but not with the current system. I don’t want to be fatalistic, but with the way things are currently there can be no justice and we will never know who was behind the assassination. But what my brothers, my father and I are trying to do is to change the current system, and to force the institutions to do their job, so that we can find out what happened, so that there will be justice. Currently there is a brick wall but we have to start breaking it apart brick by brick.

What can politics do to safeguard the lives of journalists in the EU? The EU looked almost helpless when confronted with the murders in Slovakia and Malta. What do you ask of them?

Both my life experience and what was done to my mother shows me that the safety of journalists within the European Union is completely dependent on actions being taken against corruption.

In all the countries of the EU there are journalists reporting on corruption. But in most countries of continental Europe, when there are reports on corruption there are repercussions. But what happened in Malta and what is happening in other fringe countries of Europe is that there was impunity for the initial reports of corruption and then for the second and then for the third... And then it got to a point where people like my mother are spending all of their time defending their reports and cannot deal with all of the corruption. They become highly exposed. The lesson from all this is that continued impunity leads to a heightened threat of violence against journalists. You eventually get into a cycle and the murder becomes inevitable. You can see this for example in Romania where the government has removed the anti-corruption prosecutor. There is no one else left except the journalists, who are now at extreme risk.

What message should German politicians give Maltese ones if they meet them?

That if the Maltese politicians continue to sit back and not take action, Malta will continue to be a problem for the entire European Union. If Malta were Tunisia, say,  which is completely isolated from the European Union it wouldn’t be a problem. But because corrupt individuals and criminal groups based in Malta have access to the whole Euro zone and the Schengen area it is a problem for everyone. The toxicity spreads to the rest of Europe. It’s not something that will be contained in Malta. What the Member States of Europe have to do is to decide that it’s recognised that Malta has reached this point of complete failure of its institutions and to contain the problem.

Just to give you one example, one of my mother’s major investigations was Pilatus Bank, a private Bank in Malta set up by an Iranian man that was being used by Maltese and Azerbaijani politicians and their inner circles to launder money. She had been reporting on this bank for two years but the European Banking Authority only requested an investigation from its supervisory board right after my mother was murdered. Up until then European politicians, especially within the Commission, were obviously hoping that the problem would go away. But at that point when my mother was murdered there was a recognition in the Commission that Malta is incapable of solving its problems. Of course it’s unsustainable for Malta to rely on the Commission to solve its own problems. So the objective of European politicians should be to force Maltese institutions and politicians to do their job. Malta has to become a functioning state again, like restarting an engine. And in my family’s opinion this restart will both help us to get justice for our mother and justice for her stories about corruption. It’s also the only way to prevent future murders!

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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –