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Daphne's message lives on



Superhuman. Thoughtful. Hated being bullied. Bold, but shy. A great present-giver. That’s how Matthew Caruana Galizia describes his mother.

Investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is widely known for probing the activities of Malta’s ruling elite and her death in October 2017 after a car bomb planted on her vehicle exploded outside of her home. She was 53 and the most famous journalist in Malta.

To her children she was an energetic and thoughtful mother. “She would be working on these major corruption stories, but at the same time, for example, in May 2017, a few months before her murder, she was planning my brother’s wedding, which was a huge operation with hundreds of guests,” Matthew says in a recent interview with Fraud Magazine.

To the Maltese citizens, she was a tireless champion for the fight against government corruption. “You can kill the messenger, but not the message,” said investigative journalist, Bastian Oberymayer, of his friend in a 2019 interview with Fraud Magazine. According to the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, her blog, “Running Commentary,” still regularly attracts more views than the combined circulation of all of Malta’s newspapers.

To the ACFE, she’s the 2020 Guardian Award Winner, presented annually to a journalist whose determination, perseverance and commitment to the truth has contributed significantly to the fight against fraud. Matthew, 33, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and software engineer, will be accepting the posthumous award for her.

Tirelessly exposing government corruption

On April 3, 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released the Panama Papers, which exposed a widespread system of global tax evasion. Leaked internal documents from Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider, revealed offshore holdings of 140 politicians and public officials from around the world, more than 214,000 offshore entities connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories, and major banks that had driven the creation of hard-to-trace companies in offshore havens. (See Journalist finds strength in numbers to keep truth alive, by Emily Primeaux, CFE, Fraud Magazine, January/February 2019.)

Daphne had combed through the leaked law firm records and found offshore wealth tied to the Maltese prime minister’s inner circle, according to Who Ordered the Car Bomb That Killed Maltese Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia? by Joanna Kakissis, NPR, July 22, 2018. Coincidentally, Matthew, an employee of the ICIJ, worked on the Panama Papers as a web and software developer.

However, long before the Panama Papers, Daphne gravitated toward activism. In 1982, she was thrown in jail at 18 years of age for protesting against what she felt was a corrupt government. (See Why murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is back in the news, Sharon Braithwaite and Barbie Latza Nadeau, CNN, Nov. 30, 2019.) According to the article, she spent her early career writing for Malta’s largest publications, including the Sunday Times of Malta and The Malta Independent. She remained a columnist with The Malta Independent for the rest of her career.

In March 2008, Daphne started her blog, “Running Commentary,” which included investigative reporting and commentary on current affairs and public figures.

Daphne had been digging into Malta’s ruling elite when, in 2016, she broke a story on her blog about a string of secret Panama-based companies tied to Maltese politicians. The blog posts included allegations of corruption against Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s wife. The couple has denied the allegations.

Thousands would read “Running Commentary,” in which Daphne asked uncomfortable questions about alleged fuel smuggling, organized crime and the sale of Maltese passports, which allow free movement through the EU, according to the NPR article.

“My mother paid more attention to the systems,” says Matthew. “Instead of focusing on the details of crime or the lower level of crime, she focused on what enables it. What enables large-scale fraud. What enables large-scale corruption. What enables kleptocracy. She focused on the enabling structures or the enabling culture, which is the whole system of organized crime that has formed in Malta.”

Newspapers might report on the everyday details of crime, like small cases of tech crime, or everyday corruption, like bribes, or drug smuggling, he says. Daphne focused on the system that enables those kinds of crimes, like the links between politicians and organized criminals. Matthew says her sources were many, and she relied heavily on leaks.

“When we journalists do get leaks, our investigations become very effective because we can collaborate very readily and easily across borders,” Matthew says. “As for judicial authorities and for the police, it’s more difficult than it is for us. … For journalists there are no borders. For police and judicial authorities there are real and hard borders that prevent them exchanging information and collaborating.”

Something’s got to give

In February 2017, Daphne wrote in her blog about a mystery company in Dubai called 17 Black Limited. She alleged it was connected to Maltese politicians but didn’t have evidence to support this claim. (See Exclusive: Mystery company named by murdered Maltese journalist is linked to power station developer, by Stephen Grey and Tom Arnold, Reuters, Nov. 9, 2018.) “She was unable to discover who owned the company, and it was unclear whether 17 Black had any significance,” according to the Reuters article.

Eight months later, Daphne was murdered, which renewed interest in her many different claims. Reuters and other media have started to unravel the mystery, discovering that Yorgen Fenech, a prominent Maltese businessman, was identified as the owner of 17 Black.

Clockwise from left: Flowers and tributes for the murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia lay at the foot of the Great Siege monument March 9, 2018, in Valetta, Malta. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images for The Daphne Project); Daphne and her three sons, Paul, Andrew and Matthew in 1989 at the Lisbon Zoo; Peter and Daphne Caruana Galizia with their sons in 1989 in Valletta, Malta; Daphne at her home. (Photos supplied by Getty Images for The Daphne Project)

Matthew believes that it was her relentless investigation of government corruption and constant commentary that ultimately led to her death. “I could see that we were putting more and more evidence of really high-level corruption, like Russian-style kleptocracy, out into the public domain. And it was hard evidence of corruption, that not even the government were negating,” Matthew says. “At a point, you could see that something was going to have to give. Either there has to be a prosecution of the people involved and the government has to go, or the people putting this information out into the public domain have to go.”

Daphne’s last revelations pointed the finger at Muscat and two of his closest aides. She connected offshore companies linked to the three men with the sale of Maltese passports and payments from the government of Azerbaijan. (See Malta car bomb kills Panama Papers journalist, by Juliette Garside, The Guardian, Oct. 16, 2017.)

Matthew and his family were no strangers to intimidation tactics — the front door of their house was set on fire in 1996 and later the family dog had its throat slit and was laid on their doorstep. “She hated being bullied. You could not bully my mother into anything,” Matthew says. “Which is why she was so good at this work. Because she just would not have it. … When she published her stories and the government reacted hysterically to it, she took that as a cue that there was something more and that she should keep pushing. … She knew the best way to deal with people like that was to stand up to them and not to give into them.”

However, in the week leading up to Daphne’s death, Matthew says he felt an impending sense of doom. In her final blog post before her death she wrote, “There are crooks everywhere you look. The situation is desperate.” And as she drove away from her home near Bidnija, in the Maltese countryside, a car bomb exploded, killing her instantly. Matthew ran outside and rushed to the burning car, but she was already dead.

Justice served?

In 2018, police arrested three men in connection with the car bombing: brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio and their friend, Vincent Muscat (no relation to Joseph Muscat). The three suspects pleaded not guilty during pre-trial proceedings. (See Daphne Caruana Galizia: Malta journalist’s murder suspects to stand trial, BBC News, July 16, 2019.)

In November 2019, a suspected middleman in the murder was arrested. After he received a presidential pardon in return for information, he said Fenech had paid for the assassination. Fenech was arrested while trying to flee Malta on board his yacht. He denies accusations of complicity in the killing. (See Exposing Malta’s dark side: ‘Daphne’s story is far from over,’ by Juliette Garside, interviewed by Sophie Zeldin-O’Neill, Feb. 8, 2020, The Guardian.)

According to The Guardian article, soon after Fenech’s arrest, two cabinet members resigned: the former energy minister Konrad Mizzi and the prime minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri. They’d allegedly been due to receive payments from 17 Black.

In December 2019, Joseph Muscat stepped down as Malta’s prime minister after calls for his resignation had grown following Daphne’s death. Matthew says it was the first time in his life that he’d seen the Maltese people so angry. “I have never seen anything like it,” Matthew says. “People actually surrounded the justice minister’s car while he was trying to leave outside of parliament. They prevented his car from leaving. … I’ve never seen anything like that. People were really, really angry. They weren’t violent, they just wanted to send a message that he couldn’t make a speech and then go home and have dinner with his girlfriend. They wanted to disrupt his life in the same way that everyone else’s lives have been disrupted.” According to Matthew, Muscat left the parliament in a “very cowardly way” through a hidden exit.

In 2019, activist group Repubblika organized an anti-government march in Valetta, the capital of the tiny Mediterranean archipelago nation. Led by Daphne’s family, thousands of people took part in a march from parliament to the central courthouse. (See Malta’s PM to step down amid Daphne Caruana Galizia investigation, The Guardian, Dec. 1, 2019.)

Inspiring others and avoiding cynicism

Matthew says he hopes that the Guardian Award will inspire and encourage others. “There’s nothing I can do to bring my mother back but accepting the award and it being dedicated to her, I hope it inspires others to follow that same path. To take the same approach to finding corruption like my mother did, or to fight it in the first place. This is what I hope for,” Matthew says.

When asked what he thinks his mother would’ve said had she been able to accept the award herself, he laughs and says, “The funny thing is, my mother was very shy! She hated these kinds of public appearances.”

Matthew has some advice for fraud examiners, many of whom have been fighting corruption endlessly for years. “No matter how difficult the situation might seem, and how sometimes it seems like we’re just a few people trying to stop these massive underground rivers of money flowing around the world, we have to do whatever we can,” Matthew says. “We have to never become cynical while we’re doing it. This is the greatest risk I see for people doing this kind of work — that people will start to think, ‘it will always be like this. There’s nothing we can do to change it.’ Or ‘why bother?’ We have to bother.”

“There is something else I should say before I go: when people taunt you or criticise you for being 'negative’ or for failing to go with their flow, for not adopting an attitude of benign tolerance to their excesses, bear in mind always that they, not you, are the ones who are in the wrong.” — Daphne Caruana Galizia

Emily Primeaux, CFE, is associate editor of Fraud Magazine. Contact her at eprimeaux@ACFE.com.






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