The Killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia

Daphne Caruana Galizia was brutally murdered on October 16th

Daphne Caruana Galizia was the most dangerous person in Malta.

I probably don’t need to tell you who she is anymore, because her name is making the news worldwide.

I first came into contact with Daphne on January 13, 2017. But of course I knew her work well by that point, because I had been a twice-daily reader of her blog for the past 6 years.

Admittedly, I found her blog when googling key words like “Malta sucks” or “I hate Malta”, and I would laugh at some of her more scathing articles when island life had driven me to despair, and to a point where I felt like the only sane person in a lunatic asylum. It felt good to know that someone else recognized just how strange this little island was, and how bizarre were some of the things that passed as normal.

To cite the name of Daphne was to take sides in the ongoing village football match that is Maltese politics. I would be dismissed by half the population of that country simply for admitting that I followed her work. People asked me sometimes, “Do you read Daphne?” But they always whispered and looked over their shoulder while saying it.

This is unfortunate, because Daphne was the only proper investigative journalist on the island.

While the main national newspapers were parroting whatever government press release was published that day, holding up clear, documented paper trails of evidence alongside nonsense like, “Konrad said he didn’t do it,” and printing, “It’s anyone’s guess what happened — you decide,” Daphne did what any self-respecting journalist should do. She dug. She followed her instincts. She published what she found, and she stood by her carefully-researched words.

Her blog and her columns in the Malta Independent became a lone voice of sanity in a sea of whataboutism, shrugging, avoidance, and pathological allergies to personal responsibility. And as Malta descended into astonishing depths of corruption, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s blog was at the forefront in exposing it all.

I remember January 13, 2017 so well because I logged on to her site that afternoon to see my own name at the top of the page.

Someone had sent her an article I wrote for Outpost online three years earlier about the challenges of living in a developing country. Daphne shared it with her audience, and then fiercely defended my views in the comments. 

It was a strange coincidence because I had just left the island that week after 6 long years of residency. I wrote her immediately to correct a couple details, she responded in minutes, and we began to correspond by email.

I became a regular featured commenter on Daphne’s blog, and I wrote two guest articles for her in the lead up to the 2017 election. She even mentioned getting together for dinner next time she visited Berlin. But I never had the opportunity to meet her in person.

A small vigil outside Berlin’s Maltese embassy

I admired Daphne Caruana Galizia enormously for her integrity, fearlessness, honesty, investigative instincts, and for her clean, precise prose style and her biting sense of humour.

Daphne was fearless in a culture where keeping one’s head down is seen as a virtue. She had integrity on an island where it is in short supply. She was the only true journalist in Malta, with impeccable investigative instincts, in a country where “journalists” simply transcribe and parrot what they are told at a government press conference.

And so the kleptocrats who had taken over the government of this tiny European Union country despised her and feared what she wrote. Reviled by half the country and secretly loved by the other half, everyone followed her site — especially her enemies, whose deeds she was always the first to expose.

On Monday October 16th, Daphne Caruana Galizia was brutally murdered with a car bomb on a small village road near her home. Her son was the first to come across the burning wreckage, and the bloody pieces of his mother scattered across a field.

The inept and politically compromised Maltese police are handling the investigation, and I’m quite certain it will go the way of the other 15 car bombings and targeted killings that happened in Malta over the last 10 years. None of them were ever solved.

The situation in Malta will get worse by the day because there’s no one to shine a light into shady corners anymore.

But for once, the outside world is watching. The European Union parliament held a special session to discuss Daphne’s killing, just days after the horrific event. Her sons and husband were invited, and the parliament held a minute of silence in her memory. They also lowered flags to half mast, and are renaming their press conference room in Strasbourg after her.

But in Malta, as of this writing and printing, nothing. Parliament did nothing — even as the story of her brutal murder made international news, from Japan to Canada and every paper in between.

The foreign media seems to view it as an attempt to stifle freedom of expression, and as an attack on the press. And I guess it was, in part. But the rot in Malta goes much deeper.

Journalists have descended on the tiny island in a swarm to cover this brutal killing, too, and from what I’m hearing, they’re shocked at what they see.

They’re shocked at the complacency of the people, of which only a handful took to the streets in protest. (Judging by the anti-corruption rallies of 2016 and 2017, those irate few will quickly lose interest and go back to their lives.)

They’re shocked at the smug press conferences of the Prime Minister, the man with the most to gain from this murder.

They’re shocked by the gloating partisan voices on Facebook — one of whom is a serving police officer — celebrating Daphne’s death, or otherwise saying, “It served her right.”

And as for me, I will only be shocked if this murder is solved.

People don’t respond this way in a normal country. But Malta is not a normal country.

A small vigil outside the Maltese embassy building in Berlin

The ultimate responsibility for Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder goes much further than the assassin who planted and triggered the bomb, or the person who ordered the killing.

It goes beyond the money launderers and criminals who stand to benefit from her silencing. And it goes beyond the many judicial inquiries set off by her stories, and which are currently in the courts, “investigating” among others the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, his Minister for shady deals Konrad Mizzi, the dodgy as hell Pilatus Bank, massive money trails from the ruling family of Azerbaijan, the sale of Maltese (ie. European Union) citizenship, visa scams, money laundering, fuel smuggling, human trafficking, government nepotism and cronyism, and all the rest. 

Think I’m exaggerating? Here are a few quotes I pulled from “Malta: Overview of Corruption and Anti-Corruption,” published in February 2017 by the global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International:

* Notable integrity challenges include procurement irregularities, unresolved conflicts of interest among serving government ministers, and the revolving door between the island state’s close-knit political and business class. Malta is also the only country in the European Union to have an incumbent minister named in the Panama Papers revelations in 2016.

* Transfers of money generated from illicit activity in foreign jurisdictions to Maltese bank accounts constitute a notable volume of laundered funds. These violations are typically associated with investment scams, and tax/value added tax fraud (Know Your Country 2017).

* Despite its small size and comprehensive anti-money laundering legislations that include a definition of beneficial ownership, Malta ranked in the top eight EU states with the highest number of offshore entities listed in the Panama Papers leak in 2016.

* Malta’s commitment to combatting money laundering is due to the country’s interest in shielding its role as a reputable financial services centre. Convictions are, however, few and far between, with only five successful prosecutions for money laundering in 2015 (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit 2017).

* The severity of corruption in Malta is exemplified by the fact that, according to a recent report commissioned by the European Parliament, the country lost at least 11.67 percent of its gross domestic product (approximately $1.25 billion) to corruption every year between 1995 and 2014 (Grech 2016a).

* …The major obstacles affecting businesses in Malta are favouritism in the government bureaucracy and the country’s shadow economy, which comprises of nearly a quarter of the entire market.

* The 2016 edition of the CPI shows that perceptions of corruption in Malta rose last year in the wake of a series of scandals and the country has fallen to an all-time low of 47th position.

* …Defamation is a criminal offence [in Malta] …Malta Independent columnist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia had her bank accounts frozen with a precautionary warrant for $50,000 for publishing a story that Economy Minister Chris Cardona and his consultant Joe Gerada visited a brothel while in Germany on government business (EFJ 2017).

* Malta is the only EU member without a local chapter of Transparency International.

Malta has reached its current depth of corruption because the culture and people made it that way. (if you want to understand why, read this piece I wrote for Daphne on amoral familism)

As her longtime friend Andrew Borg Cardona told the BBC, “People don’t get killed for spreading fake news; people get killed for becoming dangerous to the people she was attacking.”

Daphne Caruana Galizia shone a light into the darkest corners of a country that was once known as a pirate nation, and that has since become a black mark on the map of Europe.

There’s no hope for change on a local level; too many people are benefitting from the state of things in Malta. The only hope will come from outside: from a weak and indecisive European Union, or in the form of sanctions from the world’s major economic players.

But none of this will happen. Daphne will have died in vain, fighting for what she believed in, writing her truth and fearlessly signing her name to it.

At least she could look herself in the mirror each day. I don’t know how the rest of Malta can.

Daphne’s Running Commentary blog 

Transparency International’s 2016 report on corruption in Malta   

The Economist “The Death of a Crusading Journalist Rocks Malta  

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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


    • She was incredibly brave and tenacious. What a terrible loss for her family. Things will get much worse in Malta now that her voice has been silenced.

      • Daphne’s demise is not merely a loss to her family – it’s a loss to an entire nation. Malta has allowed this to happen through a culture of complacency and lack of independent intellectual analysis of the political and institutional process. We mourn Daphne’s death but we also mourn the demise of a country that has given into greed and the gloss of pseudo-political marketing tactics which encourage personal gain over maturity, common good and development.

        • I agree with you, Gege. That short term thinking and suspension of moral judgement is leading to a very dark place. And at some point, it becomes irreversible.

  • Ryan – I have read much of what has been written about Daphne’s murder but this is far and away the best piece. Every single sentence echoes my thoughts. Thank you.

  • So true. Saddening. Malta was held in such high esteem by the rest of he world. Look at us now! Excellent article. Will definitely share.

  • Thank you for expressing these comments; as a local, nearly anybody would not accept that Malta is an abnormal country.

    I used to attend these recent anti-corruption demonstrations expressing my discontent against the political duopoly, but all I’d get was hassle and tiffs with people in the crowds (wholly made up of the opposition party who want nothing more than keep the status quo themselves).

    I’m making plans to leave Malta. Can’t understand what makes people come, or stay, here. Third world country.

    • Hi Eshmun,

      I can understand your frustration. It’s difficult to express an opinion in Malta, even as a tax-paying foreign resident, without being told to fuck off and leave. Unless of course your opinion is uncritical praise, in which case that’s acceptable.

  • Thank you for an excellent article. I hope that you and other foreign journalists will investigate this corrupt government, and continue with Daphne,s work. I believe she was close to exposing something big.

    • Thank you Caroline. I’m not a journalist, but I am working on a book about the 6 years I spent in Malta, which includes history, anthropology, and a snapshot of the present as the country spiralled into corruption with great enthusiasm. I hope it will provide outsiders with some insights into a very strange place.

  • Much of what is mentioned here can be said of any small country or community: the conflicts of interest, the blurred lines between politics and business, legal economic activities (as in several financial services) that you don’t find in bigger countries, the patronage, the nepotism.

    Other countries may hide it better but it’s there. I have seen it (not very well hidden actually) in Luxembourg (where incidentally the “press” is the most supine and docile I’ve ever seen anywhere) and I have seen it in Belgium, which is more a collection of very separate communities than a country.

    It’s not even a question of what’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but of what ‘works’ in terms of delivering economic growth and jobs, or, failing that (as in much of Wallonia) social stability.

    I don’t like Joseph Muscat, our PM. But as I think Daphne realised well enough at the end of her days , he has so far created enough wealth that has leached into enough people’s pockets to remain in power and popular. Patronage, the pandering to special interests (hunters, the LGBQT community) has done the rest. Most people are fed. Enough are pampered. That’s what counts.

    I think Mr Murdoch transposes his big country expectations of what triggers people’s outrage onto a very small island nation of 430,000 people. When he does not find what he is looking for, he goes fishing for reasons why his expectations are not met that must perforce be very closely linked to being Maltese.

    He makes a reference to our ‘pirate’ past (presumably a reference to the days when Maltese corsairs practiced what was then a legal activity, engaged in by all, from Ottomans and Venetians to Sir Francis Drake) for example. Is it to justify some sort of innate national proclivity to be rotten to the core?

    Well, he’d be interested to know that quite a few modern day Maltese family business owners are directly descended from those corsairs. And that concubinage was a lucrative niche economic activity for many Maltese women (who then returned to Catholic and materially enriched marriages with a local Cikku or Redentur after a few years) in the days of the supposedly celibate Knights. Yes, we are a rotten lot indeed, it’s in our DNA….

    Maybe there is a kernel of truth in that.

    But my own hunch is that when so many of those 430,000 have their snouts in the trough, the same human nature that’s in his own DNA takes over and so he does not get to see as much moral outrage as he would like. In bigger countries, far more people would feel ‘left out’ and that translates into bigger outpourings of ‘moral outrage’.

    Mr Murdoch says much that needs to be said but in my view misses some essential context. It’s almost like calling the French cowards for capitulating to the Germans with the same speed and alacrity of the British Expeditionary Force in WW2 and ignoring the existence of that natural obstacle, the English Channel. Context explains a lot.

    I liked reading this article, because it provoked me. We need more provocations in Malta, not just from opinions of journalists but from journalists being journalists – digging, finding, publishing. Opinion there is and has always been aplenty. Unlike Mr Murdoch, I do not think think that journalism is a cold corpse in Malta. Far from it. Daphne has kicked it in the butt, and it’s standing, albeit somewhat groggy and unsteady. And before Daphne, there were the great journalists whose endeavours saw their printing press set on fire, and the political pamphlets of the twenties. There is a tradition out there. It’s worthy of more than some respect.

    RIP Daphne. A great and flawed journalist (and most of us only get to be flawed, and never get to be remotely great)

    • Hi Mark,

      This strikes me as whataboutism — “Much of what is mentioned here can be said of any small country or community” — and is an argument I heard frequently during my Malta years. “Well, Charlie did it too, so why are you picking on me?” does not excuse institutionalized corruption.

      I also don’t agree that small countries and big countries should be held to different standards of ethics or behaviour. That strikes me as very demeaning.

      I do agree that Joseph Muscat has secured his popularity by buying people off, and by giving enough crumbs from the table that the majority is willing to look beyond the personal corruption he’s been accused of. I remember, in the lead up to the last election, hearing a taxi driver being quoted along the lines of, “I don’t care what they did in Panama or how corrupt they are, as long as I have money in my pocket.” If that’s the sort of society you’d like to live in, you’re welcome to it. And I don’t think it’s any more acceptable in Luxembourg either, or that taxpayers from other EU countries should be funding it.

      As for going fishing for reasons to support my claim, the research process is actually the opposite. My claims are based on a thorough reading of the literature, and on living in that society for 6 years and using my eyes and ears. My conclusions emerged after I left the island and began working on my upcoming book. I suggest starting with the literature on amoral familism. I’ve encountered few concepts in the social sciences with such predictive value, especially with regard to Malta.

      • I don’t mean to excuse the corruption and I also don’t think that there should be different sets of standards for small and large countries. I am only interpreting the reality of what I see and amoral familsm is incidental to that understanding.

        It is easier for a citizen of a bigger country to decide on who to vote for that is not based on what directly suits his pocket than it is for the citizen of a micro state where the chances of knowing someone in politics who can actually and directly help you is so much higher. I am not justifying anything.

        It’s about the efficacy of converging networks, and it’s a fundamental tool managers of big numbers of people with multiple tasks that need to be coordinated need to understand to be effective. With half a million people, a politician (that ‘manager’) can realistically buy tens of thousands of votes by satisfying a limited number of specific targets – hunting, LGBQT, civil rights, the appointment or job oppurtunity with the public service aimed at hundreds, the desire for influence to maybe get a building permit, a contract, the mere desire to win of the core support. The converging networks of all these people (the clients) does the rest.

        As with every organisation, where an upper limit on how much one man can directly control without losing control applies (an effective rule of thumb is 150 people) the same applies for countries. You cannot get away with this in a country of 60 million people, because you can only ever directly influence the lives of so many people, and their converging networks.

        Joseph Muscat’s genius (or evil) is that he understands this perfectly. He is possibly the first Maltese political leader to take what nature provided – the size of the electorate and the uncoordinated politics of the past that relied almost exclusively on voters’ loyalties – and mould it to his precise requirements. The proof of this is that he has cleanly taken over swathes of the electorate that even today hold their noses when voting for him.

        To reform, the Maltese will actually have to adhere to even higher standard of ethical behaviour than elsewhere, the type that cuts to the bone.

        It might well happen in the wake of Daphne’s assassination which has shocked far more people than you think, including from across the political divide. Malta is a changing country. The jury is still out on which direction it’s headed. But any reforms must not throw the baby out with the bath water. The islands’ economic success, including real achievements such as historically low youth unemployment, should not be jeopardised. And this most people understand, which is why the fact that for the first time clean governance is being linked with ‘money in my pocket’ in the popular mind has such relevance.

        Those converging networks can work against you as well as with you.

        • Thanks very much for clarifying your views, Mark.

          We’re in agreement that Muscat is brilliant at knowing exactly how to reach that audience, and what their price is, regardless of how they feel about him.

          >>>To reform, the Maltese will actually have to adhere to even higher standard of ethical behaviour than elsewhere, the type that cuts to the bone.

          I’m very skeptical that this will be possible, given what I saw in 6 years on the island. It would mean an end to nepotism and patronage, to actually getting jobs because of one’s qualifications and abilities rather than one’s connections. Do you think the majority of Maltese voters would be willing to live with such a change?

          I’m also skeptical of such changes, given how much Muscat, Schembri, Mizzi and the others who are yet to be investigated have to lose.

          >>>But any reforms must not throw the baby out with the bath water. The islands’ economic success, including real achievements such as historically low youth unemployment, should not be jeopardised.

          I agree that honesty in government should not — and need not — mean sabotaging economic success.

          But how do you reconcile the current government’s talk of economic success with the high percentage of GDP coming from passport sales, e-gaming, and tax avoidance by corporations in other EU countries? These are all practices that MEP’s from other countries are now targeting. Also, how much of the low unemployment stats is due to government hiring, “positions of trust”, and the like? Government jobs consume resources rather than create new wealth. It looks to me like a large percentage of that economic success is built on shaky ground, which could crumble very quickly.

          I think we’re in agreement about a fair bit here. The one big area where I think we disagree is the weight I place on the concept of amoral familism in explaining Maltese culture and predicting behaviour.

          • There is nothing wrong with income derived from igaming and from financial services, including income derived from legitimate tax avoidance schemes. With respect to the latter, there is a lot of hot air; you may as well as shut down all of luxembourg and big chunks of the financial sectors of every EU member state, not just the usual culprits like the Netherlands. In tax, whataboutism is all. There can be no unilateral action or business migrates, even out of the EU altogether.

            The attractiveness of Malta’s tax avoidance mechanisms would disappear in an instant if countries like Germany and France legislate accordingly and the reason that they don’t is that any legislation on tax must be multilateral. Don’t hold your breath waiting for any change imposed from the EU.

            My concern has always been passport sales, which I would like to see significantly modified to more resemble that of other EU countries and tied to higher levels of investment and residency.

            If you have a moral problem concerning I gaming pointless to discuss . My only concern here is that the rules should be scrupulously observed and monitored, especially the money laundering provisions. I gaming is a fascinating business and it is actually difficult to launder money given that all payments are electronic, which makes me want to know more about the Ndrangheta case mentioned by Europol.

            I am proud of Malta’s economic model which however depends on scrupulous regulatory mechanisms, which is where this cowboy government has failed.

          • I do think that online gambling is a rather sleazy business which preys on addiction and weakness, and I feel the same about casinos, but there’s nothing illegal about either.

            We’re in agreement that monitoring checks and balances are important in such industries. I’m curious to see what comes of this Ndrangheta case. I’m also curious about Muscat’s recent talk of Bitcoin and what embracing it could mean for e-gaming and money laundering regulation. I just have a hard time trusting the players involved, especially given today’s rumours that Adrian Hillman is being considered to head the Malta Gaming Authority.

            I agree that tax avoidance is very different from tax evasion, and that there’s a great deal of hot air and hypocrisy thrown around in that entire area, particularly by high tax countries. But I do think it’s dangerous for Malta to be too reliant on such industries as pillars of the economy when so much depends on perception and trust. I can’t see anyone knocking down Panama’s door to set up there these days. And the alleged actions of Muscat, Schembri, Mizzi, Tonna and the rest — paired with total lack of action on behalf of the Maltese police and attorney general to investigate them — isn’t helping Malta’s reputation as a legitimate business jurisdiction at all.

            I think passport sales need serious scrutiny. I don’t think the residency provisions are being enforced at all. I don’t even think anyone’s looking at them. How many of those people are spending any time in Malta at all, and how many are just renting the same tiny flat from an agent while heading straight for London? Everything about it seems like Malta using their EU status to profit by selling access to other people’s countries. I’m also extremely sceptical of the due diligence background checks on applicants, given some of the names published on Daphne’s site last year.

  • Ryan what you say is true. I am sure you went to Malta for a good reason and initially it gave you what you were looking for. But escape is a cop out. So please don’t just abandon it in these bad times and let complacency and corruption have is way. I hope you will be constructive not just critical in your very true current criticism and will help with other journalists to force an investigation into the corruption and ultimate death of our very heroic and brave Daphne. We want to see our island return to a safe haven out of the depths it has fallen into. We hope her ultimate sacrifice will bring unity and solidarity in the true spirit of Malta.

    • Hi Mary,

      I’m not sure I follow the first part of your comment. Are you suggesting that, by moving on to a different place, I’ve somehow abandoned Malta? I spent 6 years of my life there, and I’m just finishing up a book about those experiences, but I have no desire to go back. I hope my book gives outsiders some sense of the past and present of the island, and how things got the way they are. That’s the best contribution I can make. But it isn’t my fight. You have to take your own island back.

      Incidentally, I don’t see Daphne’s murder as a noble sacrifice, or giving her life to Malta. She was largely reviled during the years I lived there, and few people openly admitted to me that they read her work daily or liked what she was doing. She saw a brief spike in popularity in the lead up to the last election, but those people turned against her right afterwards when the blue side lost. Where were these staunch defenders when she was alive?

  • Later to day (30 October) the Maltese Parliament will debate “Law & Order” on the initiative of the Opposition, and as a result of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. I hope that this article will be tabled as a document to be preserved in the records of Parliament. May I add one positive comment. Following the dark days of the 80s when Dom Mintoff and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, two Malta Labour Party prime ministers, allowed a similar situation to flourish in Malta, the electorate succeeded to overcome the consequences of a perverse electoral result, and elected Eddie Fenech Adami as prime minister in mid 1987. Apart from a short break of two years he led the government until he retired, voluntarily, once he achieved Malta’s membership of the EU. His, and his party’s administration of 26 years (less the 2 years) showed that there is a very different Malta. Hopefully, it will prevail once again.

    • Dear Mr. Saliba,

      I sincerely hope you’re right. I moved to Malta during the tail end of the Gonzi years, and it felt like a very different place.

  • Hello. I always had a mixed view of Daphne due to her very good investigative skills and also her tabloid approach and vindictive personal approaches. However, on reflection Malta has indeed lost an important contributor. RIP Daphne.
    I hope your book will be made available digitally as I am based in Australia. I look forward to ordering a copy when it becomes available. I would greatly appreciate being advised once it has been published and is available for purchase.
    Kind Regards.

    • Thanks very much for your interest Raphael. Please stay tuned to this site or to my email list, I send out an update anytime a new book or magazine feature is published.


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