Slain Maltese Journalist Had Powerful Enemies
Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese journalist who exposed the financial corruption of Maltese elites, has been assassinated in a car bombing. We discuss her life and work with economist and attorney James Henry of the Tax Justice Network
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Maté. The most well-known investigative journalist on the island of Malta has been assassinated. Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bombing outside her home on Monday. Galizia was known as a one-woman WikiLeaks for exposing the financial corruption of powerful elites. She had reported extensively on the Panama Papers, leaked files that exposed a global web of tax evasion. Mourners gathered for a vigil on Monday.
SPEAKER 1: As a Maltese citizen, I think Daphne was not only a journalist and an absolutely fearless human being, but a fourth pillar of our democracy and that today’s heinous crime was not only against a human being, against a journalist, but against a pillar of everyone’s democracy.
AARON MATÉ: Daphne Caruana Galizia had recently reported to Maltese report of threats on her life. In her last blog post written the day before she died, she signed off by writing, “There are crooks everywhere you look. The situation is desperate.” Joining me is James Henry, investigative economist, lawyer, and Global Justice Fellow at Yale. Also a Senior Adviser to the Tax Justice Network. Welcome James. Tell us about Daphne Caruana Galizia.
JAMES HENRY: Well, I know Daphne’s work by way of her involvement in the Panama Papers story last year. She was one of the outstanding journalists around the world who at great risk to themselves, looked into the Panama Papers that came out in April of 2016, and exposed the fact that several senior members of Prime Minister Muscat’s government in Malta had offshore accounts, and New Zealand trusts, and no explanation for all the money in these offshore arrangements.
It looked like they had been perhaps receiving bribes from a number of different sources. Malta is a tiny country with about 450,000 people, but it’s the tiniest member of the EU, and so for example, lots of Russians like to go to Malta and buy passports and so that was one of the things she was looking into. But Malta traditionally has been a nest of all kinds of illegal activities involving Italian mafia, corrupt politicians.
One aspect she was investgating were corrupt payments being made to the oil ministry by Azerbaijan and its dictator. There was no question she had a lot of enemies here, but this is one of about I think nearly 30 to 40 murders of journalists this year alone around the world. It’s unusual to see this in the European community.
AARON MATÉ: You mentioned the Prime Minister Muscat. I understand that her recent revelations included some developments that pointed the finger at some of his aides when it comes to this issue of forging Maltese passports. Now, he today was booed by a crowd of protesters and he’s faced calls to resign. Can you talk about her relationship to the power structure in her own country?
JAMES HENRY: Well, her revelations last year set off a whole strong political process. Muscat has been in power as Prime Minister, his party, the Labour Party, won the election 2013. He was literally forced to have another election in June which he barely won because of her work, and her revelations. She had exposed two senior members of his government as having these offshore accounts without any explanation for them.
Independent of that, there’s also been evidence about these payoffs from Azerbaijan that have gone into other accounts in his government. She’s also exposed corruption in Malta’s judiciary. So, there’s no doubt that as she reported to the police two weeks ago, she had reason to fear for her life.
The Prime Minister called this a tragedy. This is not a tragedy. A tragedy is something that happens at an individual level. This is a culture of impunity on Malta, and it’s very hard for … I mean, she was literally one of the last remaining independent journalists who could tackle this corrupt culture. The courts had been corrupted, the prosecutors had been corrupted, the police had been corrupted, and I think it’s really up to the EU now to step in and take a good close look at what’s become of Malta and its-
AARON MATÉ: James, just to illustrate that point you make about the police, there’s just been a Maltese police sergeant who’s been suspended because he posted on Facebook in response to her death, he posted on Facebook something that said, this is the translation. “Feeling happy. Everyone gets what they deserve.”
JAMES HENRY: Yeah, that’s the kind of attitude that we’ve seen among police elsewhere. I just hope that they … I mean, they’ve asked the FBI to come in and do a thorough investigation of that, of this death, the bombing on Monday. But a little bit too late to really do the right thing. She did an outstanding job and the journalists of the world are really redoubling their determination to take on these kinds of kleptocracies.
AARON MATÉ: Right, and so you mentioned the FBI coming in and getting involved now. What could be done on a global scale to address Malta’s role in global financial corruption? I mean, what sort of EU crackdown would have to happen?
JAMES HENRY: Well, there’s a number of industries that involve Malta that we’re aware of. The online gambling industry has really taken off and is basing itself in Malta, precisely because it has very weak regulations. So, some of the investigative effort on the part of the EU might be directed at dubious industries that Malta has established.
Also, these passports, these trafficking passports that Daphne alleged and had evidence for, this should not be a backdoor into the EU so that once you’re on Malta, or you’ve bribed your way into a passport there, you can have free transit anywhere throughout Europe. That’s why the Russian oligarchs were using Malta as one of their choice destinations.
I mean, there are a number of things that EU should do, but we need to have first of all, this detailed investigation to see who might have been responsible directly for this bombing.
AARON MATÉ: Finally James, again, as I mentioned earlier, she wrote in her final blog post, “There are crooks everywhere you look. The situation is desperate.” Malta saw some heavy internal unrest in the 1980s. Do you think that this assassination risks a return to that? People taking the streets against what is described by some as a mafia state?
JAMES HENRY: I think there seems to be a real need for this government to come clean about their operations. I hope it doesn’t come to the kind of levels of violence we had in the 1980s in Malta, but clearly they weren’t satisfied with winning this election in June. Someone has decided that Daphne was an ongoing risk.
Many journalists around the world are facing threats like this every day. They are the last resort when it comes to protecting the rule of law. So, maybe it’s a case for offering journalists in Malta and elsewhere throughout the EU, and indeed, the United States, some special protections against this kind of abuse.
AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. James Henry, investigative economist, lawyer, and a Global Justice Fellow at Yale. Also a Senior Advisory to the Tax Justice Network. Thank you, James.
JAMES HENRY: Thank you.
AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.