A Year After Journalist’s Murder, Many Questions Unanswered on Malta

October 16, 2018 Updated: October 16, 2018

VALLETTA—A year since its most prominent journalist was murdered, the tiny state of Malta has still not solved the mystery behind her death, or overcome the bitter division left by her legacy.

Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, who penned an anti-corruption blog, was killed Oct. 16, 2017, when a bomb placed inside her car blew up as she left her home in the peaceful hamlet of Bidnija, near the capital Valletta.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, a frequent target of Caruana Galizia’s writings, offered a million euro ($1.2 million) reward for information leading to an arrest of the murderers, and called in the American FBI and Europol to assist the Maltese police.

The money would be paid for anything that “can unlock the facts behind the murder.”

“So I reiterate the offer, it is still there,” Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government Owen Bonnici told Reuters in an interview.

Malta's Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government Owen Bonnici
Malta’s Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government Owen Bonnici at his office in Valletta, Malta on Oct. 15, 2018. (Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi)

But despite the fact three suspects were arrested in December and subsequently charged with killing the journalist, police are convinced that some as-yet-unidentified person gave the order to carry out the attack.

Malta is equally stymied on how to remember Caruana Galizia.

Some on the island, typically supporters of the ruling Labour Party, cannot forgive what they regard as a tilted campaign that she ran on her blog against figures often close to their camp.

For others, many of them supporters of the rival Nationalist Party, she was a martyr. They are determined to preserve both her memory and to continue her fight against corruption.

A group set up soon after the murder, called Occupy Justice, holds vigils at a makeshift memorial opposite the Valletta law courts, but government workers regularly sweep the site clean of candles and flowers, looking to prevent a shrine taking root.

The three murder suspects were arrested on the strength of mobile phone records, that allegedly tied them to watching the journalist’s home and detonating the bomb, police say. The trio have all denied the charges and no date has yet been set for their trial.

Looking For Motives

The three men were never mentioned in any of Caruana Galizia’s blogs and police critics say not enough is being done to uncover the mastermind.

Ana Gomes, a member of the European Parliament from Portugal who has led official delegations to Malta to investigate rule of law on the island, wrote on Twitter this month that the probe into who ordered the killing was stalled.

Malta Police have declined multiple requests for on-the-record interviews about the case. But sources briefed about the investigation confirm that over the last year nobody Caruana Galizia publicly wrote about had been questioned.

One senior officer, speaking off the record, dismissed the criticism, saying Caruana Galizia had made too many enemies to make any mass questioning of her foes worthwhile.

“To establish the motive, the question is what she was planning to write and whose interest was she threatening,” the officer said.

A team of about 10 police and Malta Security Service officers, who handle wire taps, continue to work the case.

The shock of Caruana Galizia’s murder and the increased focus in Malta and abroad on corruption claims have done little to dent the Labour government’s popularity or the local economy.

Polls published in the MaltaToday newspaper show the Labour Party and Muscat enjoying their highest-ever ratings while the Maltese economy is the best performer in the European Union.

A group of local and international media groups, including Reuters, began following up stories covered by Caruana Galizia in the wake of her death, in an initiative called the Daphne Project.

By Stephen Grey and Chris Scicluna