Justice Minister Owen Bonnici told the family of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia that his life would be made easier if they accepted Judge Antonio Mizzi on the board of inquiry looking into her death, her son Paul testified today.
Caruana Galizia told the inquiry board that this was a “concern” especially in light of the fact that middleman Melvin Theuma, who was granted a presidential pardon, had suggested that Yorgen Fenech, who is facing charges of being the mastermind, could talk to Judge Mizzi.
“We later learnt that Theuma had advised Fenech to speak to Judge Mizzi, as the net closed in on them. We don’t know why Theuma said this –– why Mizzi. But it is of deep concern to us that Mizzi was seen by two men suspected of murder as their man and why the government was so insistent on him as their man in this inquiry,” Caruana Galizia said.
He went on to say that Bonnici was very insistent on Mizzi’s presence on the inquiry board, pointing out that he will be a minority (dan ser ikun f’minoranza). “Whose minority?” he pointed out to the board.
Today’s was the third hearing of the public inquiry, an independent board of inquiry drawn up following two years of requests by the family. The inquiry was also called for earlier this year in a report by the Council of Europe, which focused on the state of the rule of law in Malta. It’s aim is to establish whether the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia could have been prevented.
“My family has fought tooth and nail for two years to convene this inquiry,” Caruana Galizia said. “Frankly we shouldn’t have had to, but we did, and we were rubbished by the Attorney General. We have piles of correspondence between him and our lawyers, in which his tone is condescending, patronizing, very aggressive, and sometimes suggestive that we are lying.”
He also highlighted the actions of the police force and the lack of experts at the Economic Crimes Unit. “Things really changed when the Prime Minister removed Police Commissioner John Rizzo – that was a break in the police protection provided to my mother,” he said.
“But a deeper and more important issue, is the failure of the police to realise that the articles my mother was writing dealt with people of bad intent. The best way to protect journalists is to investigate and follow up on their work.”
Caruana Galizia also highlighted the lack of resources available to the police, saying that they did not have the right technology at hand, which explained the confidence with which the criminals executed the plot.
Referring to the testimony of former chief-of-staff Keith Schembri when he said he lost his mobile phone when arrested by police, Caruana Galizia said “forensic experts cloned my mother’s sim card even though it was destroyed. Some of the information found there was incredibly sensitive and confidential. So if forensic experts were able to do that, then they should do this to a man suspected of her murder.”
“Recent evidence suggests that they (people in the government) are involved in her cover up, which is of serious concern in itself. Any person involved in the cover up can be involved in the conspiracy. The highest level of the executive didn’t just prevent her murder but actually might have caused it,” Caruana Galizia said.
Picking up on the subject of police protection, his brother Andrew said in his testimony that he believed that protection shouldn’t be the board’s main focus and should instead delve into deeper issues. “Protection can be powerful, but should not be considered a long term solution – constant police protection prohibits the journalist’s ability to work and live a normal life. While corrupt politicians and their agents in organised crime thrive in full view of law enforcement authorities, would amount to a state-enforced coexistence between the criminals and those seeking to hold them to account.”
He went on to mention the delay in executing the murder plan due to a roadblock, which was previously mentioned by Theuma in court, increasing his mother’s life by days or weeks. “That is what a minimal amount of police protection would have done to save my mother’s life.”
Following the assassination, the family sought advice from foreign safety experts who work with journalists at risk, and gave their findings to the Malta Police Force. They requested basic information on what the police had and whether they carried out a threat assessment, for example. “We never received a response, except for a call from Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar informing us that there was a police officer set at a fixed point. He offered a meeting, we asked for a reply to our letter first. We never got one.”
Referring to the car bomb that killed his mother, Caruana Galizia noted that such an attack had not been seen in the United States in 50 years, but was familiar in Malta. “They had clearly done this before – remotely triggered car bombs, from one contract to another and that is the failure on the side of law enforcement to prevent serious crimes.”
The payment of €150,000 to murder his mother revealed the low risk they were exposing themselves. “In my opinion, that is an absurd sum for the highest crime that this country has seen,” he said.
In her testimony, Corinne Vella focused on the parallels between the early general election and her sister’s murder, as well as the environment for journalists within which Caruana Galizia was working.
“She did not set out to investigate organised crime or corruption – what Daphne covered, as an opinion writer and as an investigative reporter, was politics in Malta”. Eventually, she found she was writing about corruption and organised crime which was transnational.
“It became dangerous for Daphne, not when she wrote about the deals, but when she discovered the financial structures underlying those deals. That showed she had access to information and the will to pursue it,” Vella said.
She also listed tactics used by people in authority to “threaten” investigative journalism, and make it more difficult for her sister to work by filing libel suits and SLAPP action among others.
“They did not acknowledge her as a journalist even though, what she uncovered, had implications for the health of the country,” she said. “The state does not support investigative journalists.”
Schembri had blocked Daphne from calling him. “This was not Keith blocking Daphne but the Office of the Prime Minister blocking access to the media.” She also noted how changes in media law, including registering the website’s domain with the government “had been designed to target Daphne in particular. She was self-published and self-registered. She would have no longer been a journalist and would then not have had the right to protect her sources.”
Speaking about her sister’s dehumanisation, Vella commented on the lack of independently owned television stations. “80% of Malta’s population watches television but only 22% read newspapers,” she said. “The broadcast spectrum is dominated by party ownership so access to alternative views is not available to such a big part of the population – they had no access to Daphne’s writings but access to what was said against her.”
The next hearing will take place on January 7.