For the first time in more than two years since the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, her youngest son Paul sat down and asked his brother Matthew about the fateful afternoon where she was killed in a car bomb a few hundred metres away from their home and minutes after setting down a plate of food before him and leaving the house.
In a compelling and intense interview between the two brothers, Matthew spoke of the sense of impending doom he felt in the week of her death when she was killed on 16 October, 2017.
“I had this really bad feeling that people were following my mother as, during that week, we were both meeting a lot of sources and sharing a car. I don’t know why I had this feeling that someone was tracking or following us. I even thought that someone had stuck a tracking device to the bottom of the car and kept thinking that I have to have the car checked,” Matthew said.
Paul’s interview with Matthew was part of the second episode of his four-part podcast series on his mother’s assassination, titled ‘My Mother’s Murder’, which is being aired on a weekly basis by investigative news site Tortoise.
‘The blood drained from my body’
Matthew’s gut feeling was proven right as later it emerged that Caruana Galizia’s killers had monitored her movements in the days before her death. And it was that feeling of being watched that led him to know immediately that the loud sound he heard just before 3pm on 16 October 2017 was a bomb.
“It couldn’t have been anything else. It’s like in a fraction of a second, in my head, I went through all the possibilities of what that noise could be – like a computer trying to solve a problem very quickly. I thought ‘it is a car bomb’ I just thought it straight away. My mind came to that conclusion in a fraction of second,” he said.
That day, he had been working with his mother on an investigation and he had forgotten to eat.
“I remember that before my mother left the house to go to the bank she put a plate of tomatoes and mozzarella in front of me – with some breadsticks – because we hadn’t eaten anything all day and I devoured it. After that, she published her final blog post and left for the bank.”
Minutes later, the bomb exploded and he ran out of the house and into the road. “I felt I was going to collapse but I just pulled myself together and ran towards the gate, opened it and, as I looked towards the road, I saw a gigantic plume of smoke – a tower of thick black bubbling smoke – the kind of smoke you get when tyres are burning and, at that point, I thought – my god, this is it”.
In his panicked state, he could not see the burning car and had a moment of false hope when he spotted it in the nearby field because he thought it belonged to someone else… up until he saw the first two letters of the car’s number plate.
“It was absolutely horrible – there was nothing I could do. I never felt so helpless in my entire life. And it was just like – everything was assaulting me – the sound of the horn blaring was just piercing my ears, the toxic smell of smoke, heat of the fire, it was just as though the bomb was designed to assault anyone who came to the scene and not just my mum,” Matthew said.
His memory of that afternoon is made up of “stills and clips”. Two police officers were the first to arrive on the scene – Matthew described them as “young” and in a “blind panic”. One got out a fire extinguisher from the car and went to the blaze but then dropped it. Matthew picked it up and started shouting at them as they told him “there is nothing we can do”. One started crying.
"When I was 17-years-old there was a major arson attack on the house." #DaphneCaruanaGalizia was always a target for abuse for her fearless journalism. But in 2013, things got worse.
— Tortoise — slower, wiser news (@tortoise) February 13, 2020
The escalation of harassment
In another episode, titled ‘An Assassination Foretold’, Paul spoke about the abuse his mother suffered – had always suffered – but escalated after Joseph Muscat was elected prime minister in 2013.
His first memory dated back to 1994, aged six, when they found their border collie Messalina with its throat slashed on their doorstep after returning from school. “It was only when I was 14 that she said almost in passing that Messalina had her throat slit,” he said.
Years later, he got home at 2am and saw thick black smoke from a pile of tyres that had been set alight at the back of their house.
He spoke about how the Labour Party media continued to vilify and dehumanise his mother. “With Muscat, the threats didn’t just escalate but took on new forms”.
In a span of 23 years, from 1989 to 2012, 15 libel suits were filed against her. But from 2013 onwards, she was sued 51 times either by a government or Labour Party official with the exception of four that were filed by Opposition Leader Adrian Delia. “We are still fighting these suits to this day”.
This also became very clear when Caruana Galizia and her two friends were mobbed by an angry crowd in Rabat, forcing them to seek refuge in a monastery. Her son likened it to a biblical scene where an angry mob was baying for someone’s blood and telling the monks to bring her out.
“Looking back at that episode – they thought they were confident they wouldn’t be prosecuted. The Labour Party had enormous power and it would be used to exploit every single one of our institutional weaknesses,” he said.
The first clue Paul got that his mother was working on something big was when he spoke to her in February 2016. Caruana Galizia was one of the journalists working on Panama Papers and immediately realised that there was a reason why former minister Konrad Mizzi had set up his account in Panama and hid it behind another company based in New Zealand.
During a libel sitting, Mizzi had tried to discredit Caruana Galizia by saying she was not a journalist because she didn’t have a press card.
“My mother lost her patience. She stormed out and said to Mizzi – your lawyers think a lot of you. Do they know where you hid your money? And Mizzi knew that she was on to him. He jumped off the bench and started shouting at the magistrate: ‘Stop her! She is threatening me. She is threatening me’. My mother started laughing and walked out. Later that day, she started writing a blog post that would change Malta’s political history.”
She wrote a letter to the Labour Party, which was in the process of electing a deputy Party leader and Mizzi was the favourite. “She warned them that if you elect Mizzi, you will end up wearing a Panama hat with him and take the whole country down with you.”
The PL and government instantly knew what she was referring to and that she would soon find out that Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri had the same financial setup. “It went into overdrive and started pumping out propaganda slandering my mother and labelling her as corrupt.”
In May 2017, when Muscat had called an early election, Paul called his mother and asked the reason behind it. She said, “whatever the reason is, its’s so big we can’t even see it”.
The key to understanding everything Muscat was trying to do with Malta was linked to the question of the early election. The person who took out a contract on her life did so then.
‘I predicted it’
Paul also spoke to former European Court of Human Rights Judge Giovanni Bonello who referred to the total collapse of the checks and balances which the Constitution imposes on the Maltese State.
“The power of the State – the Prime Minister and the Cabinet – has virtually taken over all the other institutions, which are meant to control the Executive. The Attorney General, Police Commissioner, parts of the judiciary are more than suspect. They give the impression they are in the pocket of the persons they are supposed to keep in check,” he said.
When asked what went wrong, Bonello said a system was as good as the people who put it in practice. There have always been abuses, but before it was the exception – when the exception became the rule, then it was time to rethink it very well, Bonello said.
“I believe in people and not systems. The weaknesses of these systems are there but being worked by people who have no integrity.”
When asked by Paul whether his mother’s death could have been foretold in the country’s political context, Bonello told him: “I predicted it”.
“I actually had written a few months before that she was condemned to death. Seeing the symptoms, I had no doubt that it would be the outcome of her crusade against corruption and abuse of power. Once impunity and abuse of power become standard and there are no checks and balances, the lone voice crying out in the wilderness is standing out for assassination.”
“And that is my mother,” Paul said.
“And that is your mother,” Bonello added.