“With half a smile” disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat “pushed it forward as the truth”, author Mark Anthony Sammut told the public inquiry on Monday as he described an offer made to his father to contribute to a blog “that would put Daphne Caruana Galizia in a negative light”.
Sammut, the son of renowned Maltese writer Frans Sammut, said he decided to approach the public inquiry board after reading about Muscat’s testimony where he had denied inciting hatred against the journalist assassinated by a car bomb on 16 October 2017.
The board is investigating whether the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia could have been prevented.
Sammut said that when his father had told him this information years ago, he did not believe it held much weight at the time. Sammut now says the significance of that conversation his father had shared with him changed following reports on court testimonies.
Testifying in front of the board in December, Muscat, replying to questions, had insisted that he had “in no way instigated hatred or some form of retribution” towards the journalist. Even when questioned about Muscat about an occasion when Caruana Galizia’s face appeared on a Labour Party billboard, Muscat had defended it by arguing that Caruana Galizia “was the opposition, in reality”.
“It was a political narrative. She had the political narrative of the opposition,” he had said.
Sammut could not recall when the conversation with his father took place, saying it was said in passing in a “completely different context”. Frans Sammut passed away in 2011.
“My father had refused and that was the point he wanted to make (to me),” he said. “He did not have any sympathy towards her, but he still felt he did not want to do something like this.”
Asked by Chief Justice Emeritus Said Pullicino whether he was still working with the Nationalist Party campaigns, Sammut agreed but said his motive was not partisan. Sammut said he had decided to approach the board partly due to the morality upheld by his late father, and partly because of his “love for sincerity and for the institutions to do the work they should”.
Following Sammut, Corinne Vella, Caruana Galizia’s sister, presented a dossier to the board containing information on the former blog ‘Taste Your Own Medicine’ – the content of which is still available in web archives.
Vella explained that the purpose of the blog, which “was vicious at times”, was to “put pressure on Daphne to stop writing”. “It is repeated throughout the website, ‘you stop, we stop,’” she said. This message was also included in the blog’s ‘about us’ section.
Describing the content of the blog, Vella said it was “set up specifically to harass Daphne,” and included posts that would “go after her husband, children, sisters, parents, partners, etc”. She said the blog was set up in March 2010 and seemed to be orchestrated by the same individuals who worked on Labour Party campaigns since its “initial posts were shared by them on Facebook”.
She also noted that the blog had stopped shortly after Glenn Beddingfield’s blog had begun. The ‘Taste Your Own Medicine’ blog was “seen as a propaganda tool before the 2013 election,” she said.
This is not the first time the board has heard about such campaigns targeted at the journalist. Last year, The Shift’s founder Caroline Muscat testified about the findings of a six-month investigation in secret and closed groups on Facebook to understand the “hate cycle” and the online campaign against the journalist before and after her death.
Matthew Caruana Galizia, the son of the slain journalist, had also presented documents to the board which showed how a television feature on Labour Party media dedicated a whole segment to “a very unsubtle portrayal” of his mother as a witch.
Independent candidate Arnold Cassola also testified on Friday, saying that he did so after compiling research about how “the State had done everything to facilitate the interests of the representatives of Electrogas and the Quad Towers”. He presented a dossier of his research and findings to the board.
He alleged that Electrogas received “preferential treatment” from OHSA, the health and safety authority. He said that after irregularities were found, Electrogas Commercial Director Catherine Halpin had told Electrogas not to worry about it as “a Minister had come in to calm the health and safety,” he said.
He also explained how the addition of Mrieħel as a location for high-rise projects was put weeks after the initial plan was written up, and following a meeting with Quad Tower representatives.
He also thanked the board members for continuing their work despite Prime Minister Robert Abela’s attempt to stop the inquiry in December.
“It is our job,” replied Said Pullicino.
Photo source: Maltisafi/Wikipedia and DOI