There’s no proof that the government killed Daphne Caruana Galizia, but it was responsible for her death.
At first glance, these words might seem like a contradiction. How could the State be responsible for her death but not necessarily involved in it?
Let’s deal with ‘responsible’ first.
The public inquiry was tasked with finding out how things reached a point where conspirators decided to kill a journalist who obviously had access to inside information that would expose their roadmap to corruption before they could reap the rewards, quite possibly toppling their ‘friends’ in government in the process.
The board’s conclusions couldn’t be any clearer.
This fish rotted from the head down.
Every thread in this tangled web leads back to Joseph Muscat and his chief of staff, and their deliberately blurred line between politics and business.
Every appointee from every institution that mattered answered directly to Muscat. The disgraced former prime minister used his power — systematically, deliberately — to exploit each of the country’s institutional weaknesses by placing stooges at the head of law enforcement and regulatory bodies, safe in the knowledge they wouldn’t act against him or those he deemed untouchable.
By creating an atmosphere of impunity where corrupt ministers were protected, where regulatory and law enforcement institutions were toothless, and where business interests colluded with politicians to promote lucrative large scale projects regardless of whether they were in the public interest, Muscat and his inner circle engineered the collapse of the rule of law.
Personal greed trumped responsibility, and influence outweighed the public good.
Some of his friends got a lot richer as a result. People like Yorgen Fenech and his Electrogas collaborators, the Apap Bolognas and the Gasans. Concrete kings like Silvio DeBono and Joseph Portelli. Con men like Ram Tumuluri of Vitals Global Healthcare.
Other friends were protected from consequences, both legal and political, when their illicit schemes were exposed. People like Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi, Chris Cardona and Ali Sadr Hasheminejad were — and still are — untouchable.
The inquiry found evidence “that powerful elements in public administration could have been involved in illegal activity which was the primary focus of the investigations of the murdered journalist”. It also found ample evidence that the State failed to safeguard her right to life.
The responsibility for this lies with Joseph Muscat. But what about the assassination itself?
It wasn’t part of the board’s mandate to find out. Any proof of official involvement in the plot — the contract killing — or lack thereof must be established by the criminal courts.
You can see why Labour’s predictable attempt to muddy the waters doesn’t hold up. They’re crying “No proof” and trying to claim the report said the State wasn’t involved in the actual murder. In doing so, they’re trumpeting the inquiry’s clarification of its original mandate as proof of innocence.
It’s a deliberate misrepresentation, a tactic I think of as Pulling an Egrant.
Far from letting the government off the hook, the inquiry’s conclusions broadened the scope of responsibility for Caruana Galizia’s death to the entire Cabinet.
And not to some “previous government” that quietly vanished when Joseph Muscat was driven from office in disgrace. The very same officials who are still warming their seats right now while displaying a profound aversion to the public responsibilities inherent in their role.
You see, the board wasn’t buying Edward Scicluna’s excuse when he said, “Whoever wants to hijack a system, it is that person who is responsible. I am not.”
On the contrary, it found the entire Cabinet “collectively responsible” for sitting back and doing nothing to stop the festering rot all around them.
They could have nipped it in the bud when Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi were exposed in the Panama Papers. Instead, they voted to retain the two men.
They had another chance to change the course of events when Yorgen Fenech was outed as the owner of 17 Black. The connections between Mizzi, Schembri, Egrant and the Electrogas project couldn’t be any clearer. But again they toed the Party line rather than take action against men who were clearly being protected by the prime minister.
In doing so, they gave “silent approval” to the impunity at the heart of the Muscat administration. “Elements of organised crime relied on this impunity,” the board said, “and this culture certainly facilitated the assassination.”
While much of the Cabinet may be crippled by an inability to tell right from wrong, the public inquiry made it clear that excuses will not be found in the grey zone between behaviour that was illegal and behaviour that was ‘merely’ illicit.
“It is not enough for one to determine whether the public authority was acting illegally,” the board said. “An appreciation of whether the authorities acted in conformity with principles, values and virtues that comprise the rule of law and all elements that constitute good governance and liberty was also necessary.”
Hiding behind the letter of the law is a de facto assertion that anything which isn’t specifically forbidden is acceptable.
While there’s no actual law against bestiality in Malta, few people would argue the screwing of sheep is technically ‘orrajt’.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that the board’s definition of ‘illicit’ could act as a summary of Muscat’s modus operandi: “illicit behaviour (defined as ‘unacceptably bad behaviour such as bad public administration and governance, manipulative behaviour and conduct that is considered wrong, improper, abusive, oppressive, unethical, immoral and harmful that is not necessarily illegal’)”.
It’s the role of journalists to expose such behaviour and to hold those in power to account, but this only works as intended when the institutions act on the information revealed.
Instead of cracking down on corruption, the government treated Daphne Caruana Galizia as “the only opposition in the country”. Adrian Delia’s Nationalist Party wasn’t a threat to their hold on power, after all. The only threat was the skeletons they’d hidden in their own closets, and the person trying to shine a light on them.
Those skeletons included “excessive closeness and intrigue between elements of public administration at the highest levels and influential businessmen interested in promoting large development projects.”
When Daphne Caruana Galizia started exposing criminal collusion at the heart of those projects, the government and its State-funded attack dogs started treating her as the enemy.
“This direct confrontation reached its peak after the publication of Panama Papers and the external circumstances surrounding the setting up of the foreign company known as 17 Black, when it became obvious that the journalist had obtained and was still receiving information that was most sensitive,” the report said. “Confrontation escalated up until the point at which she was assassinated.”
Joseph Muscat was the active enabler who turned an entire government into a personal enrichment project. And when that project was threatened by the journalist who kept exposing the details, the people who plotted and financed her murder went ahead with it, safe in the knowledge that they would be protected by the very same compromised officials who controlled the institutions tasked with catching and convicting them.
The hired killers were so sure they’d get away with it that they bragged about “their contacts with ministers, the chief of staff, and other persons at the heart of power”, referring to them in court as ‘No. 1’, ‘the old man’, and ‘the king’.
Their confidence was not misplaced. Even after the murder, high-ranking police officials and public authorities acted “in a manifestly illicit way, if not illegally” to assist suspects by deflecting journalists from the sordid details that were being uncovered.
Malta went from up-and-coming EU Member State to international disgrace in just eight years, and the voracious greed of individuals — from the OPM to Cabinet, from big business to every voter who cast a ballot in order to get something for themselves — allowed it to happen.
Expecting this government to sort out its own mess is delusional. Does anyone imagine they’ll investigate their own corruption and that of their colleagues, deliver justice for the family of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and ensure nothing like this can ever happen again?
And then what? Slap handcuffs on themselves and trundle off to Corradino?
The report ends with a long list of recommendations, many of which involve strengthening existing laws and passing other reforms on paper.
Such laws are important and necessary, of course, but all the paper laws in the world won’t protect you if the people responsible for enforcing them are corruptible.
As the simpering Evarist Bartolo said to Tim Sebastian on Deutsche Welle’s Conflict Zone, “The rule of family and the rule of friends is stronger than the rule of law.”
It will take a society to change that fundamental truth.
It starts by holding Joseph Muscat responsible for what he has done. Begin with the rotten head and work all the way down.