The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination: A week and a crime like no other

Julian Bonnici Sunday, 22 October 2017, 11:00 Last update: about 5 years ago

Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered by car bomb at around 3pm on Monday 16 October close to her home in Bidnija. This is the sixth car bomb since the start of 2016 and the fourth fatality. While the method of detonation appears to be common to all the attacks, with indications pointing towards a mobile-controlled device, the president of the Malta Police Officers Union, Sandro Camilleri, had previously said that the other five attacks most likely used fireworks materials, while the more powerful explosive Semtex is believed to have been used in Caruana Galizia’s assassination.

An eyewitness, who described hearing two explosions within seconds of each other at the time of the journalist’s murder, could in fact have heard the detonator going off, followed by the main explosion, according to retired forensic expert Dr Anthony Abela Medici.

Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera — a regular focus of the journalist, whose article on the former’s personal life was the first to draw the nation’s attention to the blog Running Commentary —  was the on-duty magistrate called to the scene, and immediately ordered the site be secured and preserved pending the arrival of foreign experts.

As was confirmed by Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar in an otherwise uninformative press conference, Dutch experts were called in to handle the forensics, while FBI consultants — who it appears had been coming to Malta anyway — are providing technical expertise.

The experts have since recovered all evidence from the site of the explosion.

Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia told this newsroom that the police force has also been given a blank cheque to do whatever it takes to solve the murder, and acknowledged that as a ministry they “are responsible for improving upon crime prevention and ascertaining that the police do all that is possible to solve criminal acts.”

Magistrate Anthony Vella would later take over the inquiry following Magistrate Scerri Herrera’s request to Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri. Peter Caruana Galizia, Daphne’s husband, along with other members of her family, had earlier filed a court application requesting her removal from the case.

Matthew Caruana Galizia recounted the horrific scene in a social media post, in which he lambasted the authorities for allowing a culture of impunity to fester in the country, saying that Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri, Chris Cardona, Konrad Mizzi, Attorney General Peter Grech and the long list of police commissioners who took no action, were complicit in her death.

Thousands of people from all walks of life carried candles and remembered the journalist in a vigil held in Sliema later on in the evening, while at the same time several other people expressed their grief in front of the Maltese High Commission in London.

Daphne Caruana Galizia’s last words, ‘There are crooks everywhere you look now, the situation is desperate’ — published a mere 30 minutes before her death — were scribbled on the Regional Road.

Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar

Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar has been a focal point of the public’s outrage for his perceived inaction following the attack and the many similar incidents that preceded it.

Five car bombings have taken place during Cutajar’s tenure as police commissioner, with seemingly little to no progress made in their investigation, despite two surviving victims. When asked whether he felt that calls for his resignation were justified, Cutajar dismissively replied that “all cases under reference are still being investigated.”

This newsroom sought to clarify these statements by expressly asking whether he intended to resign and the reasons for his decision. A reply, however, was not forthcoming.

The general election in June had somewhat shifted public attention away from questions surrounding Police Commissioner Cutajar’s competence, which critics say has negatively impacted the entire police force, but with the death of the popular — albeit controversial — journalist, serious doubts have once again been raised. The failure to issue a police press conference more than 48 hours after the horrific murder along with the need to contact foreign experts to assist in the case have only served to sow further distrust in the Malta Police Force across civil society.

The press conference called on Thursday at 6pm saw Police Commissioner Cutajar and Assistant Commissioner Silvio Valletta mostly refusing to divulge any information pertaining to the case.

At the press conference, The Malta Independent asked the police commissioner how he could ease the public’s concerns regarding his integrity, given that Caruana Galizia was a vociferous critic of his appointment and questioned his credibility, in response to which Cutajar nonchalantly replied:

“I am sorry to hear that. I don’t know if people are questioning my integrity.”

A petition calling for his removal has since been gathering steam — more so in light of Thursday’s shambolic press conference — with close to 10,000 signatures already collected.

International coverage

While the brutal killing of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has devastated many here in Malta, it has also sent shock waves across the globe. Her assassination has been condemned in editorials from some of the most widely-followed and respected news sources around the world, including The Guardian, The Times, CNN, The New York Times, L'Espresso, and The Financial Times.

International news agencies and other media have also been reporting how Caruana Galizia — described as a ‘one-woman WikiLeaks’ by the influential political journal Politico — had uncovered jaw-dropping levels of corruption, especially through her work on the Panama Papers. Her achievements have also been praised, particularly her inclusion in Politico’s 28 people “transforming European politics, policy and ideas.”

Political leaders

Following the attack, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat postponed Parliament’s scheduled budget speech and proceeded to make the rounds on various international news networks to defend the country’s institutions and rule of law, and to condemn a “barbaric attack on freedom of expression that goes against every sense of decency and civility.” He has since pledged to “stop at nothing” to get to the truth behind the murder, and has made repeated calls for “national unity”. 

Leader of the Opposition Adrian Delia reiterated calls for the Prime Minister’s resignation and the removal of Attorney General Peter Grech and Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar when delivering his speech in Parliament.

“The budget is irrelevant,” he said, clearly evoking Eddie Fenech Adami’s 1986 address in Parliament following the infamous political murder of Raymond Caruana in Gudja. Condemning the total collapse of the rule of law within just four years of Labour administration, Delia said that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was partly responsible for Caruana Galizia’s death.

The Labour Party later described Delia’s speech as “opportunistic and divisive.”

Both Delia and Muscat have insisted that despite the criticism levelled against them by Caruana Galizia, they have always believed in the basic principle of free speech.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat went on to “challenge” the Opposition leader — who has consistently praised the journalist’s work regarding elements within the Labour administration, but who has failed to acknowledge allegations made in his own regard — to approach the courts and request an inquiry into such allegations, as he had following the Panama Papers revelations.

Former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, described the attack as political murder and criticised the Prime Minister in an interview with CNN. He also said in parliament that for the first time in his political career, he had serious doubts whether Malta would be able to recover from this dark period. 

Former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who first spoke to this newsroom at the vigil held in Sliema, called on the public to feel emboldened and to speak out against what is wrong as a way of honouring the life of Caruana Galizia. He later said that on a day when freedom of expression was threatened through the murder of one the pillars of democracy, the government should have sent a stronger message, beyond simply re-scheduling the budget speech, be that in the form of a national day of mourning or the cancellation of all political activities. Such messages, Gonzi explained, were vital in showing the public the gravity of Monday’s events.

“It has been four days since her murder and those candles we lit up will soon burn out. The more time passes, the more we forget, just like we have done with the other five car bombs that have taken place since the start of 2016.”

Maltese MEP and former Prime Minister Alfred Sant, in an interview with a French news network, said that Maltese society was united in wanting to find out who had murdered Daphne Caruana Galizia. The Maltese MEP said that “she represented a person who had quite a lot of legitimate interest in what she carried out. She carried out her investigations with a lot of vigour and did not mince her words. Lately, she had attacked the Leader of the Opposition in quite a brutal way, who in my opinion was from the party she belonged to.”

Ramon Mifsud, Deborah Schembri, and Luciano Busuttil

While the nation was seemingly in mourning, Sergeant Ramon Mifsud, who had been the subject of several of Caruana Galizia’s articles, took to Facebook in a post that received widespread condemnation from the public — ‘Had wara had tasal ta kulhadd demel!!!!!! Feeling happy :) [sic]’.

Mifsud was later suspended from duty and will now appear before a Public Services Commission, which will take the final decision on his termination.

Asked if action would be taken against other police officers who had ‘Liked’ Mifsud’s post, Police Commissioner Cutajar said that “investigations by the Internal Affairs Unit are ongoing.”

Daniel Zerafa, a Labour Party local councillor for Marsaxlokk, went on a social media rant, attacking the foreign press, which he said had misreported the murders, referring to colonialism and terrorism in what can only be described as a series of non sequiturs. He also blasted the foreign media for expecting “a small island nation situated in the middle of three destabilized continents” to follow the rule of law.

A day after the attack, recently appointed legal counsel to the Lands Authority and Planning Authority Deborah Schembri, who is also a former parliamentary secretary and MP, said on a current affairs programme on the Labour Party’s television station:

“We have spoken a lot about freedom of speech. Even here we need to be careful that when writing, there are certain lines that should not be crossed. We should not hurt people unnecessarily, because this is not freedom of speech but this is abuse and people will feel hurt and irritated. Those who may feel that they do not have legal remedy may take the law into their own hands,” she said.

Parliamentary Secretary for Reform Julia Farrugia Portelli, in a thinly veiled Facebook post, slammed her fellow Labour Party member by commenting that she could never accept any form of argument where somebody insinuates that a journalist should be punished should they cross a line.

Schembri would later take to social media to “apologise” and “clarify” her position.

Former MP and current Sports Council chairman Luciano Busuttil — who was often subject to the journalist’s criticism for his and his wife’s abuse of the blue badge parking system for the disabled — inappropriately seemed to insinuate that the Opposition was involved in the killing, writing on social media: “Someone told me good chess players know that sometimes you need to sacrifice the queen in order to save the king.”

Car Bombs since 2016

16 January 2016: Martin Cachia was killed instantly when a bomb went off inside the Alfa Romeo car he was driving on the Marsascala bypass. Cachia had had appeared in court on a number of occasions in connection with drugs, contraband cigarettes and human smuggling.

26 September 2016: A bomb filled with screws and ball-bearings went off inside a van as it was being driven along Aldo Moro Road in Marsa, grievously injuring the driver, Josef Cassar.

31 October 2016: John Camilleri, known as ‘Giovanni tas-Sapun’, was killed inside a car that exploded in Triq Paderborn in St Paul’s Bay.

29 January 2017: Victor Calleja, also known as ‘Ic-Chippu’, died when the car he was in blew up in Marsa.

20 February 2017: Romeo Bone, from Floriana, lost both his legs in a car explosion on Marina Street in Msida.

16 October 2017: Daphne Caruana Galizia assassinated in a car bomb a few hundred metres away from her home in Bidnija.

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