On the first day of the public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, her son, Matthew, delivered a powerful testimony which exposed both the institutional and social failings that lead to her horrific murder.
With Matthew delivering wide-ranging testimony that covered anything from the culture of intimidation Daphne faced to the never-ending stream of corruption she exposed, here’s a full transcript below:
I want to make it clear that this is an opening statement rather than evidence. It is based on evidence which I would like to have the opportunity to give later. I would also like to say that my statement should not be considered closed today. I need time to think about all that we are discovering.
A public inquiry should start automatically and immediately upon the murder of a journalist who is investigating high-level corruption. It is not something that the family members of the victim should have to fight for. Otherwise we would accept that if a murdered journalist does not have family members who are prepared to fight for it, or if they have no family at all, there would not be full justice, and accomplices in the murder would be free to murder again with impunity. This puts more people at risk and changes the character of the country, making it malign and toxic to others in the European Union.
The Minister of Justice thinks of this inquiry as a process of arbitration between our right to justice and the needs of a captured political party. He is wrong. This is a process that will, we hope, lead to truth and justice for everyone and even the undoing of that criminal capture. My family is on the side of the inquiry, on the side of justice. We expect the inquiry to make no compromises in this mission and not to entertain approaches from any government official or agent of theirs for such compromises to be made. To help you in this mission, we need to be able to participate in the inquiry. Adequate participation would mean: full disclosure, access to the final report, access to witness statements and documentary evidence collected, the ability to present lists of witnesses on a continued basis depending on the scope indicated, the ability to present questions to be placed to witnesses, or for which witnesses may be recalled, and the ability to present documentary evidence.
We expect full disclosure by government. As the Board has means that exceed my family’s, we expect the Board to use those means proactively to help it discover if there has been a cover up or evidence destroyed. The Board should draw conclusions from any such occurrence.
This is a chance to push Malta forwards, a chance for us to start behaving like a democracy. But I want to be clear that within its mandate, the inquiry cannot provide a complete reckoning. It can however send us in the direction of one. We have to decide whether the statehood that landed in our laps should be used to improve the lives of citizens, or whether it exists only to continue providing a civilian front for the criminal organisation that killed my mother. We were at this same turning point in 2016, when hard evidence of high-level corruption was forced into our hands. Our nation decided to maintain the front and as a result my mother was killed, lives were ruined and the country is now in crisis.
The inquiry should start by attacking the means of corruption: planning permits, government jobs, government contracts, entities like JobsPlus which is managed by the General Workers Union. A test for whether the inquiry’s recommendations for attacking these means of corruption are sufficient, could be that my family, as well as the other victims of corruption, blackmail, extortion and organised crime would feel safe living in Malta. The inquiry could set a reasonable threshold of what this could mean. What I hope it means is that all the perpetrators will be irrevocably removed from public life and ideally have their liberty taken away from them.
The means to achieve this could be the setup of an autonomous judicial commission against impunity with full prosecutorial powers, or a special tribunal coupled with an independent, powerful anti-corruption prosecutor. To reach complete reckoning, to force our nation to change its character, this tribunal or commission would examine all major corruption cases, targeting the lowliest to the most senior officials, including those implicated in the assassination of my mother. It would investigate how Pilatus Bank obtained its license, how Silvio Debono and the American University of Malta came to be gifted public land, how phantom jobs went to people like Sai Mizzi, Brian Tonna and Melvin Theuma, how Nexia BT continues to operate with impunity when Ellul & Schranz lost their license for less serious offences, and so on.
The main questions that the inquiry is expected to answer will, I hope, lead it to conclude that such a tribunal or commission is necessary.
The first question for the inquiry to answer is whether there was any wrongful action or omission by or within a state entity that could have facilitated or prevented the assassination. Considering the evidence presented in court over the past few weeks, the board should consider the government’s determined opposition to have this question answered, by blocking the inquiry for two years, as suspicious.
Adrian Vella confessed during interrogation that he passed on messages from the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff to Yorgen Fenech, after Fenech was arrested on suspicion of murder. Why were Keith Schembri and Vella willing to take such a risk to cover up the murder, even as they were quickly losing control of the situation?
Melvin Theuma testified on oath, after being warned that he would lose his pardon and be prosecuted for murder if he perjured himself, that the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and his Private Secretary, Sandro Craus, arranged for state funds to be effectively embezzled to provide him with a salary while he coordinated the murder of my mother with a group of hitmen, on behalf of his patron, Yorgen Fenech. Schembri and Craus did not do this as an act of charity after finding Theuma begging on the street, but because Schembri planned directly with Fenech for Theuma to be rewarded with embezzled funds, in exchange for an illicit service that Theuma was to render.
It was around this time that Craus publicly called for all cases before the courts of Malta to be suspended so that all their resources could be dedicated to an immediate prosecution and trial that would result in my mother being incarcerated to prevent her from continuing to report.
Over the past two years, government officials and fanatics who have been radicalised by the government’s propaganda machine — because there is no distinction between party and government — have stated and insinuated that I conspired to murder my own mother so that I could blame the government, topple it, and sieze power for myself. Or that my family is leaking information from the investigation, and generally trying to derail it, so that no one will find out “the truth”, which they imply is that it was me who murdered my mother.
As a result of Theuma’s testimony, we now know that it was Schembri himself, and another government official called Kenneth Camilleri, who were leaking information that they obtained because Schembri and possibly also Camilleri, were present during briefings that the police were inexplicably being ordered to give, or were volunteering, to the Prime Minister in the presence of Keith Schembri. This when my family had identified Schembri to the police as a potential suspect in the first instance.
Glen Beddingfield was being paid by the government, in the thin disguise of a job as spokesman for the Prime Minister, to run a propaganda blog. That blog, by the time it was taken offline after its mission — to aid in the elimination of my mother — had been accomplished, was responsible for thousands of state-sponsored acts of intimidation and harassment of my mother. This included one article a few months before my mother was assassinated in which Beddingfield literally assured the targets of government propaganda that my mother was in “her death throes” and that her “departure… will usher in an era of cleanliness”.
My mother only mentioned Yorgen Fenech in passing on her website. Whereas other individuals, like Ignatius Farrugia, or followers of Norman Lowell, have in the past been motivated to violently attack my mother because my mother had expressed herself on them previously, the same cannot be said for Fenech. A reasonable possibility, backed up by Theuma’s testimony, is that Fenech was motivated by the desire to prevent my mother from publishing an investigation into one of his illicit business affairs. The only one of those that, to our knowledge, he knew my mother was working on was her investigation into the link between 17 Black, which is owned by Fenech, Hearnville, which is owned by Konrad Mizzi, Tillgate, which is owned by Keith Schembri, and SOCAR, which is owned by the government of Azerbaijan. Electrogas, in her investigations and analysis, featured as a front for the criminal network between those individuals. The inquiry should continue to think of it in that way.
The first time I heard of 17 Black Ltd and Macbridge Ltd was in April 2016, when my mother asked me whether I knew anything about them. I replied that I did not, which at the time was the truth. At the time, ICIJ, where I worked, had not yet obtained the second portion of the Panama Papers leak containing the email from Karl Cini of Nexia BT that specifies 17 Black and Macbridge as “target clients” of Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi’s Panama shell companies. Therefore, the only way that my mother could have known about those two companies would have have been through a source with direct access to emails on Nexia BT’s servers. At the time, Nexia BT was being subjected to some form of compliance review or investigation by the FIAU, who would have requested that Karl Cini, the money laundering reporting officer, disclose emails relevant to the FIAU’s investigation. This evidence, gathered by the FIAU, was shared with then Economic Crimes Unit Superintendent Ian Abdilla, who is known to actively communicate and exchange information with Keith Schembri, and to leak information to journalists that is intended to cause damage to Schembri’s perceived enemies.
The testimony of Melvin Theuma and Yorgen Fenech, as well as evidence collected by the police, therefore drives us towards this logical conclusion: if my mother was murdered to prevent her from publishing evidence that was already in the hands of, or that would have eventually come into the hands of, Ian Abdilla and the FIAU, then Fenech must have been absolutely certain that Ian Abdilla would never press charges against him, or even conduct a full investigation, based on that same evidence.
Abdilla might say that the evidence was not enough to press charges. Yet why would evidence that’s damning enough for the suspect to commit murder not be damning enough for the police to press charges?
Furthermore, why are the accountants who also knew this, Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, still licensed, practising accountants who derived a significant amount of their income from the state, including via embezzlement by means of a phantom job at the Ministry of Justice?
There are officers within the police force who are determined to do their job properly, like the ones who protect my family day and night, guarding our home. This is not something new for us. Police officers were sent to guard our house, even after my mother protested, during events that were considered to be high-risk: for example, the hunting referendum, general elections, and following the attack by neo-nazis in 2006. Police protection, even in the form of neighbourhood patrols, was removed in 2013, under what could only be an instruction from the new police commissioner appointed by the Prime Minister, following the removal of John Rizzo.
There are only two possibilities. Either the successive police commissioners appointed by the Prime Minister were negligent failed to realise that the stories of corruption reported by my mother dealt with people of criminal intent who could harm her, or the withdrawal of fixed point protection and neighbourhood patrols was done to deliberately put my mother at risk, by making it easier for the subjects of her investigations to cause her harm.
The board should bear in mind that physical protection is a last resort. A country where journalists who report on corruption have to live with police protection does not have a functioning criminal justice system. It is the failure of the police to charge the people implicated in corruption that put my mother at risk in the first place. No reasonable person wants to live with constant police protection, especially a journalist, as it makes it impossible for them to do their job. No confidential source would want to meet a journalist who is effectively being monitored by the state.
The chain of command in the murder of my mother reveals a complete failure of Malta’s criminal justice system, right from the bottom all the way to the top. Because our criminal justice system was unable to charge and convict the hitmen, Alfred Degiorgio, George Degiorgio and Vince Muscat, for literally hundreds of crimes committed during criminal careers going back three decades or more, they were free to provide their services as hitmen. Because that same system was unable to charge and convict the Agius brothers, they were free to supply the bomb. Because the police were unable or perhaps unwilling to charge Melvin Theuma despite ample evidence of an extensive illegal gambling network that he had been running for years, he was free to act as a middleman. Because the police or attorney general never charged Yorgen Fenech, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri with multiple money laundering and corruption offences which they had solid evidence of, my mother was assassinated to prevent her from desperately trying to plug the gaping hole in our country left by the police. Even after she was murdered, the police left Keith Schembri free to derail the murder investigation and cover up the crime.
Common factors in all of these failures are Ian Abdilla, presiding over an Economic Crimes Unit that is criminally unwilling or unable to fulfill its purpose, and the Attorney General, who prioritises personal loyalty to the Prime Minister and other officials over his duty to prosecute money laundering offences. There is no legitimate explanation for the Attorney General’s passive role and his complacency on the investigation of FIAU reports. No country is safe when its chief prosecutor is willing to tolerate rampant corruption at all levels of government. This is apart from a general failure on the government’s part to allocate the resources required for the police to investigate and prosecute organised crime and break up criminal gangs, whether the members of those gangs wear suits or tracksuits.
There is more than enough evidence, over and above what I have described, that a state entity knew or ought to have known of or caused a real and immediate risk to my mother’s life, including from the criminal acts of third parties.
The police force is the state entity which most failed to take measures within the scope of its powers to avoid a risk of harm to my mother. More specifically, the person who most failed to use their powers to avoid that risk is the police commissioner.
The public inquiry will investigate whether the state took preventive operation measures to protect individuals whose lives are at risk from criminal acts, particularly in the case of journalists. It will find, as my mother and I found over the years of abuse, that no measures of protection were granted. On the contrary, there has been a continuous campaign of dehumanisation and hate towards journalists by criticising specific journalists, by selecting journalists for press conferences, by attacks on journalists by government officials including Glen Beddingfield, Sandro Craus, Josef Caruana and many others.
The inquiry has a great deal of work to do, analysing evidence that can make you feel as frustrated at injustice, traumatised and overwhelmed as it made my mother and me feel. I hope it will, at the same time, fill you with a sense of awe at the sheer scale of what she was up against, and how she never stood a chance.
I encourage the Board to use the first few sittings to call on any person, especially public officers, to present all documentary evidence they hold related to the terms of the inquiry. In particular, the inquiry should seek a copy of the Egrant report, all the FIAU reports and police case files on the persons connected to or featuring in my mother’s principal investigations, as well as any records or reports held by the police or FIAU on people implicated in her assassination, from the bottom to the top.
The Board finds itself, much like us, starting an inquiry when things are happening quickly yet at a point when documentary evidence could well be destroyed. It is therefore important that its first few sittings focus only on collecting such documentary evidence. Following that, the Board can consider that documentation and allow the family to consider it also. The Board must insist on full disclosure — I cannot stress this enough. As an example, Mario Cutajar said the day before yesterday that Theuma did not have a job with the government, whereas leaked records later showed otherwise.
Following the gathering of documentation, the Board can then call those individuals responsible for assessing risk to my mother and providing protection, as well as those individuals responsible for investigating reports of crime and corruption. These would include, all police commissioners from John Rizzo to Lawrence Cutajar, current and former FIAU directors and investigators, Ian Abdilla and Economic Crimes Unit investigators, MFSA and Accountancy Board officials as the chief regulators responsible for Pilatus Bank and Nexia BT, the individuals responsible for the tendering process that resulted in the award of the tender to Electrogas, and others. This is not a final list.