Daphne Caruana Galizia’s last blog was characteristically trenchant, pithy and, unfortunately, more prescient for her than she could imagine. She had warned: “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.” Less than half an hour later, a huge bomb ripped through the white Peugeot 108 rental car she had been driving, killing her instantly on a quiet country lane near her home in Malta.
It is not special pleading to point out that journalists and journalism are facing extraordinary challenges: Mrs Caruana Galizia is the 10th journalist worldwide to die this year – and the second in Europe – in pursuit of finding the truth. The assassination of an investigative journalist, one who had unearthed serious allegations of money laundering and corruption in Malta, a European Union state, speaks volumes about the threat to freedom of speech in that country and the atmosphere of impunity and violence that has taken hold in the Mediterranean archipelago. As her son Matthew put it, “she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it”. Her bravery cost her life. It should not be lost in vain.
Mrs Caruana Galizia was a fearless reporter, taking on the rich and the powerful. A “one-woman WikiLeaks”, she led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta. Her death must be properly investigated – local police already appear to be unsympathetic. Mrs Caruana Galizia’s most recent revelations pointed the finger at Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, and two of his closest aides, connecting offshore companies linked to the three men with the sale of Maltese passports and hundreds of thousands of euros in payments from the government of Azerbaijan. Despite a judicial inquiry into the allegations, Mr Muscat won a snap poll this summer.
What is striking about Mrs Caruana Galizia’s reporting is how rotten the state of Malta appears. The EU’s smallest country, with a population of around 420,000, Malta held the rotating European Union presidency until earlier this year. It has been labelled an EU “pirate tax haven”, helping multinationals avoid paying €14bn. A darker side is the 15 mafia-style shootings and bombings that have punctuated its last decade. Its main industries have been infiltrated by crime gangs.
Earlier this month Europol detailed how the Calabrian organised crime syndicate, the ‘Ndrangheta, ran a €2bn money-laundering operation through Maltese online betting companies. Internet gambling companies account for 10% of the island’s GDP. But Malta’s big money-spinner has been selling EU passports to the rich. More than 900 bought citizenship in 2016, which at €650,000 a pop means that they contributed nearly 16% of Malta’s budget revenues. Since many were taken up by Eurasian oligarchs, one can understand the accusation that Mrs Caruana Galizia was up against not a democracy but a mafia state.
The charge is that Malta is turning into a state run by, and resembling, organised crime – which does not govern but disposes of positions, wealth and troublesome persons. Malta cannot be a sham EU state where elections, the rule of law and the courts are just for show. The continent’s citizens accept EU governance because every member state is a functioning democracy. When one of its own backslides on democratic commitments, when a life is lost in the pursuit of truth, then the EU must take action.