Malta’s big justice challenge


The arrest of 10 suspects in connection with the car-bomb murder of a Maltese investigative journalist comes almost two months after her death. Daphne Caruana Galizia was described by fans as a fearless reporter, who used her hugely popular blog to break stories that severely discomfited political and community leaders.

She alleged corruption at the highest levels in connection with, among others, fuel smuggling, money laundering and the award of passports and Schengen visas for travel in Europe. Her murder, as she drove away from her rural home, came after a series of threats that included the butchering of the family pet. She was widely admired for her courage in persisting with her blogging. Those of her supporters who might have feared that the 53-year-old journalist was becoming carried away in her relentless campaign against the rich and powerful in this tiny EU member state of just 436,000 people were silenced by her murder.

This wicked crime has had the effect of legitimizing all the many accusations that Caruana Galizia had made in her campaigns. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and members of his government were told by the dead journalist’s family that they were not welcome at her funeral. Her three sons refused to be associated with the $1.2 million reward the government offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderers. They described Malta as a “Mafia state”.

The Muscat government has also had to put up with some embarrassing outside pressure. While the Maltese police themselves sought the forensic support of the US FBI, there have been calls for other parties to be involved. As so often when a high profile journalist falls victim to assassination, there have been high-level calls for action. Eight leading international media organizations have pressed the European Commission to launch its own investigation into the crime. In response the Commission warned the Maltese authorities that no stone should be left unturned in the search for those who committed “this atrocious, barbarous assassination”.

The focus is now on the 10 suspects, all believed to be Maltese nationals. Normally police have 48 hours in which to question and charge them. The rumor mill is already working overtime in the Maltese capital Valetta. In a country with such a small population, where everyone knows each other’s families if not every individual, there will be gossip and suspicions that are based on long-standing feuds and rivalries. It is already possible to see problems emerging with the jury who will have to decide the verdict of a criminal trial. There is a clear risk that Maltese justice might find itself on trial, with the further endangerment to the reputation of state institutions.

The very worst outcome, not just for leading politicians beneath the cloud of suspicion, but for the entire country, would be a trial which established guilt but which failed to find the real motive and the individual who ordered Caruana Galizia’s murder. If some of the accused were to die, before or after conviction, this would compound the island’s “Mafia State” image. The long-term consequences for this go-ahead EU member with its vigorous economy and potential offshore oil wealth could be extremely serious. Uncovering the truth about Caruana Galizia’s assassination, wherever that truth may lead, would seem to be essential for Malta’s future.