The deadly power of corruption

By Silvia Martelli

Daphne Caruana Galizia, Maltese investigative journalist and mother of three sons, had launched her notoriously trenchant blog, Running Commentary, a few years ago. Since then, she had been using the website to bravely denounce Malta’s governmental corruption and uncover the political reality of the EU’s tax haven country. Her style was witty and sardonic, and her articles sparked hate among the many accused of responsibility for turning Malta into a mafia state – in which the political system was led by corruption, the criminal justice system was useless, and businesses were used to launder money or pay bribes. Proof of this were the car bombings and fifteen mafia-style assassinations that took place on the island in the past ten years.

In her last ever post, Galizia had warned: “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.” She had got it right, and her statement was probably more dangerously accurate than she could imagine: shortly after, just a few meters away from her home and family, a bomb in her car exploded, killing her. The outrageous act – the ultimate mafia’s murder in Malta – can be considered as an enormous violation of the journalist’s right to freedom of speech, as well as a substantial menace to the island’s democracy.

The reporter, who had denounced death threats only two weeks before dying, was driven by a fearless necessity of pursuing the truth. Inevitably, such attitude determined a long list of enemies, some of whom feared her enough to want her quiet forever. As her son Matthew pointed out, the assassination was a ‘culmination’ rather than a simple ‘aberration’, the remarkable evidence of a critical situation of corruption, violence and impunity that needs to cease. “My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it,” he added.

The journalist took on the powerful and the rich. After leading the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta, she was named a ‘one-woman WikiLeaks’ by Politico, which also appointed her as one of the 28 people who were ‘shaping, shaking and stirring Europe’. The latest scandal happened last May, and it had to do with Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, two of his closest aides, and the connection of offshore companies linked to the three men with the sale of Maltese passports, as well as payments of thousands of euros from the Azerbaijan government. Galizia’s reporting was a loud declaration that Malta was becoming – or maybe has already become – a rotten state that resembles organized crime.

Despite being the EU smallest country, Malta held the rotating EU presidency until last year. However, all that glitters is not gold: the Malta files, which show that the country has helped multinationals avoid paying over €14bn, leaves no space to grant the country the benefit of the doubt on its integrity. Forget Switzerland and Luxembourg, the new EU ‘pirate tax haven’ is the small island. In addition, although the big money-spinner for the island has been selling EU passports, internet gambling companies are becoming an increasing issue, currently accounting for 10% of the island’s GDP.

Galizia, who was the tenth journalists assassinated worldwide since the beginning of the year, was on an incredibly valuable mission of uncovering the systematic corruption that is spanning the Maltese economy, society and politics. Her blog often reached a much bigger audience than national newspapers did, becoming an inestimable source of information for those who, just like her, were committed to shape a fairer and more transparent Malta. Her murder, which was of a predominantly political motive, is one more example that corruption kills – both countries and innocent citizens.

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