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Andrew Caruana Galizia: “Malta felt like a hostile country to me and my family”

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Two years after the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the businessman Yorgen Fennech was charged with complicity in the murder on November 30th. The Mediterranean island is now living a political crisis as members of the government are also suspected to be involved in Daphne’s assassination. Cafébabel met with Galizia’s son Andrew Caruana Galizia to raise the issue of journalists’ safety in Malta who are facing organised crime.

“There are crooks everywhere you look now,” Daphne Caruana Galizia was writing in her blog, shortly before being killed in her car by an explosion on October 16th, 2017. She had revealed, among others, the involvement of Keith Schembri, Chief of Cabinet of the Prime Minister, and Konrad Mizzi, Minister of Energy at the time in cases of corruption.

Two years later, in exchange for pardon for his crimes, Melvin Theuma, a taxi driver and middleman, decides to deliver information to the law. He accuses the businessman Yorgen Fennech of being the real murderer, who was arrested while attempting to flee in his yacht on November 30th, and is now charged with complicity in the assassination.

But the anger of Daphne’s family is nourished by another involvement. The former chief-of-cabinet of the Prime Minister Keith Schembri is now accused by Yorgen Fennech of having commanded the murder. After resigning on November 26th, Keith Schembri is now being heard by the police. The Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced his resignation for next January. In Malta, citizens are now protesting against him and demanding immediate resignation.

How do you react to the fact that the Prime Minister did not resign immediately?

It shows his contempt for the Maltese public, because he didn’t even explain why he is resigning; so we’re just supposed to accept it like that. “You know I was planning to resign anyway, I’m going to step down when it suits me.” It’s absurd, you know. If he is willing to take political responsibility for what happened, and we hope he will face criminal responsibility for what happened, then he needs to step down immediately, it should not be his choice.

There have been many charges of slander against your mother before she died and many are still running. The Council of Europe demands the abandonment of these charges. How does the Maltese government react to that?

The government reaction is that these are private civil cases brought by private individuals. So it would be a breach of their right to seek legal redress if the government tries to stop them from pursuing these cases against my mother. The reality of course is that most of the people pursuing the cases are in the government. So they are not pursuing the cases as private individuals, but as government officials who my mother wrote about because of their positions.

There is no law in Malta to protect journalists against SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation). Is there nothing to guarantee public interest?

No, there’s nothing at all. It’s even worse than that. The threshold to sue someone in Malta is very low. All it takes is 300 euros as a court deposit. The journalist will also have to pay 300 euros to respond. So if you are a multi-millionaire, you have an interest to pursue a journalist 10, 20, 50 times, you have to pay 50 times 300 euros, but for you it represents nothing. But the journalist will probably have to borrow money from friends and family to defend themselves.

This happened in one case against my mother. A businessman sued her 19 times in one day for a single story. And the police arrived, the court Marshall arrives at our house and pinned 19 summonses on the gate of our house. It was insane. My mother had to pay 19 times 300 euros just to defend herself. And these cases are still going on.

There is a problem of a very low threshold, the plaintiff doesn’t need to present evidence, prima facie evidence that they have a case, and the magistrate doesn’t review the evidence before hearing the case. So, there is no protection against libelous lawsuits

Is it so common to sue journalists?

These were all first in Malta. My mother was always the first person to suffer these things. The economy minister sued her twice, his aid sued her twice at the same time so 4 cases. And then took out a garnishee order for the maximum amount of damages he could win in each case. A garnishee order is something that you use normally in commercial dispute. If you don’t pay back something that you owe, the court freezes the money you owe in your account to make sure that you are paying. So the Minister of Economy did this for a lie suit, which he hadn’t won, which was only just starting. 50,000 euros were frozen in my mother’s account, and they were still frozen when she was killed. This is no longer possible, this was changed after my mother was murdered.

"In Malta, there is a big fear of writing about people who might be connected to you in some way, that might do you harm in some way."

Did your mother experience threats already before she died?

Yes. Our house was set on fire, our front door was set on fire, our dog was killed. This happened long before. She had a 30 year-long career. The moment she started writing, she became nationally famous because her style was so different. She wrote with her own name, she was a complete break from anything that came before. In Malta, there is a big fear of writing about people who might be connected to you in some way, that might do you harm in some way, because it’s such a small society. There is a fear that if you make enemies, one day, that will create problems for you, so if you write about a judge for example, one day you might end up having a case with that judge, so better not to say anything, since you never know when you might need them. But my mother didn’t care about this.

Is she a unique case in Malta, are there other journalists who dared to investigate like she did?

Not while she was alive. But after she was murdered, two emerged. Caroline Muscat and Manuel Delia who has a blog. They are working in the spirit of my mother. And there is Jacob Borg at the Times of Malta who is doing really good investigative work. But not opinion you know, not kind of opinion leading. My mother was traditionally an opinion leader. She would have described herself as a columnist, not an investigative journalist. She became an investigative journalist because of the situation. But actually she was more famous for her opinions.

What do you think about the pardon being granted to the middleman who gave information to the justice?

Obviously, it is very difficult for us, the family, to stomach the fact that this man will walk free, when he should have been in prison 20 years ago for other crimes. This is a lesson to the law enforcement authorities that if you tolerate criminal behaviour because you think, “I don’t know, illegal gambling doesn’t really bother and anyone doesn’t really kill anyone”, you are creating a system where a businessman who wanted to kill a journalist knew who to go to. You know, this role of the middleman shouldn’t exist on a small island. If you want to murder someone in Malta, there should be no such position as a middleman in an assassination plot. And the only way to prevent people from becoming middlemen in assassination is to make sure they are prosecuted for their first crimes, make sure that no such people enjoy liberty.

"The Prime Minister chief-of-staff should have been in prison a long time ago for other crimes, even before he came up with the idea of murdering my mother."

So do you think that pardoning people for their crime can help fighting against organised crime?

Every case is different. In some cases, that’s the only way to deliver justice. Especially in mafia cases, the only way Italian police were able to prosecute mafiosi was to get people to turn state evidence. My mother's case is different. The Prime Minister chief-of-staff should have been in prison a long time ago for other crimes, even before he came up with the idea of murdering my mother. That’s what makes me deeply angry - that the pardon is only necessary because of the police’s earlier failures. Now it seems to be the only way.

Is there a status in Malta for informants, like in Italy where protection can even be granted to them?

Yes, immunity. There’s no sort of legal framework for their protection. But this taxi driver will get immunity for all crimes.

So there is a legal frame to pardon perpetrators of crimes?

Yes, a presidential pardon, under recommendation of the Prime Minister, believe it or not, who is implicated in the assassination.

This interview was conducted by Léa Marchal

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Léa Marchal

Babélienne depuis 2018, je suis désormais éditrice pour le nouveau média, et journaliste freelance dans les affaires européennes. J'ai piloté la série d'articles multimédia Generation Yerevan, ainsi que le podcast Soupe à l'Union, publiés sur Cafébabel.