Malta marks 5 years since journalist killed, seeks justice

Oct 15, 2022, 1:57 PM | Updated: Oct 16, 2022, 6:04 pm

Maria Falcone, sister of Giovanni Falcone killed by the Sicilian Mafia in May 1992, delivers her sp...

Maria Falcone, sister of Giovanni Falcone killed by the Sicilian Mafia in May 1992, delivers her speech during a gathering to remember Daphne Caruana Galizia, at La Valletta, in Malta. Malta is marking the fifth anniversary of the car bomb slaying of the investigative journalist. It comes just two days after two key suspects reversed course and pleaded guilty to murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia on the first day of their trial. (AP Photo/Rene' Rossignaud)

(AP Photo/Rene' Rossignaud)

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Malta on Sunday marked the fifth anniversary of the car bomb slaying of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, with calls for justice and praise for the courage of a woman whose death shocked Europe and exposed a culture of impunity on the Mediterranean island nation.

Over 1,000 Maltese residents joined Caruana Galizia’s relatives, activists and the Maltese president of the European Parliament in a nighttime march and vigil at a makeshift memorial opposite Valletta’s law courts. Also on hand was the sister of Italy’s crusading anti-Mafia investigator, Giovanni Falcone, who was himself assassinated by the mob in a highway bombing in Sicily in 1992.

The anniversary came just two days after two key suspects reversed course on the first day of their trial and pleaded guilty to carrying out the murder. But other cases are still pending in Maltese courts and both the government and opposition leaders have called for justice to be delivered.

Caruana Galizia had written extensively about suspected corruption in political and business circles in the EU nation, and was killed Oct. 16, 2017, when a bomb placed under her car detonated as she was driving near her home. The murder shocked Europe and triggered angry protests in Malta.

A 2021 public inquiry report found that the Maltese state “has to bear responsibility” for the murder because of the culture of impunity that emanated from the highest levels of government. But as recently as last month, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights had decried the “lack of effective results in establishing accountability.”

During the nighttime vigil, one of Caruana Galizia’s nieces, Megan Mallia, read out a message on behalf of her family that said the assassination of an anti-corruption investigative journalist such as her aunt “robs people of their right to understand the reality in which they live.”

The men who ended Daphne’s life knew this, she said. “They feared neither the country’s authorities, nor their own conscience. They feared the thousands of people who chose to light a candle to drive away the darkness.”

Caruana Galizia, 53, was a top Maltese investigative journalist who had targeted people in then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s inner circle whom she accused of having offshore companies in tax havens disclosed in the Panama Papers leak. She also targeted the opposition. When she was killed, she was facing more than 40 libel suits.

“Throughout her life, Daphne Caruana Galizia always followed one principle in her investigative stories: She always did what she was duty bound to do. Not what benefitted her. Not what was convenient. Not what was popular. But what was right,” the president of the EU Parliament, Roberta Metsola, told those at the vigil.

The anniversary came two days after the trial opened for brothers George Degiorgio, 59, and Alfred Degiorgio, 57, the alleged hitmen who were accused of carrying out the bombing. After several hours of the hearing, they reversed their pleas and pled guilty and were sentenced to 40 years in prison apiece. The sentencing brought to three the number of people serving time, after Vincent Muscat pleaded guilty last year for his part in the murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Yorgen Fenech, a top businessman with ties to the former government, is awaiting trial following his 2021 indictment for alleged complicity in the slaying and for conspiracy to commit murder. His arrest in 2019 sparked a series of mass protests in the country that culminated with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s resignation.

Fenech had entered not-guilty pleas to all charges in the pre-trial compilation of evidence. Two other men have been accused of supplying the bomb and are currently undergoing a pre-trial compilation of evidence. They have pleaded not guilty.

A self-confessed middleman, taxi driver Melvin Theuma, was granted a presidential pardon in 2019 in exchange for testimony.

Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna opened Sunday’s anniversary commemoration by celebrating a Mass at Bidjna church near where Caruana Galizia lived, saying killing can never be “business as usual” and stressing the need for justice, even when it makes the powerful uncomfortable.

Afterward, activists, family members and Metula presided over a silent gathering at the site of the bombing. They planted a banner reading “Justice” in the ground alongside a big poster of the journalist’s face and lay flowers in the shape of the number five. They were joined by Maria Falcone, whose brother Giovanni and his wife, as well as three bodyguards were killed by a bomb planted on a Sicilian highway on May 23, 1992.

Falcone later thanked the crowd at the vigil for coming out in such big numbers, saying their presence showed that Caruana Galizia’s murder would not be in vain.

She urged Maltese to keep it up, saying Italy had paid the price in dead because of its dreadful history of organized crime. “I want you to take our society as an example to understand what a tremendous evil the Mafia is, and the even bigger evil that is the relationship and the agreement between the Mafia and politics,” she said.

“As Giovanni used to say: ‘Do your job at any cost,'” his sister said. “Giovanni and Daphne did this, but now our job is to remember them day after day.”

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Malta marks 5 years since journalist killed, seeks justice