“The Guardian Award recognizes my mother’s work, not just as a personal achievement, but as a legacy that belongs to all journalists, all people who fight fraud, to all people who protest corruption all over the world,” said Matthew Caruana Galizia during the Tuesday morning General Session. Matthew accepted the posthumous 2020 Guardian Award on behalf of his mother, journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered in a car bombing in Malta in 2017. “My mother herself is now beyond all harm, but the Guardian Award honors her life’s work. In doing so, it helps to protect this legacy.”
Speaking virtually from his home in Malta, Matthew detailed the corruption of Malta’s ruling elite and how Daphne’s dogged pursuit of the truth led to her untimely death. “Exactly four years ago, I was in the middle of a tsunami of press reports that were hitting the world,” Matthew said.
The tsunami was the Panama Papers — an exposé about a widespread system of global tax evasion and money laundering based on leaked internal documents from the Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider, Mossack Fonseca. The documents revealed offshore holdings of 140 politicians and public officials from around the world, more than 214,000 offshore entities connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories, and major banks that had driven the creation of hard-to-trace companies in offshore havens.
The documents were leaked to journalists at the German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung. However, they were unable to handle the mass of data, so they reached out to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) for help. Matthew worked as a software engineer for the ICIJ and was pulled onto the project.
As journalists raked through the documents, discovering huge underground rivers of dirty money flowing between tycoons, government officials, politicians and criminals, on the other side of the world in their family home in Malta, Daphne was unknowingly working on a related investigation. “We were like two people on opposite sides of the Atlantic, digging a tunnel from these opposite ends, then meeting in the middle, each surprised,” he said. “For me, and for everyone else, that was the beginning of what would be the largest-ever global collaborative journalism project that the world had ever seen, and one which would reach into our lives in ways we could never have imagined. Especially for me. It led, directly, to my mother’s murder.”
For years, Daphne had questioned and investigated the networks of influence and interest that propelled Malta’s former prime minister, Joseph Muscat, to power in 2013. She had long suspected that the people closest to him in his role of prime minister — his chief of staff, his star minister — were implicated in illicit activity. That activity, we know today, turned out to be a kleptocratic kickback scheme surrounding the privatization of Malta’s power utility. “My mother’s uncovering of that scheme involving shell companies in Panama, bank accounts in the United Arab Emirates, as well as the role of the government of Azerbaijan, led directly to her assassination,” Matthew said. “The man who played a key role in this scheme, Yorgen Fenech [a prominent Maltese businessman], commissioned her assassination exactly around the time that she began uncovering his role in it.”
In February 2017, Daphne wrote in her blog, “Running Commentary,” about a mystery company in Dubai called 17 Black Limited. She alleged it was connected to Maltese politicians. Eight months later, Daphne was murdered, which renewed interest in her many different claims. Reuters and other media have started to unravel the mystery of 17 Black, and in 2018, police arrested three men in connection with the car bombing. In 2019, Fenech was arrested while trying to flee Malta on board his yacht. He denies accusations of complicity in the killing.
Matthew said that while his family were gathered in their home immediately following her assassination they realized her killing was only the first step towards making her disappear forever. They knew the next steps would be to kill her legacy, to turn people against her, and to harass and intimidate anyone who tried to commemorate her, or fight for justice for her assassination and for investigations into the crimes she exposed. “We had no time to mourn,” he said. “Our fight began from day one following her assassination.”
Daphne’s family, her friends, and her colleagues in Malta and in the international media have been compelled to accept that some people are happy that she was killed — and are happier still that she was killed in such a horrific way, “blown to pieces in front of her own family,” Matthew said. “That is the direct outcome of a 30-year campaign to distort my mother’s work which has continued now that she is no longer around to defend it. This is one of the hardest things that we have had to deal with.”
He said there have been repeated attempts to encourage people to forget Daphne in the hope that they will also forget her work and the corruption and crimes that she exposed. Matthew said the government continues to call up on their family and others who support their fight for justice.
The day Daphne died, a group of young people, traumatized by the assassination and possibly working under shock, left flowers in her memory on a monument opposite the law courts in Valletta, Malta’s capital city. The flowers have grown into a protest memorial. People gather on the 16th day of every month, the anniversary of Daphne’s death, to commemorate her and call for justice. That protest memorial has been destroyed more than 100 times. “I, myself, had to personally witness the destruction of the memorial,” Matthew said. “It’s one of the hardest, most frustrating, most angering things, after the assassination itself, that I have had to witness.”
Despite his anger and grief, Matthew moved back to Malta to continue his mother’s work, and he said the situation remains as difficult as it was around the time she was murdered.
“People ask how an award can make a difference to my family’s situation, to the situation of my country, to the fight against corruption in general,” said Matthew. “How it can help win justice, fight this corruption, hold a state such as Malta to account for allowing those who expose corruption to be killed in cold blood and in broad daylight, a few hundred meters from where I am sitting now. They ask how an award can help the world understand that we are failing to protect the most vocal defenders of universal values: the right to speak freely, the right to know, the right to hold power to account, the right to justice — these are the values that my mother died fighting for.
“People in power who influence law enforcement control a lot of Malta’s media,” he continued. “They control the state broadcaster. And they influence the thinking of many of my fellow Maltese. … They’re led to brand my mother as a traitor, as a witch, as a purveyor of fake news. They refer to her as a hate blogger, repeating the term that the government uses even on official communications. … Effectively, they victim-blame her for her own assassination.
“This is why the Guardian Award is so important to us,” said Matthew. “If my mother’s memory and legacy are destroyed, the criminal and corrupt that she investigated and who are responsible for her assassination will have triumphed, and the universal values that my mother worked so hard to defend will have failed.”
In accepting the honor in his mother’s name, Matthew also accepted it on behalf of all journalists who continue her work in Malta and elsewhere. “On behalf of journalists around the world who have told and retold her story, on behalf of everyone who keeps her memory alive and continues to campaign for justice despite the personal risks, they, too, have helped protect my mother’s memory and have become part of her legacy,” he said. “While criminal justice for her death remains elusive, the Guardian Award brings us closer to another sort of justice, one that is very comforting for me and my family. … This kind of award recognizes my mother’s work as a legacy to society and her assassination as a crime against the universal values that she defended.
“On behalf of my father, and brothers and the rest of my mother’s extended family, I want to thank the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. We are deeply, deeply honored by the Guardian Award.”
For more information on Daphne and Matthew Caruana Galizia, see “Daphne’s message lives on,” Fraud Magazine, May/June 2020.