Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bombing in Malta. Picture: AP
Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bombing in Malta. Picture: AP

Harrowing story behind woman’s murder

For two weeks prior to her death, journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had been receiving death threats.

She told police about it, but it was nothing new. Years earlier her dog's throat had been cut, and her front door had been set alight.

But Malta's most "feared" and "loved" investigative journalist couldn't escape those hunting her.

On October 16, 2017, a car bomb planted beneath her seat exploded while she was driving near her home on the picturesque but troubled island south of Italy. The 53-year-old was killed instantly.

In the weeks after her murder, three suspects were arrested, but nobody has faced trial.

A new report, released by Europe's watchdog for human rights, reveals those three men could be free within two months as the country's time limit for holding a trial expires.

The damning 24-page document tears strips off Maltese authorities for what it calls continuing failures" that "raise serious questions about the rule of law in Malta".

Daphne Caruana Galizia. Picture: Getty
Daphne Caruana Galizia. Picture: Getty

Malta's problems are well documented. The Atlantic reports it is "one of the weakest links in Europe".

"Its banks, with questionable vetting to ensure against money laundering, have become a back door into the European banking system," journalist Rachel Donadio wrote.

"Its 'golden passport' program lets wealthy individuals invest in Malta in exchange for citizenship - and visa-free travel and work across the bloc.

"Malta is a grim example of how a European country has fallen dramatically short on the rule of law. It is also a prime example of the failure of EU institutions to do much about that."

But the new report takes that one step further. It poses serious questions about the way judges and magistrates and police commissioners are appointed - all at the discretion of the prime minister.

It notes whistleblowers are unprotected and "numerous major scandals" have broken out.

"The rule of law in Malta is seriously undermined by the extreme weakness of its system of checks and balances," the report reads.

The wreckage of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s car after it was bombed. Picture: Rene Rossignaud/AP
The wreckage of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s car after it was bombed. Picture: Rene Rossignaud/AP

It details how Ms Caruana Galizia became a target for trying to uncover the truth about corruption in Malta.

"Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta's best-known and most widely-read investigative journalist, whose work focused on corruption amongst Maltese politicians and public officials, was assassinated by a car bomb close to her home," it reads.

"The response of the international community was immediate. Within the Council of Europe, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, the Secretary General and the Commissioner for Human Rights all called for a thorough investigation of the murder.

"Ms Caruana Galizia's murder and the continuing failure of the Maltese authorities to bring the suspected killers to trial or identify those who ordered her assassination raise serious questions about the rule of law in Malta.

Daphne Caruana Galizia with her husband Peter and their son Paul. Picture: Getty Images
Daphne Caruana Galizia with her husband Peter and their son Paul. Picture: Getty Images

"Ms Caruana Galizia led the reporting on most of Malta's recent scandals. This made her famous, revered, feared, loved and hated on the island. She was a victim of Malta's libel laws, which until recently were widely seen as unfavourable to independent journalism, with a criminal defamation offence, low court fees and no penalties for frivolous suits in civil cases.

"At the time of her death, Ms Caruana Galizia faced 47 libel cases, many of which are still pending against her family as heirs.

"All of the main actors implicated in her reporting on corruption had brought cases against her. Prime Minister (Joseph) Muscat sued her over the report that his wife was the ultimate beneficial owner of a Panama-based company, Egrant.

"Economy minister Chris Cardona sued her over a report that he visited a German brothel whilst on official business.

Victoria Marinova was raped and murdered after several investigative reports in Bulgaria.
Victoria Marinova was raped and murdered after several investigative reports in Bulgaria.

"Silvio Debono, a property developer, brought 19 cases all relating to a single report."

Ms Caruana Galizia's murder is an example of the way female journalists are targeted in Europe.

Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova, 30, was raped and murdered last year after promising to uncover corruption scandals in her home country.

Days after her first show on regional channel TVN aired, the 30-year-old's body was found in a park in Ruse on the Bulgarian/Romanian border.

Swedish journalist Kim Wall was raped and dismembered in Copenhagen in August last year while covering the story of Peter Madsen, a man who built his own submarine.

Slovakian journalist Ján Kuciak was shot dead alongside his fiancee in February after taking on a story about alleged tax fraud in the country's parliament.

And Russian journalist Tatyana Felgenhauer was lucky to live after she was stabbed in the neck at the radio station where she worked in Moscow.

rohan.smith1@news.com.au | @ro_smith

Killed in a car bombing. Picture: AP
Killed in a car bombing. Picture: AP