Watch Dateline documentary on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family’s ongoing fight for justice .
Paul Caruana Galizia remembers the moment he learned of his mother’s assassination.
His brother Matthew called him from a Maltese number. “Paul,” he said, “there was a bomb in her car.” And then, he added, “I don’t think she made it.”
Paul writes with chilling clarity and gruesome detail in his new book, A Death in Malta: An Assassination and a Family’s Quest for Justice, examining the life and murder of his mother, Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Caruana Galizia was Malta’s most prolific investigative journalist, uncovering corruption and criminality at the highest levels in the country. But on 16 October 2017, she was murdered when 400g of TNT detonated under the seat of her car barely a few hundred metres from her rural family home.
Her assassination shook the tiny Mediterranean island to its core and exposed a dark truth few in the country were willing to acknowledge let alone address – that an EU member nation was on the verge of becoming a mafia state.
“I will never forget that flight home from London walking into the house, the look on my father’s face, everything,” Paul, the youngest of her three sons, told SBS Dateline.
“There was a moment where I walked in and I expected to hear my mother typing because she would work at the table upstairs.”
He says he still recalls those moments with “a kind of complete clarity” and with the passing of time, they haven’t faded.
“I remember everything, how I was feeling, the temperature, the way people looked and the sounds, everything. It’s been six years, but that’s really not what it feels like. What it feels like is one long day.”
The ensuing saga engulfed the country, as the slain journalist’s family very quickly found themselves on a crusade for justice, which Paul says has now come to define them and Malta’s fight against corruption.
Spurred on by his mother’s investigations, Paul would eventually decide to follow her into journalism after her death.
“It’s hard to believe now, but we were an intensely private family,” he says. “It’s been very difficult and at times devastating. I’d say the effect has been total. It’s my first and last thought every day. Even now that I have a full-time job, I’d say it takes up most of my time.”
“This isn’t only about me and my brothers and my aunts and my father. This is about Malta. This is Malta against corruption.”
Daphne’s work uncovering murky government deals, suspected corruption and political intrigue captured the imagination of most Maltese. Her daily online blog, Running Commentary, would often garner nearly as many readers as Malta counted citizens – some 400,000 daily. But her writing also earned her powerful enemies.
A series of high-profile trials garnered global media attention as three men accused of carrying out the execution faced court. One of them was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2021, while last year two brothers were sentenced to 40 years each.
The fallout would lead all the way to the office of then-prime minister Joseph Muscat and precipitated the resignation of his chief of staff Keith Schembri, tourism minister Konrad Mizzi and then, finally, the prime minister himself in 2019. Caruana Galizia had reported on Mizzi and Schembri’s alleged corrupt dealings in office tied to the 2016 Panama Papers investigation. The men have denied any wrongdoing.
One of Malta’s richest men, Yorgen Fenech, was then arrested trying to flee the country on his private yacht. He had been implicated in Daphne’s earlier investigations into shady offshore companies with ties back to Schembri and former economy minister Christian Cardona. Fenech is now awaiting trial, accused of masterminding the killing. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.
When a public inquiry into Daphne’s murder was finally held, a panel of judges concluded in their 2021 report that Malta had been “moving towards a situation which could be qualified as a mafia state. It was the journalist’s assassination that put a brake on this predicted disaster”.
While the judges said Daphne’s killing may have saved her country, Paul says the real work still lies ahead for his family and for Malta.
“So the three hit men have all pleaded guilty. Now a middleman has received a pardon in exchange for evidence on the murder. In his evidence, we got charges against the man he says commissioned the murder. So that man has been in custody since November 2019, and we hope he’ll be tried by a jury within the next six months.”
But the family says it won’t stop campaigning until attention turns back to the corruption stories Daphne risked her life to report.
“So there hasn’t been a single prosecution over any one of her major corruption stories,” Paul says. “And our view in the campaign has always been that the rule of law crisis in Malta is what enabled the murder to happen.
“Is the state of Malta really working as it should be? The answer is no. And what do we need to get it to work as it should? And really that’s a kind of life’s mission, proper constitutional reform, achieving it and then ensuring it remains in place.”