Panama Papers Investigative Journalist Killed Thirty Minutes After Criticizing Government Officials
Malta’s prime minister described Caruana Galizia as “one of my harshest critics, on a political and personal level,” as he denounced the attack as “unacceptable” violence.

About 30 minutes after publishing her final blog post Monday, Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a powerful bomb blast that tossed her car off the road.

Her work was instrumental in cracking open the island nation’s connections to the Panama Papers document leak.

Caruana Galizia, 53, described by Politico as a “one-woman WikiLeaks,” had just driven away from her home in Mosta outside Malta’s capital, Valletta, when the bomb exploded, sending wreckage spiralling over a wall and into a field.

The Guardian reported the blast was close enough to her home that one of Caruana Galizia’s sons heard the explosion.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who described the slain journalist as “one of my harshest critics, on a political and personal level,” said her death resulted from a “barbaric attack” that also assaulted freedom of expression. He denounced the attack as “unacceptable” violence.

Muscat said he has asked the U.S. government and the FBI for help investigating the car bombing.

Malta Today reported that opposition leader Adrian Delia called the incident “political murder,” hanging blame on Muscat in Parliament on Monday night.

In Caruana Galizia’s last entry, posted at 2:35 p.m., she called Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, a “crook,” asserting that he, with the help of others, established a clandestine operation in Panama to store money to insulate it from taxation, then searched for “shady” arrangements in other countries for the same ends. The piece was centred on a libel claim the prime minister’s chief of staff had brought against a former opposition politician over comments the latter made about corruption.

“There are crooks everywhere you look now,” she wrote. “The situation is desperate.”

Caruana Galizia presumably feared for her safety: two weeks ago she filed a police report, notifying them that she was receiving threats.

Caruana Galizia was named by Politico as among the 28 Europeans who are “shaping, shaking and stirring” Europe. She had exposed that Muscat’s wife, Michelle, as well as Muscat’s energy minister and the government’s chief of staff, held companies in Panama. Muscat and his wife deny any wrongdoing.

Caruana Galizia has racked up libel suits through her popular website, Running Commentary. Opposition leader Delia sued her over a series of stories linking him to a prostitution racket in London. Economy Minister Christian Cardona claimed libel when Caruana Galizia wrote that he visited a brothel while in Germany on government business.

Caruana Galizia often castigated the prime minister and his aides in her work. In a post dated Aug. 25, she takes aim at a photograph of him and his wife, sarcastically relating life under his leadership as one set in a crime novel.

Another calls into question Muscat’s use of what appears to be an unofficial email server. Commentary on an anti-laundering bill reading in Parliament ends with Caruana Galizia rhetorically asking, “Are we supposed to laugh, or what?”

Caruana Galizia is survived by her husband and three sons. One son, Matthew, was on the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists team that won the Pulitzer Prize for its work on the Panama Papers scandal.

Writers, politicians, news organizations and others extended their condolences to the controversial figure known for her dogged reporting and rabble rousing.

The World Editors Forum and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers weighed in on the incident, too, denouncing the violence.

“We condemn this shocking attack, which targeted not just one of our bravest and brightest but also our very mission as truth seekers,” said David Callaway, president of the World Editors Forum.

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, chimed in on Twitter, offering a reward of about $30,000 to secure more details pertaining to the attack.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which co-ordinated reporting on the Panama Papers with journalists around the world, said in a statement it is shocked by Caruana Galizia’s death.

“ICIJ condemns violence against journalists and is deeply concerned about freedom of the press in Malta,” the statement read. “ICIJ calls upon the Maltese authorities to investigate the murder and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

The Panama Papers project, which involved the collaboration of 100 media outlets, including the Star, won a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting this spring. The team of journalists from 80 countries poured over 11.5 million leaked files amassed from Mossack Fonseca — the law firm at the pit of the international white-collar crime scandal specializing in the development of offshore agencies.

The stories exposed more than 140 politicians from more than 50 countries with alleged connections to the tax havens, including 14 current or former world leaders, according to a statement by the consortium of journalists, released this spring. The Star published more than 50 exclusive stories; Star reporters Robert Cribb, Marco Chown Oved and Tanya Talaga contributed.

In June, Muscat was sworn in for a second term following snap elections he called to reinforce his government, as the Panama Papers’ leak indicated his wife owned an offshore company, which she denies.

Caruana Galizia’s family has asked the courts of Malta to replace the magistrate assigned to conduct the inquiry into the journalist’s death.

The family said the magistrate, Consuelo Scerri Herrera, “in her personal capacity, had launched judicial procedures against (Caruana Galizia) regarding comments she had written.”

Caruana Galizia for many years was a harsh critic of Malta’s Labor party and government. More recently she had expanded her criticism to include the opposition Nationalist Party.

Her slaying drew swift denunciations in the tiny EU nation.

“Daphne played a vitally important role in unearthing serious allegations of money laundering and corruption in Malta, including those involving senior figures in the Maltese government,” said Sven Giegold, a Greens member in the European Parliament.

Italian newsweekly L’Espresso, which has also written about alleged corruption linked to Malta, said the reporter’s murder demonstrated that a well-documented expose “is perceived as a danger by the powerful and by organized crime.”

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani in a tweet called the development a “tragic example of a journalist who sacrificed her life to search for the truth.”

HT The Associated Press

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