Daphne Caruana Galizia's sister and two sons testified in Friday's public inquiry hearing.
The inquiry follows a report on the state of the rule of law in Malta published in June by the Council of Europe.
That report had specifically called on the government to set up a public inquiry, aimed at establishing whether the journalist’s death in 2017 could have been prevented.
Highlights from Friday’s testimony:
Corinne Vella’s main points:
- Propagandists were put on state payroll;
- False trails were planted to lead journalists astray;
- A lot of sister’s reporting disrupted corruption plans.
Andrew Caruana Galizia’s main points:
- His diplomatic posting with foreign office terminated after 2017 election;
- State actors were involved to turn his mother into a target;
- Dangerous conditions prevailed for at least a year before the assassination;
- Says police presence near their home would have provided protection.
Paul Caruana Galizia’s main points:
- Says Justice Minister wanted former judge Antonio Mizzi on inquiry board;
- Keith Schembri's missing phone data could be cloned the same way Caruana Galizia's was;
- Country's executive did not only not prevent murder but may have caused it.
11.35am The board explains that the speaker of the House Anġlu Farrugia and former police chief John Rizzo will be testifying next. Former police commissioners Peter Paul Zammit and Michael Cassar will follow, before incumbent police chief Lawrence Cutajar faces the inquiry board.
The next sitting has been set for January 7 and another for January 9.
Turned into a scapegoat
11.30am In an interview with the Council of Europe shortly before her death, Caruana Galizia said she was “turned into a scapegoat” and a “negative example for aspiring journalists”.
"She didn’t live to see that she became a positive example after she died, Corinne ends. Shutting up a journalist shuts up anybody else who had something to say," says Corinne Vella, ending her testimony.
Money to silence journalists
11.20am There were several attempts to discredit Caruana Galizia's stories as fake, as well as pressure on independent media to retract stories.
More than 70% of libels filed against Caruana Galizia came from government officials, many towards the end of her life. Malicious intent and an unscrupulous lawyer are all that is needed to bring such lawsuits to attack a journalist.
Some used financial sanctions to silence the writer. Businessman Silvio Debono filed 19 cases against Caruana Galizia on grounds that he could do it because he had a lot of money, Vella says.
Media law reforms included suggestions that the penalty on libel should be raised, criminal libel should be repealed but ongoing cases should continue. These seem to have been directed against Caruana Galizia.
"She would have been forced to register her blog, she would have been turned down, she would not have been able to protect her sources if not registered as a journalist."
An absent police boss
11am Corinne Vella asks why the police commissioner has been conspicuously absent from her sister's murder case, save for one press conference.
"Where was he at the time of the crime? What was his reaction? What did he do? What has he done since then? Why has he not kept the public informed?"
Citing the Italian quote: "Prima ti ammazzano, poi ti ammazzano la memoria," (first they kill you, then they kill your memory) Vella points out there were repeated attempts to stop her sister's blog.
Independent journalism is being drowned out, she says, recalling the time Pilatus Bank threatened Maltese media houses with massive overseas lawsuits forcing them to take down or redact original reports. All this isolated Daphne.
Propagandists on state payroll
10.55am She says that 80% of Malta population watch TV, only 20% read newspapers. Large sections of the population did not have access to what Caruana Galizia wrote but were faced with propaganda reports dehumanising her.
People would question “is she really telling the truth?"
Any propagandists were put on the state payroll. A journalist once told Corinne Vella that when the Prime Minister was asked for an interview, he was told that he would be granted a meeting as long as he “didn’t ask about corruption, money laundering or Daphne Caruana Galizia”.
Another OPM official to be called in to carry out propaganda was (now MP) Glenn Bedingfield who wrote his blog while on state payroll.
Former L-orizzont editor Josef Caruana had called for the “removal of traitors” and a “cleansing exercise” in his editorials. After that, he was put on state payroll, writing to implicate Caruana Galizia's sons in the murder.
Neville Gafa, who worked at OPM, and who had "stalked" Caruana Galizia, should also be called in for questioning.
False trails planted
10.40am Corinne Vella turns her guns onto Keith Schembri, and recalls the day when her sister told her she is beginning to suspect that his real business is money laundering.
Even before the election she was investigating the power station deal. It was evident that it was a "dumb" deal. But the greatest risk surfaced when she discovered the financial structures beneath.
Vella says a lot of what we know now seems like a cover-up. While the Prime Minister promised that he would leave no stone unturned after the assassination, the public inquiry was delayed by two years, and false trails were planted to lead journalists astray.
If nothing changes in Malta, her death will not be the last
"If nothing changes in Malta, her death will not be the last. Journalists will remain at risk. Hence, the importance of this inquiry. Her experience mirrors the lives of other journalists who were killed in other countries, like Italy," Vella tells the board.
Disrupted corruption plans
10.35am Corinne Vella says a lot of her sister's reporting disrupted corruption plans.
"The official reason for calling early elections was that Daphne caused instability in the country. Daphne came to know of declarations of trust in Pilatus Bank's safe."
She says that way back in 2014, the head of Henley and Partners, the passport concessionaires, had planned to silence Daphne Caruana Galizia.
In 2017 he wanted her blog posts removed. She asked him, "why now, they are three years old".
He told her “because an election is coming”. At the time it had not been announced yet, Vella says.
Why an early general election?
10.25am Corinne Vella, Daphne Caruana Galizia's sister, takes the witness stand.
She says false narratives emerged after the murder, as well as theories as to why her sister was killed. They are now seen as attempts to derail investigations, to cover up the crime. Top officials are now implicated in the murder.
She asks why a decision was made to hold an early general election in 2017.
"The plot to kill was stopped when the elections were announced, then reactivated."
Background: Joseph Muscat had announced an election for June 3, 2017, months before the end of its mandate. The announcement was just weeks after the government faced a barrage of accusations of corruption and money laundering. Muscat went on to win by a landslide.
Army officer monitor
10.20am Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia asks about a person who was said to be monitoring Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Her son says that an army officer had been following his mother on his own initiative to protect her in recent years. He says he would reveal his name in camera if need be.
Former police chief John Rizzo used to take the initiative himself. After he was replaced, protection stopped.
10.10am: Andrew Caruana Galizia says the 2017 general election marked the heights of the government efforts to silence his mother.
His own diplomatic posting with the foreign office was terminated. She stopped writing for two weeks but her son tried to convince her that it was better for him.
He says his mother would be insulted in public, she lost any last popular support she had, was blamed for PN defeat, and she was completely isolated.
"The PN was her last bastion of support. After that she was completely isolated. I tried to tell her that it was better for her. She went on regardless, even publishing facts about the new leader of opposition."
Judge Said Pullicino points out that the board must base itself on facts, not hypotheses.
'From a nuisance, she became a threat'
10.05am Layers of uninvestigated crimes allowed the atmosphere of impunity. The state involvement in the assassination is becoming increasingly clear, Andrew Caruana Galizia says.
"State actors were involved to turn Daphne into a target... The criminal propaganda was incessant, powerful. People celebrated her assassination. There was footage of the journalist of her regular haunts to inform the hitmen where they could find her."
State actors were involved to turn Daphne into a target
The threats escalated after the Panama Papers scandal right up to her reporting on secret company Egrant.
"From a nuisance, she became a threat. Her reporting severely damaged Electrogas, the passport scheme, Vitals Global Healthcare, the American University of Malta and Pilatus Bank. One has already been forced shut and the other three will likely soon follow. Egrant, Hearnville, Tillgate and 17 Black were of course also shut in response to her reporting.”
Criminals should have been long behind bars
10am He says the men suspected of the crime had carried out the same sort of contract killing before. They only asked for €150,000 to carry out the hit, owing to the low risk they were running.
"They should have been imprisoned ages ago. They prospered from crime. In fact, Yorgen Fenech asked for them. They were known. Melvin Theuma (the middleman) was only investigated for money laundering after the assassination. He was allowed to operate freely, before that. The economic crimes unit is also subject to political pressure."
Andrew Caruana Galizia says an Armed Forces of Malta officer was following his mother when she was writing about former police inspector Daniel Zammit.
Keith Schembri was a "corrupt" businessman before becoming a corrupt politician.
'Favourable' conditions for crime
9.55am The dangerous conditions prevailed for at least a year before the assassination, Andrew Caruana Galizia says.
“The institutions responsible for preventing such deaths were in themselves a primary cause of her death; a death which they therefore could never have been relied on to prevent.”
The crimes Daphne Caruana Galizia was uncovering were serious enough to take her life, yet the police did not follow up on her work, he says.
Patrols could have avoided murder
9.42am Andrew Caruana Galizia takes the witness stand.
He says the people who conspired against his mother sought to make an example of her.
Protection can be important but is only a short term measure. The state is obliged to take measures to protect journalists’ lives.
He says the family sought advice from safety experts, and wrote a letter to police on the basis of that advice. He presents a copy of the letter to the inquiry board.
"We never got a reply to that letter. Instead, my father got a phone call from police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar to tell him 'you know you have a fixed point'."
From Theuma's testimony, it appears that police presence in the area would have provided protection. Theuma testified that the bomb plot was delayed when the hitmen met a roadblock.
“This roadblock extended my mother’s life by days. Just imagine what even a minimum level of police protection, as was provided before March 2013 - when the risks were clearly far lower - could have done to extend my mother’s life.”
Minister wanted Mizzi on inquiry board
9.40am Paul Caruana Galizia says the Attorney General has the power to initiate criminal investigations on money laundering and he knows this because he sits on the FIAU.
Any reputable prosecutor would jump at the opportunity to conduct such investigations. The tone of correspondence from AG in the family's regard was "condescending", the victim's son says.
He reveals he had attended a meeting with Justice Minister and the AG and at one point the minister insisted on former Judge Antonio Mizzi presiding over the inquiry.
"If you accept Antonio Mizzi you will make life easier," Owen Bonnici apparently told the family.
Scathing criticism for police
9.30am The son says that after Police Commissioner John Rizzo was changed, there was a change in police protection outside their home in Bidnija.
The best way of protecting a journalist is to follow up on her work, not just place a fixed point outside their house.
Another failure was that of police to take action against the Degiorgio brothers, prolific bombers who led a lavish lifestyle, Paul Caruana Galizia charges. George Degiorgio and his brother Alfred, together with Vince Muscat are charged with sparking the device which killed the journalist.
He points out to a detail which emerged in court recently where Yorgen Fenech appeared to reassure the middleman that "the Maltese police are to investigate at the end of the day”.
9.25am Glenn Bedingfield wrote 597 posts about Caruana Galizia and some 400 others with her name in the title.
"He has since put down that blog. He and Josef Caruana relentlessly implicated my brothers and I (in the murder)," Paul Caruana Galizia says.
The fuel smugglers' misinformation
9.20am Paul Caruana Galizia says his mother never investigated fuel smugglers and Schembri was feeding the media this piece of misinformation and linking them to the murder.
"We got questions from journalists about fuel smugglers. Now we know where that was coming from."
Keith Schembri says has lost his phone but forensic experts could still trace the information, he says. Daphne Caruana Galizia's phone was destroyed in the car with her, yet forensic experts managed to clone it together with her data.
“In my view, the same should happen to a man suspected of my mother's murder," he says.
PM needs to explain
9.18am In his constitutional case, Fenech said that Schembri was informing him of the murder investigation one week after the assassination. At that time, Fenech was not a suspect, Caruana Galizia says.
"We know that Keith Schembri was present at the briefings. It put police in a very dangerous situation. We know that Fenech was viewed as a suspect since 2018."
He says the Prime Minister knew that Schembri and Fenech were fraternal friends, that his chief of staff was to receive millions from 17 Black and that the secret company belonged to Fenech.
The Prime Minister must answer why he took Schembri to police briefings.
Paul Caruana Galizia takes the witness stand
9.10am The victim's son starts off with a serious accusation. He says the highest level of the country's executive did not only not prevent his mother's murder but may have even caused it.
"Keith Schembri is possibly a co-conspirator," he says.
Paul Caruana Galizia says the notes passed on to murder suspect Yorgen Fenech shows Schembri is involved in a cover-up. It shows detailed knowledge, also revealed by middleman Melvin Theuma.
The previous session
Daphne Caruana Galizia’s parents, sisters and two nieces testified in the public inquiry into the assassination on December 10, giving highly emotional testimonies on what it meant to be a close family member.