Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed because 17 Black owner Yorgen Fenech feared information she was about to publish, according to self-confessed murder middleman Melvin Theuma. Jacob Borg looks back at her writings about 17 Black in the weeks leading up to the commissioning of her murder in April 2017.
February 22, 2017: Daphne teases knowledge about 17 Black
Ms Caruana Galizia’s first post about 17 Black came out of the blue in February 2017. Though cryptic in nature, the post linked 17 Black to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri, tourism minister Konrad Mizzi and former EU commissioner John Dalli.
The post appeared to draw an immediate response from Yorgen Fenech. By March, 17 Black’s name was changed to the innocuous sounding Wings Development Ltd.
The name change would make it even harder for those on 17 Black’s trail to figure out who ultimately owned the company registered in the United Arab Emirates.
Ms Caruana Galizia alluded to Mr Fenech in a comment underneath the post.
“A couple of the owners of their magic new corruption power station: and it’s Yorgen Fenech. So thanks for this, because it really figures.”
The comment she was replying to has since been deleted.
By that time, the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) already had a Panama Papers e-mail in its possession showing how Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi planned to receive $2 million in a single year from 17 Black and another company of unknown ownership called Macbridge.
These payments were to be received through secretive offshore structures set up by the two government officials.
The FIAU had sent a request to the police for Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi to be investigated a year earlier.
February 23, 2017: Dubai used by ‘high-profile criminals’
Ms Caruana Galizia followed up on her blogpost the day after, with an explainer about financial secrecy in Dubai, where 17 Black was originally thought to be registered.
“Dubai has a strong culture of an ask-no-questions, see-no-evil approach to commercial or financial regulation or foreign financial crimes.
“It has consequently attracted large financial flows and some of the world’s most high-profile criminals. A significant slice of the inbound money comes in the form of cash or gold,” she wrote in a post based on a Tax Justice Network report.
February 27, 2017: Journalist zeroes in on Muscat
The prime minister was first questioned about 17 Black five days after Ms Caruana Galizia’s blogpost.
Ms Caruana Galizia ripped apart Dr Muscat’s response in a blogpost that same day.
In the post, she refers to 17 Black as a company “those crooks use to move money in and out of Dubai”.
“He has no idea about it, he said, wearing the exact same expression he did back in February last year when challenged about Keith Schembri and Panama.
“And after claiming unconvincingly to know nothing, his eyes shift immediately to the right and he looks embarrassed and awkward,” she wrote of Dr Muscat’s reply to the 17 Black question.
She went on to suggest that Dr Muscat could easily ring up the FIAU or police to get an answer about the question posed.
March 29, 2017: Electrogas deal is ‘corrupt’
Ms Caruana Galizia did not publish anything else about 17 Black, or the power station project, for a whole month.
The last post prior to the timeframe when her assassination was likely commissioned was actually an anonymous guest post slamming the “corrupt” Electrogas deal.
It emphasised how Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and then deputy prime minister Louis Grech had given the businesses owned by Tumas and Gasan “an operation with a guaranteed return running into the hundreds of millions of euros, when they have not invested anything at all.
“The deal with Electrogas is corrupt not necessarily because Electrogas is going to make an unreasonable return, but because this private company, which is partly owned by the state of Azerbaijan, is going to be the de facto main supplier of power generation when Malta does not need this additional third power station at all. And it will be the main supplier at rates which are higher than the alternatives which are available already,” the post said.
April 26, 2017: ‘A general election – why now?’
With the hit already out on her head, Ms Caruana Galizia begins to question why Dr Muscat seemed intent on calling a general election.
“Whatever the reason is, it’s bound to be the basis of a massive news story, and that is what we have got to focus on.
“My antennae tell me that whatever it is, it’s so bad that we’ve got to discover it before the general election – and not afterwards, which is what Muscat wants.
“We need to get cracking on finding out what else, and how big, Muscat and his henchmen are hiding from us,” Ms Caruana Galizia wrote.
The journalist’s post came days after Dr Muscat was put under renewed pressure to resign following her stories linking the Panama company Egrant to his wife Michelle.
May 26, 2017: 17 Black and LNG ‘kickbacks’
Ms Caruana Galizia’s next post about 17 Black was based on a story by The Malta Independent linking 17 Black to Dr Mizzi, Mr Schembri and the power station project.
The story was based on a leaked draft FIAU report.
“How unbelievably corrupt they are – and worse still, they were not tempted into corruption when they were already jaded in power, but actually got into power with the express purpose of being corrupt. It was their road map,” Ms Caruana Galizia wrote in her blogpost.
Her last post about 17 Black was uploaded a few hours later, after a tense debate between Joseph Muscat and former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil on Xarabank.
Ms Caruana Galizia showed an excerpt from the leaked draft FIAU report.
The excerpt said the information contained in the report about Dr Mizzi and 17 Black deemed there to be a reasonable suspicion of money laundering and/or the existence of proceeds of crime.
At that stage, the FIAU had not yet identified who owned 17 Black.
In contrast to the Egrant story, Ms Caruana Galizia never had a chance to fully develop her work on 17 Black.
Muscat’s stubborn defence
The prime minister’s stubborn defence of Keith Schembri in the face of mounting corruption allegations has also come under the spotlight.
When the Panama Papers were published in April 2016, Dr Muscat said his right-hand man still enjoyed his trust.
Fast forward to May 2017, Dr Muscat played down Mr Schembri’s link to 17 Black as a pre-election smear.
Dr Muscat again declined to take any action in April 2018 when the Daphne Project produced e-mail evidence linking Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi to 17 Black.
In November 2018, Dr Muscat said he would resign if an inquiry into 17 Black found any wrongdoing on his part. He went on to claim it was 17 Black that was the subject of the investigation, not Mr Schembri or Dr Mizzi.
Come April 2019, the prime minister became outright dismissive about 17 Black questions linked to Mr Schembri.
“This is a matter for an inquiry, not something to ask out of curiosity,” Dr Muscat told Times of Malta when asked if he had ever grilled Mr Schembri about the company.
As the noose began to tighten around Yorgen Fenech in October 2019, following revelations made by The Sunday Times of Malta, Dr Muscat said he would no longer be answering questions about 17 Black.
“I have answered all questions. I have nothing else to add,” was Dr Muscat’s curt reply on the topic.
A few days before Mr Fenech’s arrest last month, the prime minister continued to deny any knowledge about who owned 17 Black.
He also appeared confused when asked to state when he last met Mr Fenech.
Keith Schembri’s 17 Black-out
May 2017: When 17 Black was first linked to Keith Schembri, the prime minister’s chief of staff was quick to distance himself from any wrongdoing.
He slammed what he called a “criminal” attempt by Simon Busuttil to tarnish his reputation.
“I have been subject to a co-ordinated smear campaign for well over a year, but this latest fabrication is nothing short of criminal,” Mr Schembri said.
He would then go on to “swear on the cross” that he never received kickbacks during a libel suit he filed against Dr Busuttil.
October 2017: His kickbacks denial came just hours before Ms Caruana Galizia was assassinated on October 16.
“That crook Schembri was in court today, pleading that he is not a crook” was the title of Ms Caruana Galizia’s last ever blogpost.
April 2018: Pressure on the prime minister’s right-hand man grew when the Daphne Project revealed a leaked e-mail showing Mr Schembri’s plan to receive $1 million in a single year from 17 Black and another company called Macbridge.
Mr Schembri admitted in a government statement that he had “draft business plans” with 17 Black and Macbridge.
The prime minister’s chief of staff however continued to deny knowing who owned the companies he himself admitted was planning to do business with.
His denials about knowing who was behind 17 Black would continue throughout the summer of 2018.
By that time, the prime minister had already been briefed about Yorgen Fenech being one of the potential suspects behind Ms Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Despite Mr Schembri’s plans with 17 Black and his friendship with Mr Fenech, the prime minister’s chief of staff continued to sit in on briefings about the murder investigation by the authorities.
November 2018: When Times of Malta and Reuters revealed Mr Fenech as 17 Black’s owner, Mr Schembri continued to deny any knowledge about the company.
November 2019: When taken to court to testify in his own libel case, Mr Schembri refused to say a word about 17 Black.
He instead opted to drop the very libel case he had opened to “clear his name” about Panama Papers wrongdoing.
April 2017: Fenech allegedly orders the hit
Melvin Theuma says he was ordered by Yorgen Fenech to assassinate Ms Caruana Galizia a few weeks before Joseph Muscat announced a general election on May 1.
Mr Fenech told the middleman he wanted the journalist killed because she was about to publish information about his uncle Ray Fenech.
A family member told The Sunday Times of Malta Ms Caruana Galizia was not working on any stories about Ray Fenech.
May 2017: Assassination put on hold
The plot was temporarily halted during the election campaign.
June 2017: Plot reactivated
According to Mr Theuma’s testimony, a “drunk” Yorgen Fenech instructs him to go ahead with the assassination on the day the Labour Party wins the elections.
During the ensuing period, the businessman frequently calls the middleman to speed up the assassination plot.
October 2017: Bomb detonated
A bomb placed under the driver’s seat of Ms Caruana Galizia’s car is detonated outside her Bidnija home. The three men charged with carrying out the bomb plot had spent weeks shadowing the journalist’s movements prior to the assassination.