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The situation is desperate: murdered Maltese journalists final written words

It seems that Daphne Caruana Galizias enemies finally decided that her courageous journalism needed to be silenced

In her last blogpost, published the day she died, Daphne Caruana Galizia signed off with a sentence that seems particularly chilling now.

There are crooks everywhere you look. The situation is desperate.

Caruana Galizia, 53, felt she had good reason to feel pessimistic about Malta, and her enemies had good reason to fear her. Someone, it seems, was worried enough to want her silenced.

In that last post, which appeared just before a bomb blew up the car she was driving, Caruana Galizia had taken aim, and not for the first time, at Maltese politicians. But they were far from the only people in the firing line.

She believed, in essence, that malign and criminal interests had captured Malta and turned it into an island mafia state; she reported on a political system rife with corruption, businesses seemingly used to launder money or pay bribes, and a criminal justice system that seemed incapable, or unwilling, to take on the controlling minds behind it all.

Proof of her fears included the 15 mafia-style assassinations and car bombings that have taken place on the island in the last 10 years and, ultimately, perhaps, her own murder too.

Though there will be many on Malta who will not trust the police to properly investigate her death, including her son, Matthew, detectives will be urged to look at what she has written in recent months, and what she had been looking at just before her death to see what clues, if any, they provide.

Had this fiercely independent journalist finally got too close to something or was she proving too much of an irritant to someone?

Caruana Galizia was certainly used to stirring up trouble.

Those about whom she has written in the past year range from government ministers to the newly elected leader of the opposition; the characters in her stories included a convicted drug smuggler and a local millionaire who complained after she alleged that he had built a private zoo without planning permission.

Her style was fearless, witty and sardonic. Her posts there were lots of them made uncomfortable reading for those in power. She became the islands most celebrated reporter and teller of plain truths.

Probably her greatest achievement over the past year was to spark, more or less singlehandedly, an extraordinary political scandal that has embroiled the islands prime minister, his closest political allies, and the ruling family of Azerbaijan.

It led to Maltas prime minister, Joseph Muscat, calling a general election in June.

The tale is complex; it involves a whistleblower from inside a secretive private bank, alleged kickbacks to senior politicians and a plethora of offshore companies that caused chaos for Muscat, the leader of the ruling Labour party.

There is nothing to suggest any of this is linked to her murder but the episode highlights the courageous way she tackled those in authority, and her doggedness in the face of legal threats.

Caruana Galizias investigation was built on documents uncovered in the Panama Papers, published in April last year. Among the many names of government officials were two Maltese politicians: Keith Schembri, chief of staff to Muscat, and Konrad Mizzi, the countrys energy minister.

Both had set up similar structures, involving Panamanian companies owned by New Zealand trusts.

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A woman reads a letter to investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia during a silent candlelight vigil to protest against her murder, in St Julians, Malta. Photograph: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

The allegation: the trusts were used to receive kickbacks from rich Russians who bought Maltese passports. The publication led to street protests and caused disquiet in Brussels.

Mizzi and Schembri denied any wrongdoing. Mizzi said the accounts had been set up to receive income from a property in London, while Schembri implied that the offshore entities were related to his business activities before entering politics. Both men kept their jobs.

Earlier this year Caruana Galizia followed up the story with new detail. She alleged the Panama Papers scheme was also connected to Azerbaijan, the oil-rich dictatorship ruled as a personal fiefdom by the Aliyev family.

The same month that Mizzi and Schembri began setting up the offshore structures, they visited Azerbaijan, along with the prime minister and his spokesman.

The purpose of the visit was to agree a deal on fuel supplies. Unusually, civil servants, diplomats and journalists were not invited.

Although the reports prompted a national protest against corruption, the second in Malta that year, Muscats Labour government narrowly defeated a vote of no confidence presented by the opposition Nationalist party.

Over the coming months, while the initial scandal continued to make headlines, Caruana Galizias investigation continued.

Her focus was a mysterious third company, Egrant. In April 2017, just over a year after the Panama Papers were first published, Caruana Galizia reported that Egrants owner was one Michelle Muscat the wife of Maltas prime minister.

Furthermore, she alleged that a $1m (760,000) payment received by the company originated from Leyla Aliyeva, the daughter of Azerbaijans president.

Muscats spokesman has described this as an outright lie.

Caruana Galizias report was sourced to a Russian whistleblower from inside a private bank in Malta called Pilatus.

The woman, later named as Maria Efimova, told Caruana Galizia that documents referring to the company were held in a safe, which had recently been removed from her bosss office and moved into the staff kitchen, where there was no CCTV.

After Efimova complained that she had not been paid, Pilatus filed a complaint against her for fraud and misappropriation. Police seized her passport and charged her.

Efimova later fled the country after complaining to the prime minister that Russian private detectives had approached her father.

On the eve of the election, the story took a further twist. Leaked documents seen by the Guardian revealed that a Maltese intelligence agency, the Financial Investigation and Analysis Unit (FIAU), had in May 2016 concluded there was reasonable suspicion of money laundering involving Schembri, and it recommended police investigate further.

Schembri did not deny the transactions had taken place, but said the money was simply the repayment of a loan he made to a friend. The case is being investigated by a magistrate.

A second report by the FIAU into the Pilatus Bank alleged it had shown a glaring, possibly deliberate disregard for money-laundering controls. Pilatus said it fully adheres to all laws and regulations.

The gaming industry was another prime source of concern for Caruana Galizia. Over last decade, Malta has become a global hub for the online betting and gaming industries. The business employs more than 8,000 people on the island and its contribution to the economy is huge.

Recent estimates suggest the sector is worth 1.2bn, 12% of the islands GDP.

Yet despite the islands claim to be a world class jurisdiction for online gaming, there have been persistent reports of Italian mafia infiltration in June, regulators suspended one operation over such fears.

In a post from May this year, Caruana Galizia noted: I dont know why we should be surprised that organised crime has insinuated its tentacles into the highest echelons of government in Malta, using democracy for the purpose while undermining it thoroughly. If it happened in Italy and eastern Europe, it can happen here, where the institutions of state are so much weaker.

This article was amended on 18 October 2017. An earlier version converted $1m to 760m. This has been corrected to 760,000.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/17/the-situation-is-desperate-murdered-maltese-journalists-daphne-caruana-galizia-final-words

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