Malta is, by and large, a safe country where people don’t lock their doors. This month’s car bombing, in which Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered, has forced me to reconsider the benign opinion of the island I know and love. The dark echoes of Belfast during the Troubles, where personal and political opponents often met a violent end are difficult to ignore. Galizia’s assassination has worrying echoes for the whole of Europe.
No one can yet say who killed Galizia, but there is little doubt that her fearless journalism made her many enemies over the years. Malta’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, has vowed to hunt down those responsible. Some have pointed to a political conspiracy, suggesting Galizia’s allegations of politicians’ complicity in the offshore Panama accounts scandal and other illegal activities led to her demise. This seems doubtful. The act was too blatant and it makes little sense for a ruling party to be involved when Malta has just had a general election; why silence a critic after the event? Another explanation harks back to Murder in the Cathedral and the aside uttered by the king in anger, ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest’. In a land where favours can be handsomely rewarded, this is a possibility.
It certainly seems plausible, too, that the criminal underworld in Malta had a hand in the killing, either by directly carrying out the assassination or commissioning it. Criminal networks have undoubtedly become more powerful in recent years in Malta. The boom in the online gaming industry – and the wealth this has brought – has given them ample opportunities to launder ill-gotten gains. Corrupt developers have profited from bending the planning rules, enabling extraordinary profits to be made by some. Journalists digging into these matters can make enemies quickly.
The Italian Mafia also has a strong presence on the island. This week, Italy’s anti-mafia commission head, Rosy Bindi, warned that organised crime groups see Malta as a ‘little paradise’. For such organisations, the planting of car bombs is a way of death. The tentacles of the Maltese Mafia – less well known than their Mediterranean cousins – are also spread throughout this beautiful island. Once, these gangsters controlled parts of the underworld in foreign capitals like London; now, they ply their trade closer to home.
Malta’s underlying problem is one common to all small societies. A few families dominate the commerce of the island, its legal profession and its politics. Everyone pretty much knows everyone else or, if they don’t, they have a cousin who does. Cash corruption happens on a large scale but petty corruption derives from swapping favours; ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’. After all, it is hard to refuse the petition of a friend, relation or political backer. This feeling for family and friends, while in essence laudable, can easily become corrupted to the point where people lose sight of the greater societal good. It fosters an unhealthy way of conducting business and in turn engenders an inherently corrupt society.
Like Sicilians, the Maltese are strongly Roman Catholic. Each village has a church and although the power of the Church is waning and society is becoming more liberal on social matters, family ties remain strong. They protect each other and feuds are not uncommon. It seems that, like Sicilian Mafiosa, some Maltese can commit murder one day and take communion the next.
The investigation into Galizia’s killing also speaks volumes about who may be to blame for the murder. The FBI has been asked to assist and a Dutch forensic team is also on hand. Only external agencies, it seems, can be properly trusted to carry out an investigation to get to the root of the corruption and organised crime that is undermining the Maltese body politic. After all, few people would trust a purely Maltese investigation. As Ms Galizia’s son, Matthew, pointed out:
‘One of the police sergeants who is supposed to be investigating her murder, Ramon Mifsud, posted on Facebook, ‘Everyone gets what they deserve, cow dung! Feeling happy :)’.’
The government is at least finally conscious of the damage this killing has caused to the island’s reputation. A reward of £890,000 (€1m) has been offered to find those responsible. But Galizia’s children have refused to endorse this, saying that tracking down the killer will not atone for their mother’s murder. They want to see their mother’s courage honoured by a fundamental change in Maltese society and, in particular, Maltese political and judicial probity. As Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote in her final blog:
‘There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate’.
It is a pity that it took the brutal murder of an innocent journalist for many to finally face up to this.