‘My sister covered politics which uncovered corruption’ – Corinne Vella

Rose Vella, mother of late Daphne Caruana Galizia, and father of Daphne, Michael Vella, hold pictures of the journalist during a demonstration demanding justice over the murder of Daphne, outside the Court of Justice, in Valletta Malta, December 1, 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Highlights from Friday’s sitting:

  • Corinne Vella, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sister, tells the court that ‘she knows that Economy Minister was at the brothel because someone was willing to sign an affidavit
  • False trails were planted to lead journalists astray
  • Fuel smuggling narrative was pushed by Keith Schembri despite being fully aware of the details of the investigation
  • Vella said that her sister’s reporting disrupted corruption plans
  • She asked why a snap election was called in 2017
  • Andrew Caruana Galizia told the board of inquiry that a roadblock extended his mother’s life by a few days remarking that a minimum level of protection could have prevented the murder
  • Andrew Caruana Galizia testified on how state actors were involved in turning his mother into a target
  • Andrew Caruana Galizia testified on how dangerous conditions prevailed during at least a year before the assassination
  • Paul Caruana Galizia told the board of inquiry that during a meeting on the terms of reference and composition of the Board of Inquiry, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici had told them that if they accepted Judge Emeritus Antonio Mizzi, ‘they would make his life easier’
  • Keith Schembri’s missing phone data could be cloned in the same way his mother’s phone was cloned, Paul Caruana Galizia told the court
  • Daphne Caruana Galizia’s son also told the board of inquiry that the Executive not only did not prevent the murder, but could have caused it


Live blog:

11:30 Sitting adjourned for 7 January 2020 at 2pm.

11:24 Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia informed the court that there are no more witnesses for today. She explained that the lawyers needed more time to prepare the dossiers.

Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia interjected said that during the next sitting, Speaker of the House Anglu Farrugia and former police commissioner John Rizzo for the next sitting on 7 January at 2pm. For the second sitting in January, former Police Commissioners Peter Paul Zammit and Michael Cassar.

Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia asked the board of the inquiry to make the transcripts of the testimonies available online on ecourts given the number of requests the family have received from foreign media.

11:16 Vella mentioned other issues which should be looked into – such as the media defamation laws – saying that particular provisions in the law seem to be aimed at targeting Daphne.

Vella mentioned Muscat’s use of his personal email. ‘Why did they felt it necessary to use private emails to plan with a corporation [referring to Henley & Partners]?’ she asked.

Speaking about the arson attacks, the poisoning of their dogs, Vella noted that no one faced justice in connections to these incidents. ‘This signaled to the people out there, that Daphne was a fair target,’ Vella said.

Vella spoke about a private interview Daphne Caruana Galizia gave to a project by the Council of Europe where she was very frank.

11:05 Vella referred to an article by Caruana Galizia, Trouble brews at Electrogas power station, she explained that again there was an attempt to isolate Caruana Galizia and her stories.

The Panama Papers were published in April 2016, however, Caruana Galizia had been reporting on the Mizzi’s and Schembri’s offshore structures already for two months, Vella noted.

Speaking about Glenn Bedingfield’s blog, Vella said that photos were published showing her whereabouts leaving the journalist very vulnerable.

Vella mentioned a number of issues that the board might want to look into, these included libel suits, the freezing of her bank accounts, among others.

Speaking about the alleged brothel visit by Chris Cardona, Corinne Vella said that the Economy Minister took a false oath when saying he was not there. ‘I know this story is true. I know this, because a mutual friend of the source told me that he was willing to sign an affidavit on the matter,’ Vella told the Board of Inquiry.

11:00 An investigation by The Shift News showed how Facebook groups were used to run coordinated campaigns, Vella told the court.

‘If she did not matter, why waste so much time and resources on denigrating her when she was not around?’ Vella asked.

Citing an Italian quote: “Prima ti ammazzano, poi ti ammazzano la memoria,” (first they kill you, then they kill your memory) Vella pointed out there were repeated attempts to stop her blog.

Statistics shows that when reporting about corruption at home, one is more at risk than reporting from a conflict zone, Vella said.

She explained that when a journalist’s story is picked up by other media it added a layer of protection. She referred to the time when Daphne Caruana Galizia reported about Pilatus Bank. Then, the story was taken up by other media becoming difficult for Pilatus Bank to stop journalists from reporting. Vella recalled that Pilatus Bank then went after the media threatening them with SLAPP lawsuits, leaving Daphne Caruana Galizia’s stories standing alone.

‘Malta Independent and Lovin Malta received their letter on 16 October 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia never received her letter and never knew about it,’ Vella said.

10:55 ‘The assassination speaks for itself, Daphne can no longer do her work,’ Vella told the court.

She spoke about the institutional failure, saying that she did not recall seeing Police Chief Lawrence Cutajar on the crime scene. Vella was on the scene some ten minutes after her sister was assassinated. ‘I don’t recall seeing him on the day, and not in the days that followed,’ Vella said.

Vella said that the police commissioner should be called to testify, raising a several questions which Cutajar should answer to.

She mentioned how following the assassination, Daphne’s death was presented as an aberration in otherwise a successful year. Vella noted that this was a running theme in the messages of then President and ‘even Marlene Mizzi said something to that effect’.

10:46 During her testimony, Vella said that the Broadcasting Authority was beholden to whoever was in government. She explained that the public, barring those who sourced their news from other sources, the statistics showed that people would obtain their news from television or from what others say.

‘In 2013, when the PL won the election, the PL’s campaign against Daphne became the government’s campaign,’ Corinne Vella said. Key people in Partit Laburista were moved into government positions after 2013.

Joseph Muscat has not given a properly interview since 2017, Vella observed. She mentioned two replies, foreign journalists received when asking OPM for an interview with Muscat.

Vella mentioned a number of individuals who should be summoned. These included Neville Gafa, Josef Caruana, Kurt Farrugia, among others.

10:38 Vella testified on the harassment of journalists – starting from the discrediting of journalists. She said that such red flags should lead to protection mechanisms kicking in, once such signs are acknowledged.

She explained that her sister was vilified and the subject of numerous reports owned by the Labour Party Media.

‘Bedingfield’s blog was presented as false equivalence,’ Vella explained as the now-MP then was employed at OPM.

Vella outlined how Daphne Caruana Galizia’s work was discredited. ‘She was portrayed as a purveyor of gossip, a hate blogger,’ she explained. Vella added that the effects of such campaign was so wide-reaching that even people who would have never read anything written by her celebrated her death.

Vella referred to a regular programme on ONE called Tana t-Tnejn hosted by Glenn Bedingfield and Luke Dalli [the son of then Equality Minister Helena Dalli] which included a segment about a witch in Bidnija in clear reference to Daphne Caruana Galizia. Vella explained that the ‘witch’ was presented as an unnamed individual and a propagandist for the Opposition Party, as she explained the lengths into which they went to dehumanize and discredit Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Vella mentioned how disgraced Chief of Staff Keith Schembri had blocked Daphne Caruana Galizia on his phone. ‘This was not simply an individual blocking Daphne, this was about the Office of the Prime Minister blocking off a journalist,’ Vella stated.

10:32 Corinne Vella referred to the interviews given by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat following Caruana Galizia’s assassination. She explained that despite Muscat having said ‘no stone unturned’ the public inquiry was delayed by two years. She added that false trails were placed to lead journalists astray.

Speaking about fuel smuggling, Vella said that the journalist that investigated fuel smuggling and her name is Ann Marlowe [foreign journalist] and she is still alive.

‘The absence of consequences for the people named in her reports, including people in the executive, meant total impunity,’ Vella said.

‘She was a journalist who wrote about politics and happened to discover corruption,’ Vella told the court.

‘You cannot bring Daphne back, but you can make sure that no one else is killed.’

10:25 ‘Many people have asked me why was she not afraid to investigate organised crime?’ Corinne Vella said. She said that her sister was writing about politics in Malta, then she uncovered corruption leading to organised crime which was transnational in nature.

She explained that her sister was following stories separately and individually, however, she was piecing together a bigger picture.

‘I’m beginning to suspect that Keith Schembri’s real business is money laundering,’ Corinne Vella recalled her sister telling her, as Caruana Galizia had started investigating Schembri.

10:15 Corinne Vella took the witness stand next. Corinne Vella told the court that it is now being acknowledged that her murder was in relation to her work. She recalled the various theories which were put forward initially.

She explained that the board should look into on the snap election, when the date was chosen and the reasons for holding the election in 2017.

Vella said that from what was publicly available – that Daphne Caruana Galizia’s reporting disrupted corrupt scheme.

Speaking about the snap election – Vella referred to clear signs which show that a general election was around the corner. She added that the domain was registered in early April. The four years of first and domain registration, happened before Daphne Caruana Galizia published her story on Egrant. ‘I know this because I have a message on my phone from her,’ Corinne Vella said.

10:08 In a reply to a question by Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro, Caruana Galizia explained that his mother went from opinion writer and columnist to an investigative journalist.

‘The last institutional support was the Nationalist Party,’ Andrew Caruana Galizia said. However, she lost their support after the 2017 snap election when she was blamed for their loss and her work was discredited, her son noticed. He recalled that telling her that it was an opportunity for her to do what she enjoys doing in life. Andrew Caruana Galizia said that however, she did investigate when she received information about the Opposition leader.

‘She went on regardless,’ he ended.

Andrew Caruana Galizia spoke of an individual who was part of the army who would do counter surveillance on off days when there was no institutional protection for his mother.

10:00 Andrew Caruana Galizia referred to Theuma’s sworn testimony. He said that in due course the recordings he made and Fenech’s interrogations would be heard. He added that the potential state involvement in his mother’s assassination, ‘including in attempts to protect the suspected perpetrators from facing justice, is increasingly clear’.

“These threats marked the start of an escalation in the government’s efforts to silence my mother in the wake of her Panama Papers reporting. From a constant nuisance she had become a threat to the feasibility of the government’s corrupt schemes,” Caruana Galizia said.

He then proceeded to outline that that her reporting exposed a number of issues. Andrew Caruana Galizia said that his mother’s reporting ‘had 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 17Black were of course also shut in response to her reporting’.

Andrew Caruana Galizia also spoke of the escalating libel suits and the freezing of her accounts by Economy Minister Chris Cardona.

“The 2017 election marked the height of the government’s efforts to silence my mother. The Labour Party’s subsequent victory was described as a referendum on my mother and her work. After recent facts emerged, a news report described it as a referendum on her life. Another thread linking the election result to my mother’s death was the sudden termination of my diplomatic posting in New Delhi,” Andrew Caruana Galizia told the court.

09:57 Andrew Caruana Galizia noted that if it were not for his mother’s murder, he had no reason to believe that any of the individuals charged in her case so far would have ever faced justice for their preceding crimes.

“Despite layer upon layer of evidence of widespread criminal activity at several levels and
departments of government and the intersection between this criminal activity and organised crime, I cannot think of a single organised criminal conspiracy – from the lowest-level violent crime, to financial crime and corruption – which has been effectively investigated and brought to a satisfactory conclusion, with the exception of three cases of corruption in the judiciary six and ten years ago,” Andrew Caruana Galizia told the court.

“These layers of uninvestigated crime are what fostered the impunity that led people with a motive to murder my mother to think they could get away with it, and to find the people willing to do it the first time they were asked.”

09:55 “The government’s role in my mother’s death has meant that my family and I have
often been accused of being motivated by a need for revenge against the Labour Party rather than justice for my mother. This is an incorrect but partly understandable accusation. It is understandable because, as I trust the inquiry will also find, there is a striking overlap between people playing leading roles in the current administration and the people who played leading roles in the corruption my mother uncovered and in her subsequent assassination, as well as leading roles in attempts to sabotage the murder investigation, undermine attempts to establish this Public Inquiry into her death, and target activists honouring her memory,” Andrew Caruana Galizia told the board of inquiry on Friday morning.

09:51 Andrew Caruana Galizia told the court that his mother’s violent was not only possible, but forseeable and therefore should have been preventable.

“In the case of my mother’s assassination it is crucial to establish what this set of necessary but insufficient conditions was that led up to my mother’s death and to draw lessons from them. To be clear, I understand these conditions to be the flourishing system of cronyism and corruption, coupled with close ties between government and organised crime that leads to and depends on ineffective institutions, and thrives off weak independent media and civic engagement.”

“What is so striking about the conditions that led up to my mother’s death is that they did not originate in a crisis outside the government’s control, like civil strife a natural disaster, or a prolonged economic crisis. On the contrary, the government itself, duty-bound to prevent crime – in particular crimes against journalists – and duty-bound to prevent the emergence of a “de facto state of impunity”, played a leading role in promoting conditions ideal for both financial and violent crime, as well as the very conditions that made my mother’s death not only probable, but as likely as possible. And then, according to sworn testimony, at least one leading government official did everything in his power to prevent full justice for her assassination,” Andrew Caruana Galizia told the court.

09:46 Andrew Caruana Galizia told the court that from Theuma’s testimony, ‘the deterrent effect of a police presence in the vicinity of an individual at risk became clear: Theuma told the court that the assassination was delayed because the suspected hitmen encountered a police roadblock close to his parent’s home and turned back.

“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,” Andrew Caruana Galizia told the court.

Andrew Caruana Galizia said that he believes that the inquiry should investigate what protocols the police force has in place to assess the risks faced by journalists and the level of response required for each risk threshold. If such formal protocols were not in place, the inquiry should hear testimony from the current and last five police commissioners to determine how the threats Daphne Caruana Galizia faced and how each of this threats were assessed and why the level of protection provided fell in 2013 just as the risks she was facing increased.

09:43 Andrew Caruana Galizia explained that in the wake of his mother’s assassination, the family sought advice from safety experts who provide advice to journalists at risk. The family, with the help of the experts drafted a letter to the Police Commissioner requesting basic information on the risks which the family faced and the measures the police would be taking. The son of the slain journalist said that the family never received a reply, however, they received a phone call from the Commissioner saying that “Taf li ghandkhom fixed point, hux hekk?” While the Commissioner offered a meeting, the family requested a reply – however they never got one.

“My belief is that the Police Force could not respond to our letter because it did not hold the basic information we requested and had not undertaken a formal process to assess the risks we face. This was true in respect of my mother and as I said continues to be true for journalists at risk. I understand the police have no protocols in place to assess risks faced by journalists and the measures to be adopted to mitigate them.” Caruana Galizia said.

09:37 Andrew Caruana Galizia took the witness stand. ‘The people who conspired to murder my mother sought to make an example out of her,’ Andrew Caruana Galizia started off. He explained that his hope for this inquiry would to send the country off on a different path.

Andrew Caruana Galizia testified within the parameters of the terms of reference of the public inquiry. He explained that police protection should be a short term measure. He added that while it can be powerful to safeguard life, it should not be a long term measure.

“Police protection is essential to mitigate short-term risks faced by journalists and it also sends a powerful message that targeting that journalist would be the same as targeting the state, with all the consequences that would bring upon the perpetrators,” Andrew Caruana Galizia said.

09:29 Paul Caruana Galizia said that from Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia there was only one accountancy graduate at the Economic Crimes Unit. The last institution he spoke about was that of the Attorney General. ‘[Peter] Grech knows what the FIAU reports say,’ Caruana Galizia told the board of inquiry. He explained that Grech sits on the board and therefore would be privy to the details of the report but has refrained from initiating an investigation into money laundering.

Caruana Galizia referred to the correspondence between the AG and the family, describing the attitude adopted by Grech as patronizing and condensing – at times even suggesting that we were lying to our lawyers.

Paul Caruana Galizia referred to the meeting between the family and the government about the setting up of the public inquiry. He recalled that Justice Minister Owen Bonnici suggesting an ‘arbitration model’ with Paul likening it as though it was PL versus PN. The meeting had taken place a day after the second anniversary marking Caruana Galizia assassination. Paul Caruana Galizia recalled Justice Minister Owen Bonnici telling the family in the presence of their lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia that if they accept Judge Antonio Mizzi, they would make his life easier.

‘If you accept Mizzi tagħmilli ħajti iktar faċli,’ Justice Minister Owen Bonnici was quoted saying the family.

09:21 Paul Caruana Galizia referred to Theuma’s testimony when he testified about the promise of bail. Going through court records, the 22nd would refer to 22 July 2019 when a bail hearing was scheduled before Judge Giovanni Grixti. The bail hearing never happened since the bill of indictment was issued.

Speaking about the police force, Paul Caruana Galizia said that one of the concerns of the board was police protection. He referred to the times when they had a fixed point, the arson attack on their home, among other incidents.

‘The best way to protect a journalist is to follow up on her work,’ Paul Caruana Galizia said. He explained that in his view, the Police failed them since they did not launch an investigation into the Panamanian companies, signalling to the subject of her investigation as though she was fair game.

‘Former police commissioner Michael Cassar refused to investigate the FIAU reports,’ Caruana Galizia said. He mentioned police failed to investigate the Degiorgios before his mother’s investigation. Describing them as ‘prolific bombers’, Caruana Galizia referred to Theuma’s testimony where he said that Fenech asked him ‘tafu lil George ic-Ciniz?’ [do you know George Degiorgio?]

09:16 Paul Caruana Galizia explained that while his mother’s phone was completely destroyed in a car bomb, forensic experts managed to clone her phone including her WhatsApp. ‘They should be able to do so for a murder suspect,’ he stated.

‘The phantom job was a signal to him that he was protected by the Prime Minister’s Office,’ Caruana Galizia told the board of inquiry on Friday morning. He went through the timeline of events which snowballed after Theuma testified for the first time about his no-show job.

‘A more subtle type of cover-up,’ Paul Caruana Galizia said. He mentioned Glenn Beddingfield’s blog. He explained that despite the blog was taken down, it was still available on the internet. 597 posts included ‘Daphne’ in their title, while 402 blog posts had ‘Caruana Galizia’ in their title.

Paul Caruana Galizia spoke about how they were accused of obstructing the murder investigation and the attempts to pin the blame on his brother Matthew by saying that he parked the car outside to make it easier for the hitmen.

Frank Psaila releases a statement: This morning my name was mentioned (I’m assuming that the name ‘Frank Psaila’ was referring to me) as a person who ‘knew details about the investigation into Daphne Caruana Galizias murder’. This is absolutely not the case. The only things I followed were followed through the media just like everyone else. There’s absolutely no way how I can be privy to details of the investigation.

09:11 Paul Caruana Galizia outlined the friendship of Schembri and Fenech, using Fenech’s words ‘they were fraternal friends’. He continued to explain that the Prime Minister should explain why he felt that he should bring Schembri to police briefings at Castille, knowing that the two were friends.

‘We don’t know if Schembri attended briefings with the security services the same way he did with the police,’ Paul Caruana Galizia said.

Paul Caruana Galizia said that not only Yorgen Fenech knew about his imminent arrest, but also Ivan Camilleri, Frank Psaila, his uncle Ray Fenech, his brother Franco Fenech and Johann Cremona.

Speaking about fuel smugglers, Paul Caruana Galizia said that his mother only mentioned them in passing. ‘Schembri did this while knowing the full details of the investigation,’ he explained. Paul Caruana Galizia that this was not limited to Schembri but included the former OPM Chief Communications Head Kurt Farrugia, among others.

09:04 Paul Caruana Galizia told the board of inquiry that he shall use today’s testimony to testify on information that recently came to light. ‘Recent evidence shows that the Office of the Prime Minister is being used to cover-up activity of my mother’s assassination,’ Caruana Galizia started off.

He referred to the interrogation of murder suspect Yorgen Fenech mentioned Keith Schembri as well as the passing of notes by their mutual doctor, Adrian Vella. Speaking about the notes, Caruana Galizia said that it was not only about Schembri being involved in the murder but also in covering up. Paul Caruana Galizia said that the note describes a detailed plan on how to discredit self-confessed middleman Melvin Theuma’s testimony. He referred to a tapped phone call were Theuma spoke about ‘betrayal’, explaining that Fenech using an encrypted app, he had instructed Theuma to call him using the normal line – to say that the betrayal was about not allowing Theuma’s second taxi operate from near Hilton. He observed that Fenech, therefore, had detailed knowledge about the investigation.

Paul Caruana Galizia referred to Fenech’s testimony in the constitutional case he filed in his bid to remove Chief Investigator Keith Arnaud, where he had told the court that Schembri started informing him a week after the assassination.

09:02 The board of inquiry entered the courtroom. First to take the witness stand was Paul Caruana Galizia.

Two of the three sons of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia are expected to take the witness stand on Friday morning. Paul and Andrew Caruana Galizia will testify first.

Background

The third sitting for the public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. During the last sitting, the parents of the slain journalist testified followed by her sisters.

During the first sitting, widower Peter Caruana Galizia and his son Matthew Caruana Galizia testified before the Board of Inquiry.

Lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia and Jason Azzopardi are appearing for the family.