Thu 22 October 2020

Nineteen months after the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and with no official investigation, a group of Maltese citizen journalists are stepping up in her name.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was an investigative journalist for 30 years. Her blog, created in 2008, was an unexpected advancement in independent journalism.

“Journalists have the sacred duty to deliver bad news and when they used to say Daphne Caruana Galizia was divisive, they unwittingly acknowledged just how brilliant she was at her job,” Maltese MEP Francis Zammit Dimech said following her murder in 2017.

It is a testament to Daphne’s determination and integrity that her legacy lives on in journalists continuing to fight the good fight in her name.

The sale of passports serves as a gateway to more crime and corruption in Europe.

Tina Urso

Tina Urso, from Malta, started her work in activism in February 2016 as a direct result of Daphne’s report revealing how the country’s tourism minister, Konrad Mizzi, and current prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, had opened secret Panama accounts.

“After Daphne’s reports, people thought they would both resign or at least be forced to do so by the Prime Minister, but instead the PM Joseph Muscat stood by them and even reappointed them both after the snap election he called,” the 32-year-old told me.

Together with fellow activists, Tina set up a group called II-Kenniesa (meaning ‘The Sweepers’ in English). Their very first protest called for the resignations of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.

A Dark Day for Truth

Before her death, Daphne’s reporting intensified as corruption grew within Malta.

Her readers, including myself, can all remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when the horrific news emerged that she had been killed in a car bomb on 16 October 2017.

Tina Urso, who has lived in London for the past five years, remembers the day vividly.

“October 16, 2017 for many Maltese people living outside of Malta, was a day where everyone just wished they were back home in Malta, joining the thousands of people on the streets of Sliema where Daphne Caruana Galizia grew up, calling for justice.”

Soon after the assassination, Urso discovered a large Maltese community in London, who decided to band together and continue in the spirit of the journalist they had so admired.

The hate campaign included a number of death threats, misogynistic language and violent language towards me and my family.

Tina Urso

“We all got together and knew that justice for Daphne and her stories was going to take more than a day of protests, especially when we realised government officials were quick to label Daphne’s murder as organised crime-related – nothing to do with the government corruption she had been reporting on up until 30 minutes before she was killed,” Urso said.

She told Byline Times that the Maltese community, both in London and Malta, had an overwhelming feeling of helplessness on the dark day of her death and decided that they would do everything they could to keep Daphne Caruana Galizia’s work and memory alive.

A ‘Gateway’ to Crime and Corruption

The Sweepers campaign fought, as Daphne Caruana Galizia did, against corruption and the sale of Maltese passports under the ‘citizen by investment’ scheme.

“The sale of passports serves as a gateway to more crime and corruption in Europe, and Malta has extremely weak anti-corruption institutions and is constantly pressured to enforce anti-money laundering regulations,” Urso explained.

“Activists, lawyers and journalists are dealing with a country where there is no accountability in corruption, yet here we are selling passports to millionaires including Russian oligarchs – it is literally a disaster waiting to happen.”

The Sweepers staged a peaceful protest in London last April – in which they carried a banner reading ‘Maltese citizenship for sale’, as they auctioned what looked like passports outside a Henley & Partners gala event outside Draper’s Hall in London – as Malta’s Prime minister Muscat and his wife made their way into the venue.

Tina Urso recalled: “We learnt Joseph Muscat was coming to London to promote Malta’s sale of passports; a dirty, shady scheme that has been strongly criticised by the European Commission.

“The event was being organised by Henley & Partners, the prime mover for the scheme and the same company which, with the permission of the government of Malta, threatened legal actions against Daphne Caruana Galizia.”

The Online Hate Machine

Following this protest in London, Tina Urso was the target of a three-day online hate campaign.

“Within 24 hours of this protest, I was the target of a hate campaign that was initiated by workers of the current Labour party in Malta from a number of Labour Facebook groups, where the Prime Minister himself and other MPs and ministers were and still are members, many of them active ones.” Urso told Byline Times.

“The hate campaign included a number of death threats, misogynistic language and violent language towards me and my family, all spread across my personal social media channels, and I am currently fighting these cases in court which are ongoing.”

Urso said she was not at all surprised by the online attacks.

“The hate directed towards Daphne and her family throughout her years of writing came about from those that hold powerful positions. Ministers and MPs attacked and threatened Daphne Caruana Galizia and continue to do so until this day and the Maltese Government has never been interested in condemning the hate towards a journalist both alive and dead, and it is that hate that normalises the assassination of a journalist.”

International Action Needed Against Citizenship For Sale

Tina Urso stressed the need for action from the European Commission.

“They still have a long way to go in the fight against corrupt member states and their lack of accountability and transparency, which is why the European Commission needs to take a bolder position on these passport schemes.”

She explained that the sale of Maltese passports is effectively the sale of European citizenship and puts all member states at “risk of corruption and money laundering”.

“The reaction needs to come from the European community and other EU member states as, ultimately, the sale of Maltese passports means the sale of European citizenship and the risk is shared by all member states as stated by the UK parliamentary reports.”

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Speaking on Swiss television last week, Christian Kalin, chairman of Henley & Partners, said that citizenship was more like a ‘member club.’

Kalin told CNN Money: “If you want to get absolutely first-rate alternative citizenship certainly European countries are number one, Austria and Malta where you can obtain citizenship through investment.”

“It is more like a club membership… [for] well-qualified people, to admit them, if they contribute significantly, and I’m convinced in 10 years’ time the sale of citizenships will be the norm.”

The mainstreaming of passport sales through ‘clubs’ and huge sums of money is exactly what Daphne Caruana Galizia warned of in 2014.

Citizenship is not a commodity and should have never been treated like one, yet just two months ago we learn that Malta sold 62 passports to two of the richest Saudi families in the world.

Tina Urso

When criticisms of corruption, tax evasion and money laundering were mentioned in the interview, Mr Kalin said: “It is simply factually wrong, and completely not true. I’m not worried about it, I think it just needs time like with many other things when you are pioneering something you always have a lot of criticism first because people do not really understand. How can you launder money with alternative residence or citizenship, you need a financial system for that not residence or citizenship.”

Tina Urso believes the selling of citizenship is morally wrong.

“On a moral level, the scheme has completely overridden the principle of birth right,” she said. “Citizenship is not a commodity and should have never been treated like one, yet just two months ago we learn that Malta sold 62 passports to two of the richest Saudi families in the world, who have never stepped foot on Maltese soil before.”

Daphne Carauana Galizia’s life and work will inspire many for years to come, whether people are encouraged to join the fight for independent journalism and anti-corruption reporting or unite with Tina Urso and The Sweepers in order to fight for justice for her murder and her unique, stolen voice.


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