‘The Daphne Project’ has some explaining to do

Like all other examples of European media and political dilettantism associated with this case, to simply ‘assume’ the facts in the absence of any real knowledge, is… idiotic, quite frankly.

… it is also extremely unhelpful, to say the least.

It can start by explaining why it never really stuck to its original programme: which, in case everyone’s forgotten, was to carry on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s investigative work where she left off, and see to it that the stories she was working on at the time of her death were brought to conclusion.

It seems to me that all 18 newspapers and media organisations quickly forgot about their own declared objective… choosing instead to don the criminal investigator’s deerstalker, and try and solve the murder themselves.

Which is a great pity, for two reasons. One, it is important for the media to come to grips with what Daphne was actually investigating in the weeks and months leading up to her murder last October. As I recall, in her last three months she had blogged incessantly only about one man: Adrian Delia, the Opposition leader whom she accused of laundering money for the London mafia (among various other criminal activities, including tax evasion, etc.).

Funny, how everyone seems so cocksure that this was a ‘political assassination’... and yet insists so studiously on avoiding any mention of the one politician who would have to be considered a prime suspect in Daphne’s murder: if, that is, we all accept the basic ‘political assassination’ premise without question (something I, for one, will not do).

Two: no offence, or anything, but ‘solving crimes’ is clearly something these newspapers and journalists are not particularly good at. I’m beginning to lose count of all the serious errors/misrepresentations that have characterised the Daphne Project’s output over the past year.

Not only have they repeatedly got some very basic facts/details completely wrong… but they have also created an entirely misleading perception of the case, which can only make it that much harder to ever solve.

Let’s start with the famous phone-calls Chris Cardona was supposed to have received from fishing-boat owner Pierre Darmanin: shortly after calling Daphne to complain about a blogpost, and shortly before calling Alfred Degiorgio (one of the three men charged with her murder, who is separately understood to be connected to the Malta-Italy-Libya fuel smuggling racket).

Italian newspaper La Repubblica claimed to have gleaned those details from sources who were privy to the ongoing magisterial inquiry. Only they either misunderstood those sources (language issues, perhaps?), or – for whatever reason – chose to distort what they were actually told. Also quoting investigation sources, The Malta Independent later revealed that Daphne had actually called Darmanin herself, not the other way round; and, much more astonishingly… that there were no records of any phone-calls by the latter to Chris Cardona, either before or after the first call.

Meanwhile, La Repubblica also omitted another intriguing detail: it turns out that Peter Caruana Galizia – Daphne’s husband – was Darmanin’s legal representative at the time: which (regardless of the subsequent murder) puts a whole different slant on that phone-call between Daphne and someone who, at the end of the day, was her own husband’s client.

Either way, this sort of selective/flawed reporting has unnecessarily complicated matters for investigators. From their perspective, it is bad enough that details of the investigation are being made public in the first place – though naturally, that is not a perception any media person would be expected to share. But that the details would also be butchered beyond recognition? That automatically undermines the investigation as a whole. It creates a gulf in popular perception between what’s really being investigated, and all the misleading smokescreens put up everywhere by an increasingly irresponsible press.

This brings us to the much more serious consequence of this spectacular concatenation of errors. It has created an aura of suspicion involving Chris Cardona… which, in the short-term, even led to pubic calls for his resignation, on the basis that La Repubblica’s ‘revelations’ had exposed an unwholesome rapport between Malta’s economy minister – and, by extension, the government as a whole – and a suspect in the murder case.

Interestingly, those calls have fallen quiet, now that La Repubblica’s ‘revelations’ turned out to be… um… wrong. And this, incidentally, is another repercussion of this shortsighted obfuscation strategy. It can backfire. Cardona can now conceivably be cast as the victim of a (possibly intentional) frame-up; and to Labour supporters, at least, that will only add up to one more reason to suspect an international conspiracy to bring down their beloved government.

Is that really what we all needed right now? I honestly don’t think so. I think it would have been much more responsible of the media to stick to their own job – which, by the way, also includes verifying details before going to print – instead of trying to just impose their own views of what happened on everyone, then bending the ‘facts’ to fit their argument.

Which is why I started this article by asking for an explanation. Would it be too much trouble to the people involved, to actually defend their public claims every once in a while? How did these supposedly serious newspapers manage to get those facts wrong, anyway? Their own readers are surely entitled to an answer… if not the country whose reputation has suffered so much as a result.

And there have been other apparent howlers, too: some of which, interestingly, also centre on the presumed involvement of Chris Cardona. Radio France, for instance, had earlier quoted witnesses who claimed to have seen Cardona in the company of one of the three suspects at Ferdinand’s Bar in Siggiewi. One of those witnesses has now supplied a different version of events to the police: claiming that he saw those two individuals at the same bar, yes; but at different times, and not in each other’s company. (Separately, the CCTV footage seen by the investigators also seems to substantiate this latter version.)

Admittedly, this takes us no closer to the truth. The witness might be lying now, just as he might have been lying then. But let’s face it: if you’ve got it stuck it in your head that ‘Cardona is guilty’ – and you have a good excuse to, with all this media misinformation flying around – you’ll be far likelier to suspect that the witness lied to the Maltese police, than to Radio France. That’s what happens when the media concoct their own hyper-realities surrounding real events: it becomes harder, not easier, to determine what really happened.

Still, if it’s any consolation to the Daphne Project: they are not alone in making such a dreadful mess of things. I have likewise lost count of European politicians, MEPs and institutions that have completely got the wrong end of the stick when it comes to this particular murder investigation: choosing to jump straight to the part where they pronounce a guilty verdict… then sitting back, and hoping that the facts will sooner or later prove their intuition right.

One of these great European crime-busting luminaries even took the trouble of writing up a blueprint for us, detailing the specifics of how (not) to solve a murder. Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt recently prepared a preliminary report for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on the investigation into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the rule of law in Malta. He said he would proceed with his report on the basis of three working assumptions:

1) that the murder was “planned and premeditated long in advance”;

2) that the persons ultimately responsible for Caruana Galizia’s death “were motivated by her investigative work”, and;

3) that the “three arrested suspects were most likely acting under instructions”.

Well, what do you know? All three of those assumptions are entirely gratuitous, if not downright flawed. The first hinges on the unanswerable question: how long is ‘long’? That it was ‘planned and premeditated in advance’ is self-evident; but how long does it take to execute a planned and premeditated murder of this variety? Weeks? Months? Years? It makes a difference, you know.

Just as there was a world of difference between what Daphne was blogging in the months and weeks before her death, and most of what she used to blog about before the June 2017 election… and then again, between the various phases of her entire output since she first started blogging in 2008. (And why stop there? She’d been writing in newspapers since around 1990. So how far back do we go, in search of the ‘investigative work’ that triggered her murder?)

This brings me to assumption number 2, which takes the extraordinary initiative of simply dispensing with any other possible murder motives altogether. What makes Omtzigt so certain that Daphne was killed because of one of her investigative stories? How does he know it wasn’t a ‘planned and premeditated’ act of retaliation, by one (or more) targets of some of Daphne’s less investigative, more personal style of blogging? And please note: I’m not asking which of these may appear the likelier scenario to you personally (which is just as well, because I’d only get two opposite answers, depending who ‘you personally’ are). What I’m asking is… how does Pieter Omtzigt – or anyone else, for that matter – KNOW?

You do, after all, need to KNOW certain things: especially if you’re going to arbitrarily decide not to pursue any of dozens of other perfectly possible (plausible, even) leads… just to focus exclusively on your own pet theory, which for all we know might be completely off the mark.

The third assumption, however, is arguably the most insidious. Why is it ‘most likely’ that the three arrested suspects were ‘acting under instructions’?

As earlier indicated, all three are believed to have been involved in an illegal smuggling racket worth hundreds of millions a year. Daphne investigated this racket on a couple of occasions (hence the phone-calls, above); so if – hypothetically speaking – three criminals decided that this one person was threatening their lucrative dealings… why would they need someone else to order the assassination? Why not do just it themselves, on their own initiative, and on the basis of one of the most classic organised crime murder motives known to man?

Again, just to avoid any misunderstandings… I’m not saying that’s how it happened. But that is certainly how it might have happened: and to simply ‘assume’ otherwise, in the absence of any real knowledge, is… idiotic, quite frankly.

And like all other examples of European media and political dilettantism associated with this case… it is also extremely unhelpful, to say the least.

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