Maltese reporter who exposed high-level political corruption killed in car bomb

Daphne Caruana GaliziaMalta’s best known investigative journalist, whose reporting about offshore tax evasion prompted a major political crisis in the European Union member-state, has been killed by a powerful bomb near her home. Daphne Caruana Galizia, who died Monday, aged 53, gained international prominence last year, when she used information from various sources, including the leaked “Panama Papers”, to accuse senior members of Malta’s government of implication in tax-evasion schemes. Her reporting led to the resignation and eventual re-election of the country’s Labor government last year.

Caruana Galizia began her career in the late 1980s as a regular columnist for The Sunday Times of Malta, before being appointed associate editor of The Malta Independent. She eventually launched her personal English-language news blog, called Running Commentary, which became one of Malta’s most influential websites. The site’s popularity was only augmented by the fact that it reported scandals affecting both of Malta’s main political parties, the governing Labor Party and the opposition Nationalist Party. In April of 2016, following the release of the so-called Panama Papers, Caruana Galizia accused senior members of the Labor government, as well as the prime minister’s wife, of being involved in large-scale tax-evasion schemes and receiving bribes from oil-rich Azerbaijan’s ruling family. The allegations led to the resignation of the government and national elections, which the Labor Party won.

On Monday, Caruana Galizia died instantly when the rented Peugeot 108 car she was driving exploded near her home in the village of Bidnija, near Mosta, in central Malta. Eyewitnesses said that the explosion was so powerful that it tore apart the vehicle and was heard from several miles away. Subsequent reports in the Maltese media alleged that the investigative journalist had recently filed reports with the police, claiming that she was receiving threats against her life from persons unknown.

The bomb attack shocked Maltese society and immediately threw the European Union member-state’s political life into disarray. The country’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, said in a statement that he was “devastated” by Caruana Galizia’s assassination, adding that he had instructed the island country’s police and intelligence agencies to “take all necessary steps to investigate” the murder and uncover its culprits. The killing was also condemned by nearly every senior European Union official and by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the international arm of the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, which uncovered the existence of the Panama Papers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 October 2017 | Permalink | Research credit: J.A.

French citizens killed in Malta plane crash were intelligence officers

MaltaDespite initial denials, it appears that at least three of the five French citizens who were killed in an airplane crash in Malta earlier this week were employees of the country’s external intelligence agency. The crash happened in the early hours of Monday near the village of Luqa in southern Malta. Early reports identified that the plane as a light aircraft and was carrying five French citizens when it crashed, shortly after taking off from the nearby Malta International Airport. Initial statements from Maltese and French government officials said the plane was on a local flight route and had not been scheduled to land outside of the Mediterranean island. The five passengers were identified in press statements as “customs officers” who were conducting a joint project with their Maltese counterparts.

Subsequent reports in the French media, however, said that at least three of the five French passengers who perished in the crash were officers of the General Directorate for External Security, France’s external intelligence agency, which goes by the initials DGSE. It is also believed that the airplane was registered in the United States and was operated by a Luxembourg-based company. Reports from Libya state that the plane’s mission is “shrouded in mystery”. Some articles suggest that it was heading to the city of Misrata in northern Libya, or that it may have been conducting a reconnaissance operation over the Mediterranean, aimed at gathering intelligence on smuggling activities originating from Libya.

The French intelligence services are known to be active on the ground in Libya, where several Sunni Islamist groups, including the Islamic State, control territory. In July of this year, Paris acknowledged for the first time that it had Special Forces and intelligence operatives in Libya, after three DGSE officers were killed in a helicopter crash in the North African country. The latest air crash was not preceded by an explosion, according to French media. The French government has launched an investigation into the incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 October 2016 | Permalink

Maltese far-right party had links to CIA, British documents suggest

Josie MuscatA Maltese ultra-nationalist group believed to be behind a string of bombings in the 1980s was believed by British intelligence to have links to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), according to recently declassified documents. The Front Freedom Fighters (FFF) was a staunchly anticommunist group whose members violently objected to what they saw as Malta’s overly close contacts with the Communist Bloc. During the 16-year rule of the Maltese Labour Party, which began in 1971, the Mediterranean island maintained close relations with countries during such as Libya and North Korea. The Maltese Nationalist Party, which formed the main opposition to Labour, was highly critical of these contacts, but failed to win three consecutive electoral contests and was thus unable to influence the country’s foreign policy in any significant way.

The FFF emerged in the early 1980s from within the ranks of the Nationalist Party. It consisted of younger activists who favored a violent response to the rule of the Labour Party. The group was led by Josie Muscat, a dynamic anticommunist campaigner and longtime Nationalist Party Member of Parliament, who gathered around him some of the more extreme rightwing elements in the Nationalist Party. A string of bombings and threats directed at Labour Party facilities on the island was attributed to the FFF by the popular press, though Muscat himself consistently denied such accusations. Many believed that the FFF was actively preparing to launch an armed coup d’etat.

Eventually, the leadership of the Nationalist Party, which saw itself as falling within the mainstream of the European conservative tradition, began distancing itself from the FFF’s rhetoric and actions. In July of 1983, the party expelled FFF leaders from its ranks and forbade its members from associating with FFF-linked groups. Few Nationalist Party members followed Muscat, and his movement eventually suffered what some observers described “a natural death”.

However, new documents released this month by the National Archives in Britain show that the British Foreign Office believed that the FFF was being funded by the CIA. A Foreign Office Report from the early 1980s states that the group was probably behind several bomb explosions targeting Labour Party activists, as well as moderate Nationalist Party members. The report describes the FFF as “neo-Fascist in character” that prioritized crude violence as its main tactic. It goes on to say that the group consisted of about 500 determined members, but that its violent core was much smaller. The Foreign Office report also suggests that Muscat may have traveled abroad to meet CIA officers, as well as to network with other anticommunist organizations throughout Europe.

Asked to give his reaction to the British government documents, Muscat told The Times of Malta that he “hadn’t had such a good laugh in years”. The now retired politician denied having any links to the CIA and said that the FFF’s activities had been “mostly limited to political debating and had never even come close to any form of violence”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 25 August 2015 | Permalink

Maltese government secretly helped British spy operations in Libya

Libya and MaltaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In the 1980s, Malta was one of the world’s closest allies with the Libyan regime of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. For this reason, during the recent Libyan civil war, it was generally presumed that the island nation’s strong cultural and strategic links with Tripoli would prevent it from joining other European nations in actively supporting the Libyan opposition. But internal British government documents, which have been acquired by the BBC, show that Malta was secretly supportive of Western efforts to undermine the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, and went so far as to help smuggle British intelligence operatives into Libya. According to a recent exposé aired by the BBC’s flagship factual program Newsnight, the Maltese government took advantage of its active role as a hub for distributing United Nations humanitarian and logistical assistance to Libyan civilians during the war. In one specific case, Malta offered to work with British external intelligence agency MI6, to fly a group of British intelligence officers to an unspecified location in Libya. The British operatives’ ultimate goal was to meet up with leading members of the opposition Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), at a predetermined location near Libya’s second-largest city of Benghazi. According to the BBC, the Maltese government secretly authorized the transportation of the MI6 officers into Libya, using a Chinook helicopter, which took off in the middle of the night from Maltese territory. Unfortunately for the British, the mission was intercepted by NTC forces at the Benina International Airport, near Benghazi. Read more of this post

Declassified documents reveal US-Libyan spy war in Malta

Libya and Malta

Libya and Malta

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A batch of declassified CIA reports from the late 1980s point to the Mediterranean island-nation of Malta as a major battlefield between American and Libyan intelligence operatives. According to the reports, which date from between 1988 and 1991, Malta served as a “primary launching point” for Libyan intelligence and paramilitary units on their way to Germany, Britain, and other countries in Western Europe. Most of the reports, which number over 250 pages in total, contain intelligence from a CIA informant named Abdul Majid Giaka. Referred to as “P/1” in the CIA documents, Giaka was a Libyan employee of Libyan Arab Airlines stationed in Malta. In 1988, however, he walked in the American embassy in the Maltese capital Valetta, and offered to work as an agent-in-place for the CIA. In exchange for his services, he requested regular financial compensation, as well as a promise of eventual relocation to the United States for him and his Maltese wife. Eventually, the intelligence collected by Giaka formed a major component of the prosecution’s case in the Lockerbie bombing court hearings. Giaka’s testimony directly led to the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, who was released from a British prison in August of 2009 on compassionate grounds and is now in Tripoli. The declassified documents show that, in return for Giaka’s services, the CIA arranged a fake surgery for him in 1989, in order to help him secure an exemption from serving in the Libyan armed forces. The CIA’s initial assessment of Giaka was that he was dependable “intelligent, serious and fairly well composed”. Later, however, Giaka’s CIA handlers began questioning his commitment after he started appearing with new information only when in need of money. Read more of this post

Senior Russian nuclear expert found dead in Malta

Alexander Pikayev

Alexander Pikayev

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Authorities in Malta have reported the death of a senior Russian expert on nuclear disarmament, whose body was discovered in his holiday apartment. Dr. Alexander Pikayev, 48, was the director of the Department of Disarmament and Conflict Resolution at the Moscow-based Institute of World Economy and International Relations. His work on nuclear armaments policy is internationally recognized and he was among Russia’s most visible media commentators on issues relating to nuclear proliferation. But last Wednesday, Dr. Pikayev’s body was discovered lying on the floor of an apartment he owned in Bugibba, Malta, where he had been holidaying since earlier this month. The German Press Agency reports that the Russian scientist appeared to have “accidentally slipped” and hit his head on a door. Read more of this post

Mossad has long history of assassination operations

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh

Al-Mabhouh

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The recent assassination of Hamas military official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh has sparked a public debate about the history of the Kidon (formerly known as Caesarea), Mossad’s elite assassination unit. Several participants in this debate frequently mention the infamous Black September killings of the 1970s (operation BAYONET), which exterminated almost every original member of the Palestinian group that perpetrated the massacre of the Israeli athletes in the 1972 summer Olympic Games in Munich. In reality, however, these operations were not conducted by the Kidon, but by a separate unit outside Mossad’s operational structure, created specifically for this purpose. The same applies to other extrajudicial assassinations of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, which are usually perpetrated by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency. Read more of this post