An inquiry into the car-bomb assassination of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has singled out the country’s former prime minister and his entire cabinet as bearing responsibility for the 2017 murder that shocked much of the world.

In a 437-page report on Thursday, the inquiry’s board, made up of former judges, accused the Maltese state of creating a pervasive “atmosphere of impunity” that allowed her killers to believe they’d face minimal consequences.

“The state should shoulder responsibility for the assassination,” the inquiry board wrote, according to the Times of Malta.

“Whoever planned and carried out the assassination did so in the knowledge they would be protected by those who had an interest in silencing the journalist.”

Carauna Galizia’s family welcomed the report, saying that the “findings confirm the conviction our family held from the moment Daphne was assassinated,” in a statement.

While the report did not find proof that the government was directly involved in the murder, it did name former prime minister Joseph Muscat and his cadre of government ministers as collectively culpable for Caruana Galizia’s death through their escalating public conflicts and personal and judicial attacks on the journalist, as well as through the government’s failure to provide her with protection against threats.

“It can never be acceptable for entities of the state to involve themselves or promote such happenings,” the board said. “The state has an obligation to defend in every possible way the lives of journalists, the fundamental right to free speech, even when a journalist expresses tough opinions against the government of the day.”

Caruana Galizia was an outspoken investigative journalist and commentator who wrote extensively on corruption in Maltese politics, as well as exposing dodgy business deals and organized crime connections in the small island nation.

The fact remains that in the board’s opinion, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s writing about the intimacy between big business and politics led to her assassination. — Official inquiry

She was killed in October 2017 just outside her home when her car was blown up by a remotely-detonated bomb. She had been working on stories that built on revelations contained in the Panama Papers, among others. In her final post on her website, published shortly before her death, Caruana Galizia wrote: “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”

Three men were arrested and charged with her murder in December 2017. One of the three pleaded guilty in February this year, while the other two have requested pardons in exchange for providing prosecutors with more information about the murder plot. Four others have been implicated in the assassination, including politically-connected businessmen Yorgen Fenech, who was charged with masterminding the killing but denies having any part in the scheme.

The assassination provoked outrage from journalists, civil society groups and governments around the world, and kicked off three years of ongoing political turmoil, protests and unrest in Malta that led to an official European Union inquiry into the tiny member state, as well as multiple resignations of high profile politicians and officials.

Joseph Muscat, who was prime minister at the time of the murder, resigned in January 2020, after his chief of staff, Keith Schembri, was questioned as part of the police investigation, and after two of his ministers also stepped aside over their links to the murder probe.

According to the Times of Malta, Muscat said on Thursday that he had “serious reservations” but ultimately accepted the inquiry’s findings.

While the police investigation into Caruana Galizia’s death continues, the official inquiry into the government’s role made clear the string of failures that ultimately led to the assassination. The report points to Caruana Galizia’s Panama Papers-related reporting as a key point of escalation for government attacks against her, and condemned the country’s police commissioner and security services for not recognizing the “obvious” need to provide her with increased protection.

“The fact remains that in the board’s opinion, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s writing about the intimacy between big business and politics led to her assassination,” the inquiry said.

Malta reacts

In response to the report’s release, protesters and rule-of-law advocates hit the streets of Valletta, the nation’s capital, and called for government ministers to resign and prosecutions to begin against those named in the inquiry, according to the Times of Malta.

“Our institutions must wake from their slumber and immediately begin prosecuting in court, no more excuses,” said Robert Aquilina, president of rule-of-law advocacy group Repubblika, which helped organize the protests. “This inquiry should not be put on a shelf and forgotten. We want it to be the start of the healing process for our country.”

Prime Minister Robert Abela publicly apologized for the shortcomings of the state following the release of the report, the Times of Malta reported, and said his government remained committed to delivering justice to the Caruana Galizia family and Malta’s citizens.

“The murder was a dark chapter in the history of Malta and it would be a shame if lessons are not learnt,” he said.

The Daphne Caruana Galizia foundation released a statement from the journalist’s family, calling on the government to heed the board’s recommendations.

“Her assassination was a direct result of the collapse of the rule of law and the impunity that the State provided to the corrupt network she was reporting on,” the Caruana Galizia family said.

“We hope that its findings will lead to the restoration of the rule of law in Malta, effective protection for journalists, and an end to the impunity that the corrupt officials Daphne investigated continue to enjoy.”