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'Who Killed Daphne' podcast seeks answers and justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In 2017, a car bomb exploded on the island country of Malta. It was a murder plot with one victim - investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Her adult son, Matthew, also a journalist, spoke to NPR about the day his mother died.

MATTHEW CARUANA GALIZIA: I knew this was a car bomb straight away. I tried calling my mother on her phone. Obviously, it didn't ring. When I got there, there was just so much destruction and so much fire.

SHAPIRO: A new six-part podcast called "Who Killed Daphne?" follows the search for answers and for justice. It is written and hosted by Reuters reporter Stephen Grey. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

STEPHEN GREY: Thank you for having me on your show.

SHAPIRO: Before Daphne was killed, you knew her son, also an investigative journalist, and you knew Daphne by reputation. Tell us what made her such a towering figure.

GREY: She was this fabulous journalist. She was operating on a very small island in the Mediterranean. But she'd put it on the map in Europe but, unfortunately for Malta, put it on the map as a place of very serious corruption, where, you know, ministers were setting up - while in office - were setting up companies in Panama. They were selling off the country's passports. They were setting up money laundering operations that were - one issue after another, she'd exposed. And it turned out she did most of it on her own. I knew what she was doing, didn't know quite how alone she was. And that was the awful thing, you know? We didn't get to support her when she was alive. But this podcast is us trying to set that right.

SHAPIRO: Yet soon after she was killed, the police arrested three men who were accused of carrying out the hit. But then you say that authorities seemed uninterested in tracking down who might have ordered the killing. So you started looking at who her enemies might have been, and she had lots of them. Why was the list so long? Why did so many powerful people have it in for her?

GREY: Well, it was partly her character. She wouldn't stop, and she unpicked the island. She was like a one-woman WikiLeaks, she's been called. And she was a woman in a very male-dominated society. And we knew she was doing this stuff, but we didn't realize quite how much danger she was in.

SHAPIRO: So when you realize that the police appeared uninterested in working their way up the chain of command, that, in fact, somebody was leaking to the suspects from the investigation, when you realized how many powerful enemies Daphne had, what hope did you think you had of actually solving this mystery?

GREY: Well, I should say, I'm not trying - maligning everybody in the police. There were people there trying to do it, to solve this one. But it looked like they needed some help. So we didn't think that we would solve anything. You know, what we try to do, you know, as journalists, we continue the work of other journalists, and that's what we wanted to do here. And then it became clear that though the police were following a chain of evidence from the bomb scene, they were not interested in following the people she wrote about and investigating the matters that she was looking at and actually taking up the puzzles that she was trying to solve. And there was a local reporter called Jacob Borg, and we sat down and thought, well, what was it? What was the trail that she was on that she hadn't quite solved? Could that be the clue? Could that point to the killer? Honestly, there was a lot of obviously luck involved because I've been doing - I've been a journalist nearly 30 years. And this is the first time, you know, we actually succeeded.

SHAPIRO: This is your first time solving a murder.

GREY: Well, quite, yeah. I mean, I was just gobsmacked, you know? But we did identify, as you'll hear, the person identified as the mastermind who is now accused, officially charged, and a trial is happening.

SHAPIRO: It is a dramatic narrative. It has the pacing of a thriller. I mean, there is a scene before dawn at a harbor with a boat that's almost escaping that could really come right out of an action movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WHO KILLED DAPHNE?")

GREY: It was then the captain noticed something - through the side window of the bridge, a blue light flashing in the dark. Out of the gloom, a motorboat came into view speeding across the waves. It was heading straight for him. Then he saw two more patrol boats closing in from each side. Six soldiers stormed aboard, Marines from the Maltese Armed Forces. Borg opened his mouth to ask what was going on. Then he saw a red laser sight on his chest.

Yeah. Some of these scenes - they write themselves. It was a dramatic moment when we lived it as well. You know, that end, at the end scene, I think you can feel the excitement that we went through because it's one of those moments when the whole country was in a state almost of revolution. People were out in the streets. You knew something was going to happen. It was one of those moments you went to bed about 2 in the morning. You woke up at 6, and you didn't even feel tired because you were so excited about what the next day would bring.

SHAPIRO: This actually made international news - I mean, people in the street in Malta chanting...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Mafia, mafia.

SHAPIRO: ...Mafia, mafia, accusing the government of corruption, thousands of people. It must have been totally surreal to know that you played some role in that.

GREY: Absolutely. I've never lived through anything quite like that. And, you know, it is a compelling story, tinged, though, by the fact that - with that sadness of - that it's real. You know, it's not fiction. It really is real. And, you know, the struggle for justice does still continue in that case and obviously in the case of many others as well.

SHAPIRO: Another plot point that I think is not a spoiler because it was widely reported, including on NPR, is that the prime minister, Joseph Muscat, ultimately had to resign, along with other top government ministers. And the way Muscat described it to you, he says his worst offence was trusting the people around him who turned out to be corrupt. He portrays himself as innocent, if naive. Do you believe that?

GREY: He may say that, and I couldn't possibly comment.

(LAUGHTER)

GREY: I mean...

SHAPIRO: You must have an opinion, even if it's one you don't feel comfortable sharing.

GREY: Well, that's right. But, you know, all I can say is there remain some loose ends among those who leak this information about this investigation, how high it went. If not the murder, perhaps the cover-up, that is still out there. So it's not a clean-cut ending, but it's still satisfying in many way if it does bring justice. But, you know, there's still more to come.

SHAPIRO: You are now part of a consortium called Forbidden Stories, and the group's slogan is killing the journalist won't kill the story. Can you tell us about the organization's mission?

GREY: Yeah, absolutely. It's a fabulous idea. Laurent Richard, a Paris journalist who is the founder of it, we spent about a year thinking about it. What can we do to help to keep alive the memories of all these journalists in general who are getting killed all the time? And so he set up this outfit, which has united so many journalists around the world, not just people who've been killed but also those imprisoned who also can't continue their work. And systematically in Mexico, other places in South America, in Asia, lots of projects have come together, which Forbidden Stories is coordinating. And it's a really smashing idea, which I'm very proud to have been part of.

SHAPIRO: I feel torn between a sense of satisfaction that a group like this exists and a sense of dread that there is enough work for a group like this to do.

GREY: Absolutely. And, you know, you can't dip into every case. You can't intervene everywhere. Hopefully, in most cases, the police will do their job. But we show that if there's going to be a cover-up, that we'll intervene. You know, there's got to be a way that - we create a disincentive. You'll - likely as not, things will get worse for you if you try and kill the messenger.

SHAPIRO: Reuters reporter Stephen Grey is the writer and host of the podcast "Who Killed Daphne?" Thank you very much.

GREY: My pleasure. Thank you for having me on. And I hope everybody enjoys this podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Ayen Deng Bior is a producer at NPR's flagship evening news program, All Things Considered. She helps shape the sound of the daily shows by contributing story ideas, writing scripts and cutting tape. Her work at NPR has taken her to Warsaw, Poland, where she heard from refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine. She has spoken to people in Saint-Louis, Senegal, who are grappling with rising seas. Before NPR, Bior wore many hats at the Voice of America's English to Africa service where she worked in radio, television and digital. Bior began her career reporting on the revolution in Sudan, the developing state of affairs in South Sudan and the experiences of women behind the headlines in both countries. In her spare time, Bior loves to kayak, read and bird watch.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.