'One-woman WikiLeaks' despaired at Malta's direction

Valletta (AFP) - Slain Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was a determined investigative reporter fuelled by outrage at the cronyism and sleaze she saw engulfing her island nation, friends and colleagues said Tuesday.

A reporter for 30 years who previously worked for the local Sunday Times and the Malta Independent, the 53-year-old was best known as the publisher, from 2008 onwards, of her widely-read blog, Running Commentary.

Mixing political exposes with acerbic commentary, the blog was required reading for anyone interested in Malta's byzantine and highly polarised politics.

She recently featured in Politico's list of 28 public figures "shaping, shaking and stirring Europe," thanks to her contribution to exposing what the massive Panama Papers data leak revealed about corruption at the highest levels of Maltese government.

The news site described her as "a one-woman WikiLeaks, crusading against untransparency and corruption in Malta, an island nation famous for both".

Some critics dismissed her output as veering into gossip: she did not refrain from delving into the private lives of public figures.

Supporters of some of her targets also accused her of peddling unsubstantiated "fake news" and she was regularly being hit or threatened with defamation suits, including by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

All of which only helped her acquire a readership estimated to be bigger than all of Malta's mainstream media combined.

- 'There are crooks everywhere' -

It also led to her being on the receiving end of intimidation and threats.

She received police protection several times but did not want to be under permanent guard, judging that it would make it impossible for her to maintain normal contacts with sources who were indispensable to her work.

In 2006, anti-immigration activists attempted to burn down her house.

Local police on Tuesday denied reports that she had reported new threats against her two weeks before her death.

But it has become clear since she died that she had concerns over her safety and was considering leaving Malta.

In the final entry on her blog, posted barely half an hour before she was killed, Caruana Galizia signed off with a weary observation that: "There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate."

Caroline Muscat, a former journalist friend, said the slain blogger's last words to her had been: "I get a sense of time running out for me. There are so many things I wanted to do that I have not done."

Muscat added, in a post on Facebook: "She was encouraging me to leave Malta and make the most of what's left."

Caruana Galizia leaves a lawyer husband, Peter, and three sons, Matthew, Andrew and Paul.