Monday, October 16, 2017

Assassinated Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and Malta-Azerbaijan Links She Investigated

Malta’s leading investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a bomb blast on October 16, 2017. Caruana Galizia was known for her exposures of the governing Labour Party of Malta and its leader, prime minister Joseph Muscat. Muscat has strongly condemned the assassination and pledged to bring perpetrators to justice.

Earlier this year, Caruana Galizia’s investigations focused on Muscat’s connections to the Ilham Aliyev regime in Azerbaijan. 

Below is a rundown of known Malta-Azerbaijan connections, including those investigated by Daphne Caruana Galizia (DCG):

In 2004-8 Muscat, then the Maltese member of the European Parliament, becomes member of the EP-Azerbaijan relations committee; around this time a former senior Maltese official Dennis Sammut became involved in the EU-funded Karabakh Track II programs. Both Muscat and Sammut have regular contacts with Azerbaijani officials.

In 2007, Azerbaijan’s state oil and gas company SOCAR – through mediation of Valery Golovushkin of Russia’s Lukoil - buys Malta-based Supra Holdings Ltd. Renamed SOCAR Trading Holding Ltd. it becomes parent company for SOCAR international trading operations. Link

In 2009, after Azerbaijan’s lobbying, Maltese MP Joseph Debono Grech from Muscat’s party becomes PACE co-rapporteur on human rights in Azerbaijan. Subsequently, Debono Grech is suspected of receiving gifts while travelling to Azerbaijan. Link

In May 2011, May 2012 and May 2013 Eurovision song contests Malta gives Azerbaijan the highest score (12 points); Azerbaijan reciprocates in May 2013.

In March 2013, Muscat becomes prime minister of Malta after his Labour Party’s victory in elections.

In October 2013, chair of Malta parliament Angelo Farrugia (also from Muscat’s party) "monitors" the presidential elections in Azerbaijan, describing them as “fair, democratic and transparent.”

In February 2014, Muscat’s wife Michelle hosts Ilham Aliyev’s daughter Leyla Aliyeva in Malta for a Heydar Aliyev Foundation event.

In December 2014, Malta PM Muscat visits Azerbaijan; documents signed for Azerbaijan’s SOCAR launch of construction of an LNG facility in Malta.

In January 2015, companies associated with Azerbaijan's emergencies minister Kamaleddin Heydarov open in Malta, formally led by Dubai-based dual Iranian-Azerbaijani national Manuchehr Ahadpur Khangah. All these companies were shut down by December 2015, after spending around 600,000 Euros. Link. Another link. In 2010, the U.S. embassy in Azerbaijan prepared a background on Heydarov that mentions Khangah as Heydarov's frontman. 

In April 2015, Malta PM Muscat makes another trip to Azerbaijan, this time to speak at the 3rd Global Forum in Baku.

In August 2015, Pilatus Bank is licensed in Malta. Bank owner is Seyed Ali Sadr Hashemenijad, an Iranian who uses passport issued by St Kitts and Nevis. Hashemenijad applied for the license in December 2013.

In November 2015, Farrugia, Debono Grech, Labour MP Joseph M. Sammut and Nationalist MP Frederick Azzopardi "monitor" Azerbaijani parliamentary elections and praise their conduct in meeting with Aliyev.

In March 2016, in a widely read blog post DCG exposes Dennis Sammut’s political past in Malta.

In September 2016, Farrugia heads “European Academy of Elections Observation” during constitutional referendum in Azerbaijan.

[The plot to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia began in "the months before the June 2017 election" when Maltese businessman and partner of SOCAR in LNG venture Yorgen Fenech reached out to Melvin Theuma with a request to hire assassins, Theuma testified in December 2019. As a reward for his services, Theuma was put on the Maltese government payroll after meeting with Prime Minister Muscat's chief of staff Keith Schembri.]

In April 2017, DCG reveals that 60% of Pilatus Bank deposits are from Azerbaijani officials (with less than 100 clients overall). The bank's largest client is emergencies minister Kamaladdin Heydarov. Second and third largest clients are Ilham Aliyev's children: Heydar Aliyev Jr. (who first applied to Bank of Valetta, but was refused because of his political exposure) and Leyla Aliyeva (via Dubai-based Al Sahra FZCO). Bank also had accounts of Maltese officials (including PM’s chief of staff, energy minister and former Maltese EU commissioner), as well as the son of Angola leader Eduardo Dos Santos (who, incidentally, studied in Baku in Soviet times). On 4/19/2017 DCG reveals more than $1mln in money transfers from Leyla Aliyev to Michelle Muscat. On 4/20/2017 bank CEO Hashemenijad arrived in Malta to remove documents and/or cash from the bank to be flown to Baku and from there to Dubai. DCG alleges Maltese government cover-up.

The revelations came just days before Azerbaijan’s SOCAR inaugurated its LNG facility in Malta on April 24, 2017 with SOCAR president Rovnag Abdullayev and foreign minister Elmar Mamedyarov in attendance.

On May 1, Muscat calls an early election for June 3. Following that vote, Muscat's party retains majority in Maltese parliament and he is re-appointed as prime minister.

[In May-June 2017, the plot to kill Caruana Galizia was reported suspended until the day after the elections were held. Fenech passed Theuma 150,000 Euros for the assassination, with 30,000 paid as an advance, and the rest after the murder. In the following months, Theuma and the assassins spied on DCG's house and cafes and stores she frequented and procured an explosive device.]

On September 5, DCG posts about a March 2017 report titled "European Values Bought and Sold" by the Freedom Files Analytical Centre that documents Azerbaijan's extensive "outreach" to Maltese politicians. The report cites a Baku-based source interviewed in 2016 as suggesting that Azerbaijani leaders are treating Malta as their overseas "province."

On October 16, 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia is killed when her car explodes near her house in Malta. Earlier this month she reportedly filed a police report citing threats against her. Link Both CNNBBC noted these Azerbaijan investigations in their coverage of the assassination.

[Following the assassins' arrest at the end of 2017, Melvin Theuma testified that Yorgen Fenech continued to support them and their families financially, further transferring more than 60,000 Euros. According to Theuma, at one point an employee of prime minister's office promised the assassins bail and a million Euros each as long as they do not reveal the assassination's organizers.]

UPDATE1 in mid-2019: Whereas the Maltese government has tracked down and arrested three individuals - members of a Maltese criminal gang - suspected of carrying out the assassination, those on whose behalf the assassination was carried out have not been determined. A report adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in June 2019 criticized this lack of thorough investigation.

UPDATE2: In late 2019, details of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia were revealed following the arrest of its organizers. The chronology above is thus updated with these [new details]. As a result of the revelations, Joseph Muscat was forced to announce plans to resign from the ruling party leadership and as prime minister in January 2020.

Also, the EU Observer revealed that in 2018, the Maltese government hired a UK PR firm Chelgate, which in turn hired a Luxembourg-based private intelligence firm Sandstone, which prepared a report promoting theories that Azerbaijan or Russia were behind the Caruana Galizia assassination.

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