Daphne Caruana Galizia, the journalist who led the investigations into the Panama Papers, was killed in a car bomb near her home in Malta on October 16. Local reports state that Caruana Galizia filed police reports over two weeks before the bombing, claiming that she received death threats. In the wake of the murder, Maltese President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca called for solidarity and for the public to remain calm. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and officials from around the globe condemned the murder, and the FBI will aid Maltese authorities in the ongoing investigation.
Caruana Galizia wrote on corruption both in Malta and internationally. Her recent blog posts on her website, Running Commentary, put the spotlight on Muscat and two of his aids, linking the officials to offshore companies. The revelations caused turmoil in Brussels as Malta served as the rotating president of the Council of the European Union.
For the past two years, Caruana Galizia’s focus was the 11.5 million documents leaked in the Panama Papers and various government officials’ connections to them. Politico recently labeled her a “one-woman WikiLeaks.” Her death and subsequent reflections on her work illuminate the ongoing global corruption scandals since the leaks. The Panama Papers did not necessarily prove illegal activity but merely outlined how affluent people and organizations use tax havens to conceal assets. The documents include over 214,000 offshore entities connected to more than 200 countries and territories, and numerous links to prominent figures in Latin America, ranging from politicians to athletes.
Panama is one of the world’s primary financial secrecy zones. Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca worked with over 14,000 global banks, law firms, and various middlemen to set-up companies, foundations, and trusts for their clients. In Brazil, Mossack Fonseca is under investigation for bribery and money laundering in Operation Car Wash, Brazil’s biggest-ever corruption scandal, which surrounds executives at state-owned oil company Petrobras and their alleged acceptance of bribes in return for construction contracts. Then-President Dilma Rousseff was removed from office for breaking fiscal laws in August 2016. In January 2016, Brazilian prosecutors filed criminal charges against five employees of Mossack Fonseca’s Brazil office for the firm’s involvement. In July 2017, a court found former-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva guilty in the first of five corruption cases.
Documents also linked Argentine President Mauricio Macri with the offshore company Fleg Trading Limited. Former-Finance Minister of the City of Buenos Aires Nestor Grindetti allegedly used the law firm’s lawyers in the Las Vegas branch to help cover-up a previous Argentine business scandal.
In Mexico, documents mention the “favorite contractor” of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Juan Armando Hinojosa, who allegedly worked to create three trusts of accounts valued at $100 million. Evidence also hints at the involvement of Mexico’s state-owned Pemex oil company. Cousin of President Rafael Correa and former-Governor of the Central Bank of Ecuador Pedro Delgado currently resides in the U.S. as a fugitive facing extradition, accused of laundering money, among other crimes.
The daughter of a jailed dictator and former Peruvian presidential candidate, Keiko Fujimori, is also accused of laundering money aided by Mossack Fonseca. Fujimori currently faces several corruption probes involving the law firm and Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction giant at the heart of many corruption scandals. Telesur reports that Fujimori’s financial supporters were also clients of Mossack Fonseca. Former-President Alan Garcia was also linked due to mention of his political party, the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA).
Venezuelan officials mentioned in the documents include former-head of the Treasury Office, Claudia Diaz Guillen, and former-commander-in-chief of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, Victor Cruz Weffer.
Finally, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela vowed to fight corruption problems from the previous administration of President Ricardo Martinelli. Varela stated that the government will proceed with investigations against Mossack Fonseca in compliance with Panama’s commitment to the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF-GAFI) and “the roadmap set up by the Committee Against Money Laundering…in order to strengthen our financial system against money laundering.” The law firm still asserts they had no involvement in illegal actions and that clients mentioned in the documents are not direct customers but rather clients of the banks and lawyers the firm does work with.
Despite denials from Mossack Fonseca and many named as clients, as well as the tragedy of Caruana Galizia’s murder, the emergence of new details is imminent. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs called the Papers one chapter in a much more severe and larger work. Much is still unknown about the depth of the network of those involved, and the concerns of Latin American regions goes far beyond the Panamanian firm. As more leaders and politicians are brought before the courts, further regional destabilization is likely.
Caruana Galizia may have been assassinated in Malta, but the violence surrounding her pursuit of information in the Papers illuminates how globally-relevant and serious her revelations are. Caruana Galizia’s death highlights the danger journalists face when unveiling details about corruption. In Latin America, 257 journalists have been killed since 1992, 70 of whom were investigating corruption. With further corruption scandals looming, Caruana Galizia’s death only amplifies the calls for transparency and change in regional government.