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Slain Maltese reporter lived in fear, family says

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Valletta (AFP)

The father and son of a slain Maltese journalist said she had lived in fear as she investigated government corruption, at the start of a highly scrutinised inquiry into her death Friday.

Three men are facing trial for the 2017 car bomb attack that killed mother of three Daphne Caruana Galizia but questions remain over who ordered the hit.

The criminal probe has rocked the highest echelons of government, claiming the scalps of two top government officials and prompting Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to announce his resignation for January.

"My mother feared for her safety," Caruana Galizia's eldest son Matthew told the independent inquiry Friday.

"She once told my brother that she felt they were frying her alive," Caruana Galizia said in reference to a powerful lobby he alleged had launched an intimidation campaign against his mother over her stories.

"The times our dogs were killed, when the front door of our house was set alight -- those were threats."

The family say the inquiry, headed by a retired judge, should focus on the crucial question of whether something could have been done to save the life of the blogger, known for exposing cronyism and sleaze within Malta's political and business elite.

In particular, the journalist had accused Muscat's chief of staff Keith Schembri and tourism minister Konrad Mizzi of corruption.

Both men, who deny the allegations, stepped down last month as the murder probe deepened.

A key suspect in the case, tycoon Yorgen Fenech, has claimed Schembri played a role in the killing.

- 'Throat slit' -

Caruana Galizia's husband Peter told a courtroom packed with lawyers and journalists about the time they found the family dog with a slit throat.

The tires on her car were often slashed and "people would shout at her, spit at her" in the street, he said. But "we never imagined it would end in death," he added.

"Was her death avoidable? Yes. Without the corruption, she would still be alive".

The independent inquiry into the death of Caruana Galizia, described as a "one-woman WikiLeaks", was ordered by the Maltese government in September.

It had long resisted the call for a public probe but relented amid widespread concern the police investigation could be compromised by close ties between investigators and those in Malta's corridors of power.

Critics have accused Muscat of obstructing justice to protect his political allies and aides.

Fenech, named by a middleman as the mastermind behind the killing, told a court Thursday that ex-top aide Schembri had been feeding him details of the investigation.

- 'Never stood a chance' -

Matthew Caruana Galizia said the panel would hear evidence that would make it "feel as frustrated at injustice, (and) as traumatised and overwhelmed" as his mother had felt.

"I hope it will, at the same time, fill you with a sense of awe at the sheer scale of what she was up against, and how she never stood a chance," he said.

A European Parliament mission to Malta this week voiced "serious concern" about Muscat remaining prime minister and slammed "a culture of impunity for corruption and money laundering" in Malta.

"No country is safe when its chief prosecutor is willing to tolerate rampant corruption at all levels of government," Matthew Caruana Galizia said.

Sarah Clarke of the media rights group Article 19, who attended Friday's hearing, urged "full public scrutiny of the inquiry" and said it was "of global significance for the safety of journalists".

The next hearing is set for December 10 when the reporter's parents and sisters were expected to testify.

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