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One of the Panama Papers journalist was killed using a bomb in Malta:

The journalist who led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta was killed on Monday in a car bomb near her home.

Daphne Caruana Galizia died on Monday afternoon when her car, a Peugeot 108, was destroyed by a powerful explosive device which blew the vehicle into several pieces and threw the debris into a nearby field.

It seems that indeed Malta's corruption problems seem to have significantly increased during the recent years, losing 10 places in Corruption Perceptions Index:

Malta has lost 10 places in one year on the Corruption Perceptions Index, falling to its worst ever 47th placing since it started to be monitored by Transparency International in 2004.

Question: Why has Malta's perceived corruption grown so much recently?

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    Being an EU member created a lot of opportunities for questionable activities like gambling, offshore banking, offering passports to wealthy foreigners, VAT fraud, hosting front businesses for detached workers, etc. all of which have generated unfavourable press coverage. – Relaxed Oct 23 '17 at 8:47
  • Can you please confirm that the loss of ranking is due to worsened corruption in Malta (as opposed to less corruption in states that moved up in rankings)? – user4012 Oct 23 '17 at 17:06
  • @user4012 - I cannot confirm. Relaxed provided more details related to limitations of the perceived corruption and I think it is a good answer that helps me learn how to be more critic when reading such information. – Alexei Oct 23 '17 at 17:46
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The image in that article seems to take as source Transparency International. If you access Malta page you'll see the link for the Corruption Perceptions Index for 2016. They don't have their own survey infrastructure. This means that the index is calculated as a composite analysis from surveys made by different organizations they consider to be reputable. For example the 2016 report has used the following sources pdf.

Let us analyze, for example, Freedom House and see which factors were considered major issues for Malta in 2016. They state:

In May 2015, a report from the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants found that migrants have difficulty integrating into Malta’s economy and society. It noted the prevalence of labor exploitation and weak enforcement of laws against such abuses. Also that month, the Migrant Integration Policy Index ranked Malta 33 out of 38 countries, underscoring problems in areas such as labor-market mobility, education, and access to permanent residence.

and also refer to:

Separately during 2015, officials continued to investigate corruption scandals involving the state-owned energy company Enemalta. In May, the company’s former chief projects officer was acquitted of charges that he had accepted bribes from an oil trader.

Another example of organization used in the same report is the World Economic Forum which for Malta it states the the item "1st Pillar: Institutions" has a downwards tendency (loosing quality). If you check closely (the item is drop down) you'll eventually reach sub items such as Irregular Payments and Bribes (Malta is in 49th position). You'll notice that WEF actually sees improvement in this point.

So although Malta does seem to be passing through a rough point at present, it is actually not consensual if the situation is improving or not. The situation in Malta is not unique in the EU. Many nations (including my own) have seen various scandals of political and financial nature. This includes José Socrates (former Prime Minister in Portugal), Silvio Berlusconi (former Prime Minister in Italy), and Joseph Muscat (although, as far as I know, this never got to court).

Conclusion: There are other examples but my conclusion is that, although the problem does exist, the graphic you linked might not be accurate regarding the actual progress Malta has been doing against corruption. If you read the article you'll notice that there is a cry for more to be done (against corruption). One can assume this particular pessimistic info-graphic might have been used to illustrate the problem. Nevertheless the international reaction (also stated in the article) is very real. There is a shock in seeing an activist murdered (its an extreme quite rare in the EU) and it will likely have a very significant cost for the country reputation.

UPDATE 1 - (2, December, 2017)

NOTE: emphasis in quotes are mine.

For people looking to be informed about the current status of corruption in Malta today's Guardian article, "MEPs looking into death of journalist 'disturbed' by trip to Malta", is an important one. It reports that:

MEPs on a fact-finding mission to Malta after the killing of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia have said they arrived “seriously concerned” about the rule of law on the island and were leaving “even more worried”.

Dispatched after the European parliament demanded that EU authorities open a formal dialogue with Malta over the death, the delegation said an apparent reluctance to investigate and prosecute major cases had created a “perception of impunity”.

The MEP's mentioned in the Guardian are part of the PANA committee which deal with "Money Laundering, Tax avoidance and Tax evasion". The Guardian quoted Ana Gomes:

The Portuguese Socialist MEP Ana Gomes said the delegation found it “extremely disturbing” that some of the officials it met did not answer its questions. One, prime minister Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, read out a prepared statement, she said, while another “never showed up”.

... and Sven Giegold:

The German Green MEP Sven Giegold said after two days of meetings with government officials, regulators, local journalists media and civil rights activists that he was particularly concerned about the island’s police and attorney general.

Both had demonstrated “a high degree of unwillingness to investigate and a failure to prosecute corruption and money-laundering”, Giegold said, adding he left a meeting with senior police officials with an impression of “incompetence”.

Giegold said publicly available information and even reports by the anti-money laundering agency FIAU had failed to trigger investigations, “protecting high government officials and financial institutions”.

Glenn Bedingfield, a member of Malta Labour party (currently in power), has criticized the committee:

It is now obvious that the MEPs who talk of rule of law need to be better versed in the spirit of the law. The law which state we are all innocent till proven guilty. These MEPs came here with misconceptions fuelled by Zammit Dimech, Roberta Metsola, David Casa, Jason Azzopardi and Jonathan Ferris. They did not have an open mind. They think they have the right to play judge and jury over Malta. This is very clear in their statements today. Ana Gomez and her colleagues dont want to be persuaded otherwise. Like those countries who are jealous of Malta’s success as well as our observance of the real rule of law, they are not satisfied.

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Press reports do suggest the problem has become worse but I don't think the Transparency International data really shows a dramatic increase, for several reasons:

  • The trend is far from clear. There might be an increase in the 2004-2008 period but the curve has plateaued after that. Another way to summarise these data is that Malta has always been in the bottom of the pack in Europe, and somewhere in the top 1/4th worldwide and that has remained stable over the years.

  • Ranks are fickle and can overstate differences. A 5 to 10 points difference (whatever it means) is enough to jump 10 or more spots in the ranking. By definition, there has to be a first one, a second one, etc. but is Denmark (at 90) much better than Sweden (at 88) or Norway (at 85)? I am not so sure.

    Another factor compounding that problem is the fact that countries have been added between 2004 and 2007. The 2007-2009 rankings include a handful of Caribbean countries (Saint-Vincent-and-the-Grenadine, Dominica, Saint-Lucia) that weren't in the 2004 ranking and that would automatically decrease Malta's ranking even if the score hadn't changed in the meantime (which it has, however).

  • The perception index does not seem to be measured with the kind of precision that would allow giving a lot of weight to minute differences and short term trends. Intuitively, corruption is a long-standing problem that takes a lot of time and effort to fix. It does not make sense that a country could be corrupt in one year, much better the next one, and then revert to being corrupt the year after.

    Yet, the plot shows year-on-year swings of up to 10 spots (although in 2015 for example it seems to be related to a bunch of countries missing from the record). Several years of increase in a row could be more significant but the data seems quite noisy.

  • Perception is just that. Transparency internationals uses polls of experts and business people to lend its rankings more credibility and it's a clever way to put a difficult-to-measure issue on the map but perception is still a relatively “soft” measure, presumably sensitive to the vagaries of media coverage.

  • Regarding Malta specifically, the fall happened between 2004 and 2009 with the biggest jump is between 2008 and 2009. The 2009 score is just barely above the upper bounds of the confidence range for the 2004 score and vice-versa, suggesting that the increase might be partly down to measurement error.

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