Brothers plead guilty to murder of Malta’s Daphne Caruana Galizia

Two brothers have pleaded guilty to the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, an anti-corruption reporter who was killed in a massive car bomb explosion outside her home.

The admission of guilt from Alfred and George Degiorgio marked a stunning turnaround on the first day of the trial on Friday, coming just hours after they pleaded not guilty.

“Their position has changed … they declare they are guilty,” defence lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace told the court in Valletta.

Both defendants were then asked by the court how they pled, to which each replied “guilty”.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the defendants abruptly reversed themselves.

The trial judge, Edwina Grima, retired to chambers after the change of plea and was expected to sentence both defendants later on Friday.

Prosecutors alleged that George set off the deadly bomb from a yacht berthed off Malta’s coast as Alfred and another accomplice, Vincent Muscat, acted as spotters. Caruana Galizia, 53, died instantly in the blast on October 16, 2017.

“Parts of her body were flung out of the car, while others remained inside the burning vehicle,” the indictment reads.

The Degiorgios brothers and Muscat were arrested in December 2017 and have been behind bars since. Muscat admitted his involvement in a 2021 plea bargain in return for information and is serving a 15-year jail term.

The brothers had unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a pardon in exchange for naming bigger alleged conspirators, including a former minister whose identity hasn’t been revealed.

The long-awaited trial comes after an independent inquiry conducted by one serving and two retired judges, who unveiled a culture of impunity created by the highest echelons of power within the government of the time.

The result of the inquiry, published in July last year, suggested that the “tentacles of impunity” stretching from regulatory bodies to the police led to a “collapse in the rule of law”.

It also said the state had failed to take reasonable steps to avoid real and immediate risks to Caruana Galizia’s life. It was clear, read the report, that the assassination was either intrinsically or directly linked to Caruana Galizia’s investigative work.

Much of the case was built around testimony and phone conversation recordings by the murder plot middleman, Melvin Theuma, who was granted a presidential pardon in return for information late in 2019.

He alleged the plot was commissioned by top businessman Yorgen Fenech, who led a consortium that was controversially awarded a government contract to build a power station in 2015.

Fenech was arrested in November 2019 and is also awaiting trial.

Caruana Galizia had revealed the existence of a secret company which allegedly was meant to funnel funds to Panama-registered companies belonging to then-Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi and the government chief of staff, Keith Schembri. No evidence that money changed hands has been produced.

A Reuters investigation after her death had established that the company belonged to Fenech.

Fenech’s arrest led to the resignation of Schembri and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Both deny any involvement in the journalist’s murder and have not been prosecuted.

The fifth anniversary of the murder will be marked with a rally on Sunday which will be addressed by European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.

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