Suspect confesses to murder of Maltese journalist

  • George Degiorgio confesses to crimes in an interview from prison
  • Says he’ll implicate others in the assassination
  • Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in 2017

VALLETTA, July 5 (Reuters) – The man accused of detonating a car bomb that killed a prominent Maltese journalist has confessed to the crime in an interview with a Reuters reporter and says he will soon find others in implicate the conspiracy to assassinate her.

In his first comment on the case, George Degiorgio from prison said that if he had known more about Daphne Caruana Galizia – the journalist he and two others are accused of murdering in 2017 – he would have asked for more money to complete the murder to execute .

“If I had known, I would have gone for 10 million. Not 150,000,” he said, referring to the amount in euros he was paid for the journalist’s murder.

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“For me it was just business. Yes. Business as usual!” he told a Reuters reporter. He later added, “Of course I’m sorry.”

The interview with Degiorgio was conducted during research for a podcast on the Caruana Galizia case entitled Who Killed Daphne?

His admission comes after several attempts by Degiorgio’s lawyers since 2021 to seek a pardon in exchange for testifying about Degiorgio’s role in the murder of Caruana Galizia and other alleged crimes involving prominent figures on the island.

On June 22, the Maltese Court of Appeal dismissed Degiorgio’s remaining legal challenges to the murder charges against him and his co-accused brother Alfred. The verdict clears the way for the process.

The car bomb attack on the investigative journalist and blogger caused shock across Europe. Maltese authorities charged Degiorgio and two other men – his brother Alfred and an associate, Vince Muscat – with the murder of Caruana Galizia in October 2017 at the behest of a top businessman on the island.

Degiorgio told Reuters he would plead guilty before any jury trial. “I’ll speak to the judge,” he said. He indicated that he would testify to implicate others in the murder and in a previously unrealized conspiracy to murder the journalist. His motive, he said, was to seek a reduced sentence for himself and Alfred and to ensure that “we don’t go down alone!”

So far, both Degiorgio brothers have denied involvement in the murder. Muscat pleaded guilty to the murder charges in 2020 and was sentenced to a reduced sentence of 15 years in exchange for testifying in that case and several other crimes.

One of the island’s richest businessmen, Yorgen Fenech, was also charged in November 2019 with hiring Degiorgio and his two accomplices to carry out the attack. Fenech has denied the charges but has not yet defended himself. In a statement, his attorney Gianluca Caruana Curran said Fenech intends to prove in court “that he never intended, actively sought or sponsored the assassination of Caruana Galizia”.

“Although he has strongly maintained his innocence, Mr. Fenech maintains that an independent and serious investigation, with the evidence available, could lead to the arrest and prosecution of the real perpetrators behind the assassination.”

Fenech was identified as the mastermind by an alleged middleman, taxi driver Melvin Theuma, who in return for testifying evaded prosecution for his role in the case. Theuma said he arranged the murder with the Degiorgio brothers on behalf of Fenech. He testified that he never revealed the identity to the Degiorgio gang Fenech.

In the interview, Degiorgio said he was willing to testify that two years earlier a senior Maltese politician had attempted to arrange an attack on Caruana Galizia in a separate plot. Degiorgio also said he would offer to testify about the involvement of two senior former ministers in an armed robbery.

Reuters is not releasing any further details of these allegations or the people Degiorgio has indicted, all of whom deny any involvement in any crime.

Maltese police and prosecutors handling the murder did not respond to requests for official comment on Degiorgio’s remarks.

In another statement to Reuters through their lawyer, George and Alfred Degiorgio said they are seeking a verdict on record “consistent with what has already been handed down to Vincent Muscat. We are willing to divulge everything we know about other murders, bombings and crimes. We will receive a pardon. We emphasize that justice should also be done for the families of other victims.”

Caruana Galizia was killed after she launched a series of corruption allegations against prominent figures, including ministers in the island’s Labor Party government. Her murder raised suspicions that some of the people she was investigating might be involved in planning her death.

Fenech, who is accused of commissioning the hit 2017 hit, was first identified in connection with Caruana Galizia in articles by Reuters and the Times of Malta in November 2018. The report named him the owner of a company called 17 Black, which Caruana Galizia claimed, without providing evidence, was used to bribe politicians. Fenech was also the leader of a controversial power plant project in Malta.

According to prosecution evidence presented in several preliminary hearings since 2018, George Degiorgio and his gang had been stalking the journalist throughout the summer of 2017. In the early hours of October 16, 2017, prosecutors said the gang planted a bomb under a seat in their car.

That afternoon, Degiorgio was reportedly on a yacht in the island’s Grand Harbor when his brother Alfred, who was guarding the home, called to say Caruana Galizia had gotten in their car and driven away. Degiorgio then sent a text message from the yacht to a mobile device, which detonated the bomb, prosecutors told the court.

After the car exploded, Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew heard the explosion and ran out of the family home, only to discover his mother’s body. Since then he has been campaigning for justice for his mother. Asked about Degiorgio’s comments, he told Reuters: “George Degiorgio’s own words show that he is a stone cold killer who deserves no reprieve.”

Arrested two months after the murder, George Degiorgio said nothing to the police and even refused to give his name during questioning. He had remained silent until the Reuters interview, and his lawyers have denied for four years that he was involved in the murder. He has also filed a number of legal challenges to challenge the evidence against him.

But he is now seeking a settlement with prosecutors before a trial in exchange for admitting the charges and providing the new information.

Like his brother, Alfred Degiorgio has pleaded not guilty to the murder but has not presented his case. He, too, has filed multiple motions for clemency of the charges in exchange for testifying what he knows.

George Degiorgio said that before taking the hit job, he didn’t know much about Caruana Galizia or her family, including the fact that they were ordinary people and not criminals. “That’s it. Naturally! I’ve never met her in her life,” he said.

The Degiorgio brothers have submitted multiple bids for an official pardon for their crimes since March 2021. Filed by their attorney William Cuschieri on April 11, it said, without giving names or details, that the Degiorgios could testify to “crimes of attempted violent robbery and attempted voluntary homicide,” in which one of the authors was a minister and another author who is a minister.” The request was rejected by the Maltese government on April 24 citing the national interest and the administration of justice, an official statement said.

Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela had previously condemned attempts by the Degiorgios to seek pardons, calling them “criminals” intent on buying their freedom. Cuschieri, the Degiorgio’s lawyer, responded by saying the prime minister was violating their right to a fair trial, and without giving details, the brothers said they had “direct information” about a minister’s involvement in crimes.

MORE DETAILS ON THE PODCAST

Who Killed Daphne?, written and hosted by Reuters reporter Stephen Grey, is a six-part podcast that follows Daphne Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew’s fight for justice after her death – and the project of a team of journalists to continue Daphne’s work . Produced by global podcast studio Wondery, it will air on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all other podcast platforms starting July 11 or is available now on Wondery+.

((Reporting by Stephen Grey; additional reporting by Jacob Borg of the Times of Malta; edited by Janet McBride))

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