A change of plea to guilty in a Maltese court this week by a man accused of being one of three hitmen who murdered investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 has brought hopes that her family may be one step closer to getting both answers about her assassination and justice.
On 16 October 2017, Caruana Galizia was assassinated by the triggering of an explosive device planted under her car seat outside her home in Bidnija, Malta. Her body was found by her son Matthew who said at the time, “I looked down and there were my mother’s body parts all around me”.
Caruana Galizia had been active for over thirty years as a journalist in the country and broke many exclusive stories around corruption on her Running Commentary blog, which remains on the web today as a testament to her tireless work.
Her work exposed corruption among politicians and business people in the country and their links with criminals outside the country’s borders which made her a target.
At the time of her death, Caruana Galizia had more than 40 lawsuits pending against her, which her son Matthew said were like a “never-ending type of torture” to his mother and which her sister, Corinne Vella, told Index the family were still facing even after her murder.
Since her death, there has been a renewed focus on Slapps (strategic lawsuits against public particiption) in Europe, in which Index on Censorship is playing a key role.
On Tuesday, Vincent Muscat, also known as Il Koħħu, changed his plea to guilty as he faced Judge Edwina Grima. Muscat, who had been accused of being one of the three hitmen who had conspired to kill Caruana Galizia, had asked for a presidential pardon two years ago but is now understood to have reached a deal with prosecutors to provide information about the murder.
Malta’s Newsbook has this week published details of the pardon, which required him to reveal the full story from being contracted to the murder itself, the identities of who planned the murder and who actually carried it out.
Muscat has now been given a 15-year sentence but has already spent three years in jail and could be out in seven years with remission.
The case against the other two alleged hitmen – brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, known as “Ic-Ciniz” or the Chinese, and “Il-Fulu”, the Bean – will continue as a separate case.
The family’s lawyer, Jason Azzopardi, made a statement to the court following Muscat’s change of plea.
“A person who has admitted his involvement in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia has denied her her right to life and has denied her her right to enjoy her family, including her grandchildren who were born after she was killed,” the lawyer said.
“The macabre murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia was intentional and should have been prevented. The victim has paid with her life and her family is suffering the loss of their loved one.
“I have said all this because if Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family were to respond to this admission on the basis of emotion alone, it is obvious what their response would be.
“However, in the circumstances, and given that they were informed by the Attorney General about the process in this case, the family expresses the hope that this step will begin to lead to full justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia.”
On Wednesday, the day after the plea change, two men – Robert Agius, and Jamie Vella – were arrested on suspicion of supplying the bomb and complicity in the murder of Caruana Galizia, based on information believed to have been provided by Muscat as part of his pardon.
Malta’s prime minister Robert Abela said that the charges meant that there is evidence of the “rule of law in Malta”. However, Abela would not rule out political involvement in the journalist’s murder.
Bernard Grech, leader of the opposition Maltese Nationalist party, said of the news: “Had our institutions not been hijacked by those seeking to protect themselves, Daphne Caruana Galizia would still be alive. We have gotten to this point thanks to the perseverance of those who persisted in pursuing justice no matter what.”
Reacting to Abela’s comments, Daphne’s son Andrew said, ”To move forward a country first needs to publicly acknowledge its failures. There is no shame in this. Only the promise of hope that we could one day be a better country. We’ve sacrificed too much to be robbed of this opportunity.”
- Index spoke to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sister Corinne Vella in October about their childhood and Daphne’s desire to be a writer