Suspect confesses to killing Maltese journalist

  • George Degiorgio confesses to a crime during an interview from prison
  • Says he will implicate other people in an assassination plot
  • 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 confessed to the crime in an interview with a Reuters reporter and said he would soon involve others in a plot to assassinate him.

Speaking from prison in his first comment on the case, George Degiorgio said if he had known more about Daphne Caruana Galizia – the journalist he and two others are accused of killing in 2017 – then he would have asked for more money to carry out the coup. .

“If I had known, I would have opted for 10 million. Not 150,000,” he said, referring to the sum in euros he said he was paid for killing the journalist.

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

The interview with Degiorgio was conducted while researching a podcast on the Caruana Galizia case, titled “Who Killed Daphne?”

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

On June 22, the Malta Court of Appeal dismissed Degiorgio’s latest legal challenges to the murder charges against him and his brother Alfred, who is co-accused. The judgment paves the way for the continuation of the trial.

The car bombing of the investigative journalist and blogger has caused shock across Europe. Maltese authorities have 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 request of a prominent businessman on the island.

Degiorgio told Reuters he would plead guilty before any jury trial. “I will speak to the magistrate,” he said. He said he would provide testimony to implicate others in the murder and in a previous unfulfilled plot to kill the journalist. His motive, he said, was to seek a reduced sentence for himself and Alfred and to ensure that “we are not going to go down alone!”

So far, the two Degiorgio brothers have denied any involvement in the murder. Muscat pleaded guilty to the murder charges in 2020 and received a reduced sentence of 15 years in prison in return for testifying about that case and other crimes.

One of the island’s wealthiest businessmen, Yorgen Fenech, was also accused in November 2019 of having instructed Degiorgio and his two accomplices to carry out the hit. Fenech has denied the charge but has yet to present his defense. In a statement, his attorney, Gianluca Caruana Curran, said Fenech planned to prove in court “that he did not at any time intend, actively seek or sponsor” the assassination of Caruana Galizia.

“While vigorously claiming his innocence, Mr. Fenech maintains that with the available evidence, independent and serious investigations are capable of leading to the arrest and indictment of the true perpetrators of the assassination.”

Fenech was identified as the mastermind by an alleged go-between, taxi driver Melvin Theuma, who escaped prosecution for his role in the case in exchange for his testimony. Theuma said he arranged the murder with the Degiorgio brothers on Fenech’s behalf. He testified that he never said the identity of the Degiorgio Fenech gang.

In the interview, Degiorgio said he was prepared to testify that a prominent Maltese political figure had tried to arrange a hit on Caruana Galizia in a separate plot two years earlier. Degiorgio also said he would offer to testify about the involvement of two high-ranking former ministers in an armed robbery.

Reuters is not at this stage releasing further details of these allegations or naming the individuals accused by Degiorgio, all of whom deny involvement in any crime.

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

In a separate statement to Reuters through their attorney, George and Alfred Degiorgio said they were seeking judgment on their admission “in line with that already given to Vincent Muscat. We are prepared to release everything we know. on other murders, bombs and crimes provided we receive a pardon.We emphasize that the families of the other victims must also be brought to justice.

Caruana Galizia was killed after she made a series of corruption allegations against high-profile figures, including ministers in the island’s Labor Party government. Her killing raised suspicions that some of the people she was investigating might be involved in the plot to kill her.

Fenech, who is accused of commissioning the successful 2017 hit, was first identified in connection with Caruana Galizia in November 2018 stories from Reuters and The Times of Malta. The report named him as the owner of a company known as 17 Black which, according to Caruana Galizia, without citing evidence, was used to bribe politicians. Fenech was also the head of a controversial power station project in Malta.

According to prosecution evidence presented in court in multiple preliminary hearings since 2018, George Degiorgio and his gang had stalked the journalist throughout the summer of 2017. In the early hours of October 16, 2017, prosecutors allege that the gang posed a bomb under a seat. In his car.

That afternoon, Degiorgio was reportedly on a yacht in the island’s Grand Port when his brother Alfred, who was watching the house, called to say that Caruana Galizia had gotten into his car and left. Degiorgio then sent a text message from the yacht to a mobile device which detonated the bomb, prosecutors told the court.

After the car explosion, Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew heard the explosion, fled the family home and discovered 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 he is a ruthless killer who deserves no reprieve.”

Arrested two months after the murder, George Degiorgio said nothing to the police, even refusing to give his name during his interrogation. Until the Reuters interview he had remained silent and his lawyers spent four years denying he was involved in the murder. He also filed a series of legal challenges challenging the evidence against him.

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

Alfred Degiorgio, like his brother, pleaded not guilty to murder charges but did not present his case. He too has made several requests to be pardoned from the charges in exchange for testifying about what he knows.

George Degiorgio said that before accepting the blockbuster 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 right. Of course! I’ve never met her in her life,” he said.

The Degiorgio brothers have made several offers since March 2021 for an official pardon for their crimes. The latest, filed on April 4 by their lawyer, William Cuschieri, indicated, without giving names or details, that the Degiorgios could testify to “crimes of attempted robbery with violence and attempted voluntary homicide, one of which 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, according to an official statement.

Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela had previously condemned the Degiorgios’ attempts to secure a pardon, calling them “criminals” seeking to buy their freedom. Cuschieri, the Degiorgios’ lawyer, responded by saying the prime minister was violating their right to a fair trial and, without providing details, said the brothers had “direct information” about a minister’s involvement in the The crime.

MORE DETAILS ON THE PODCAST

“Who Killed Daphne?”, written and hosted by Reuters journalist Stephen Gray, is a six-part podcast that follows Daphne Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew’s fight for justice after his death – and plans to continue Daphne’s work by a team of journalists. . Produced by global podcast studio Wondery, it streams on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all other podcast platforms from July 11, or is available now on Wondery+.

((Reporting by Stephen Gray; Additional reporting by Jacob Borg of The Times of Malta; Editing by Janet McBride))

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