Suspect admits killing Maltese journalist, says hit was ‘just business’

The man accused of detonating a car bomb that killed a prominent Maltese journalist admitted to the crime in an interview with a Reuters reporter and said he would soon implicate others in a plot to kill her.

Speaking from prison in his first comments on the case, George Degiorgio said that if he had known more about Daphne Caruana Galizia – the journalist he and two others are accused of murdering in 2017 – then he would have demanded more money to committed the murder.

“If I had known, I would have gone for 10 million. Not for 150,000,” he said, referring to the euro amount he said he was paid to kill the journalist.

“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 in the Caruana Galizia case, entitled “Who Killed Daphne?”

His admission came after several attempts by Degiorgio’s lawyers since 2021 to secure 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, Malta’s Court of Appeal dismissed Degiorgio’s remaining legal challenges to the murder charges against him and his co-accused brother, Alfred. The verdict opens the way for the trial to continue.

The car bomb killing of the investigative journalist and blogger sent shockwaves across Europe. Maltese authorities accused Degiorgio and two other men — his brother Alfred and his associate Vince Muscat — of killing Caruana Galizia in October 2017 on the orders of a top businessman from the island.

Degiorgio told Reuters he would plead guilty before a trial. “I’ll speak to the magistrate,” he said. He indicated that he would testify to incriminate others in the murder and in a previously unsolved plot to kill 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!”

FILE – George Degiorgio, the man accused of detonating a car bomb that killed Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017, is transported from Valletta Courts to Corradino Correctional Facility, in Malta, March 9, 2021.

Until now, both Degiorgio brothers have denied involvement in the murder. Muscat pleaded guilty to murder charges in 2020 and was sentenced to a reduced 15-year prison term in exchange for testifying in that case and some other crimes. William Cuschieri, the attorney for Alfred and George Degiorgio, did not respond to requests for comment from the two brothers.

One of the island’s richest businessmen, Jorgen Fenech, was also accused in November 2019 of ordering Degiorgio and his two accomplices to carry out the hit.

Fenech has denied the allegation, but has yet to present his defense.

In a statement, his lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran said Fenech planned to prove in court that he “at no time sought, actively sought or sponsored” the killing of Caruana Galizia.

“Despite strongly protesting his innocence, Mr. Fenech maintains that with the available evidence, independent and serious investigations are capable of leading to the arrest and prosecution of the true perpetrators behind the murder.”

Fenech was identified as the mastermind by an alleged middleman, taxi driver Melvin Teuma, who escaped prosecution for his role in the case in exchange for his testimony. Teuma said he arranged the killing with the Degiorgio brothers on Fenech’s behalf.

He testified that he never told the Degiorgio gang Fennec’s identity.

In the interview, Degiorgio said he was prepared to testify that a senior Maltese political figure had tried to arrange the assassination of Caruana Galizia in a separate plot two years earlier.

Degiorgio also said he would offer to testify about the involvement of two senior former ministers in an armed robbery.

Reuters has not yet released further details of those allegations or named the individuals charged by Degiorgio, all of whom deny any involvement in any wrongdoing.

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

William Cuschieri, the attorney for Alfred and George Degiorgio, did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Caruana Galicia was killed after making a series of corruption allegations against prominent people, 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 the plot to kill her.

FILE - The wreckage of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia's car is seen on the side of the road in Mosta, Malta, October 16, 2017.

FILE – The wreckage of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s car is seen on the side of the road in Mosta, Malta, October 16, 2017.

Fenech, who is accused of ordering the 2017 hit, was first identified in connection with Caruana Galicia in November 2018 articles by Reuters and The Times of Malta.

The report named him as the owner of a company known as 17 Black, which Caruana Galicia claimed, without citing evidence, was used to bribe politicians. Fenech was also the head of a controversial power plant project in Malta.

According to prosecution evidence presented in court in multiple preliminary hearings since 2018, George Degiorgio and his gang tracked down the journalist in the summer of 2017. In the early hours of October 16, 2017, prosecutors say, the gang planted a bomb under seat in her car.

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

After the car exploded, Caruana Galicia’s son Matthew heard the explosion, ran from the family’s 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 that he is a cold-blooded killer who deserves no reprieve.”

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

FILE - People visit a makeshift memorial for slain anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, at the Great Siege Monument, in Valletta, Malta, April 22, 2018.

FILE – People visit a makeshift memorial for slain anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, at the Great Siege Monument, in Valletta, Malta, April 22, 2018.

But now he is seeking a deal with prosecutors, before a trial, in exchange for pleading guilty to the charges and providing the new information.

Alfred Degiorgio, like his brother, pleaded not guilty to the murder charges but did not present his case. He has also filed several requests to be pardoned from the charges in exchange for testifying about 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, not criminals. “That’s it. Of course! I never met her in her life,” he said.

The Degiorgio brothers have made several offers since March 2021 to formally pardon their crimes. The latest, filed April 4 by their lawyer, William Cuschieri, said, without naming names or details, that the Degiorgios could testify to “felony counts of attempted violent robbery and attempted murder in which one of the perpetrators is 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.

Malta’s prime minister, Robert Abella, earlier condemned Degiorgio’s attempts to obtain a pardon, calling them “criminals” who wanted to buy their freedom. Cuschieri, Degiorgios’ lawyer, responded by saying the prime minister was violating their rights to a fair trial and, without elaborating, said the brothers had “direct information” about a minister’s involvement in crimes.

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