Two brothers have each been jailed for 40 years for the car bombing of a prominent investigative journalist in Malta.
George Degiorgio, 59, and his brother Alfred, 57, had denied killing Daphne Caruana Galizia in an explosion as she returned home on October 16, 2017.
But they both drastically changed their pleas hours after their trial began on Friday in a court in the capital Valletta.
Anti-corruption journalist Ms Caruana Galizia, 53, was reporting on suspected fraud in political and business circles in Malta when her car exploded in the town of Mosta.
The bomb, placed under the driver’s seat, was detonated via a mobile phone by George Degiorgio, the court heard.
It set off an explosion powerful enough to send the wreckage of the car flying over a wall and into a field.
The Degiorgio brothers are said to have been hired by a prominent Maltese businessman with government connections.
A suspect has been charged and will be tried at a later date.
Trial Judge Edwina Grima also ordered the brothers to pay €50,000 (£43,450) – around a third of the €150,000 (£130,460) payment they would have received for carrying out the murder – as well as the court costs.
They changed their plea following an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate a pardon in return for naming other high-profile suspected conspirators – who would include a former government minister whose identity has not been revealed.
The brothers both pleaded guilty to intentional homicide, causing an explosion that resulted in the death of one person and the unlawful possession of explosives.
They also recognized criminal association, promoting, forming, organizing or financing an organization to commit criminal offenses and active participation in criminal association.
A third defendant, Vincent Muscat, had previously been sentenced to 15 years in prison for his part in the plot to kill Ms Caruana Galizia.
Prominent Journalist Faces Dozens of Lawsuits
Ms Caruana Galizia, hailed as a “WikiLeaks woman”, had written at length about suspicions of corruption in Malta on her website, Running Commentary.
Her targets included people in the inner circle of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whom she accused of having offshore companies in tax havens disclosed in the Leak of the Panama Papers – one of the biggest data breaches in history.
However, the reporter also focused on the activities of the opposition party.
At the time of her death, she was facing more than 40 defamation lawsuits, which are still pending posthumously.
Mr Muscat was forced to resign after businessman Yorgen Fenech was arrested for allegedly being an accomplice to the plot in 2019, sparking a series of mass protests in Malta.
Fenech, who has ties to senior government officials, has been charged with a number of offenses including conspiracy to commit murder in 2021.
He denies all the charges against him and the date of his trial has not yet been set.
A confessed middleman, taxi driver Melvin Theuma, won a presidential pardon in 2019 in exchange for testifying against Fenech and other suspects.
Two other men, Jamie Vella and Robert Agius, are to be tried for allegedly supplying the bomb.
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One of the journalist’s sons, Matthew Caruana Galizia, said he was ‘relieved’ that the Degiorgio brothers had been found guilty and sentenced – but said five years was ‘far too long’ to reach that stage of justice for his mother.
“Now it’s about the remaining cases,” he added.
Maltese state charged with murder after creating a ‘culture of impunity’
An independent inquiry into the death of Mrs Caruana Galizia in July last year has revealed the Maltese state was responsible for his murder as it created ‘a culture of impunity’.
The report concluded there was no evidence the state was directly involved in his murder – but said it must “take responsibility”.
In a statement issued shortly after the sentencing, Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela said: “This is an important step forward in delivering justice in a case which represents a dark chapter in Malta’s history.”
The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunha Mijactovic, denounced “the absence of effective results in the establishment of responsibilities” five years after the murder.
The Commissioner has written to Mr Abela asking for urgent protection to be granted to journalists in Malta.