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Malta Charges Three Veteran Criminals in Journalist’s Murder

Posted: December 7, 2017 at 3:40 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Three veteran Maltese criminals linked to a failed bank robbery and other crimes have been charged with the car-bomb killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s best-known journalist, whose exposés of corruption in high places infuriated the Mediterranean island’s political and business elite.

The suspects, who appeared late Tuesday in court in Valletta, Malta’s capital, pleaded not guilty to charges that included murder and illegal possession of explosive material, according to local news media reports. All aged over 50, they were arrested on Monday, along with seven other known criminals who have since been released.

The arrests, which came just three days after a fact-finding team sent by the European Parliament voiced skepticism about Malta’s ability to solve the murder, were the first outward sign that the authorities were any closer to finding those responsible.

It remains unclear, however, whether the investigation, which is being assisted by the F.B.I. and European police officers, has made any progress in identifying who ultimately ordered Ms. Caruana Galizia’s killing.

Unlike many other people in Malta, the charged men, two of them brothers, had never been the target of Ms. Caruana Galizia’s investigations and none had any obvious motive for wanting her dead.

                                                                                         A memorial for Ms. Caruana Galizia in Valletta on Tuesday.

Malta Today, a local newspaper, reported that a contract to kill the journalist had passed through several different criminal groups, a subcontracting operation designed to make it extremely difficult to untangle who ultimately ordered and paid for the killing.

Ms. Caruana Galizia’s family has voiced doubts about the integrity of the investigation, complaining that Malta has a deeply rooted “culture of impunity” that has compromised any serious reckoning with criminality connected to senior officials.

Ms. Caruana Galizia, 53, who wrote mostly about high-level government corruption in her popular blog, Running Commentary, and a regular newspaper column, was killed on Oct. 16, shortly after she drove away from her home in Bidnija, a rural area in northern Malta. The bomb, planted in her rented car and triggered, according to local news reports, by a mobile telephone that investigators later recovered from the sea, was so powerful that it took four days to collect body parts from a field next to the road.

One of the three men charged with the murder, Alfred Degiorgio, was seen in Bidnija shortly before the explosion and is believed to have played the role of spotter, local news outlets reported. Investigators believe he telephoned his brother, George, who detonated the bomb, made with TNT, by texting a cellphone connected to it. The brothers and a third indicted suspect, Vince Muscat, all had criminal records.

At the time of the journalist’s murder, according to local media reports, Mr. Muscat was already facing charges in connection with a 2010 bank robbery and was out on bail. The police reportedly also suspected the two brothers of involvement in that robbery, which went awry after the robbers opened fire on police officers, but they were never formally charged.

There was widespread speculation after the journalist’s killing, whichstunned the generally peaceful country and caused outrage in the European Union, of which Malta is the smallest nation, that it was a revenge attack by fuel smugglers or other well-connected criminals angered by her probing into their activities.

The charging of three suspects has helped calm concerns that Ms. Caruana Galizia’s murder, like five other car bomb attacks in the past two years, would never be solved. But restoring faith in the country’s police force and justice system will depend on finding not just those who carried out the murder but also those who commissioned it.


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