ROME—The confession of a partially blind hitman in the heinous murder of Maltese muckraker journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has kicked off a slew of new arrests in the complicated case.
On Tuesday, a Maltese judge accepted the startling guilty plea of Vincent Muscat, 57, who had originally pleaded not guilty along with brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, for setting off the car bomb that killed Galizia on a country road near her home in Malta in October 2017. The brothers, who were also in the courtroom, maintain their not guilty pleas in the case. Muscat’s lawyers say the change in tactics is part of a guilty plea that should see their client out of jail by 2027.
Muscat, who is blind in one eye after being shot at close range in April 2014 in an attempted vendetta murder, was sentenced on Tuesday to 15 years in prison of which he has already served three years. He admitted to all six charges against him: the wilful homicide of Daphne Caruana Galizia, causing an explosion that led to the death of a person, illegal possession of explosives, conspiracy to carry out a crime, promotion of a group intending to carry out criminal acts, and participation in such a group. He was separately awarded a presidential pardon in the 2015 murder of lawyer Carmel Circop, in which he supplied crucial information after confessing to his peripheral involvement in that crime. That pardon does not affect the Galizia sentencing.
Just moments after Muscat’s change of heart was read in court by his lawyer, police swooped in on a secret hideout of brothers Adrian and Robert Agius and accomplice Jamie Vella, arresting the trio for allegedly supplying the bomb that killed Galizia. Police say more arrests are expected. On Wednesday, local media in Malta reported that three more arrests were imminent, including those with ties to organized crime in Italy and Malta.
Galizia’s many investigative targets revealed on her blog Running Commentary, which still receives thousands of hits a day according to her sons, included the country’s then prime minister Joseph Muscat (no relation to Vincent). His wife was tied to the corrupt Pilatius bank exposed in the Panama Papers. Since her murder, journalists collaborating on Galizia’s original investigations under The Daphne Project have uncovered further connections between the Maltese prime minister’s wife and the bank. Muscat resigned under pressure in 2019 over his associates’ alleged ties to the murder.
The former prime minister’s associate, energy tycoon Yorgen Fenech, who secretly owned 17 Black, a company that was a frequent target of Galizia’s journalistic investigations, was arrested on his yacht en route to Italy in December 2019. He is charged with masterminding the murder and denies involvement. Preliminary hearings in his trial are expected to resume on March 18.
Fenech’s arrest came after taxi driver Melvin Theuma confessed to being a middleman between Fenech and those accused of carrying out the killing. Vincent Muscat’s plea bargain reportedly includes testimony that corroborates the taxi driver‘s claims. Fenech has secured a presidential pardon and full protection in exchange for his testimony. The Daphne Project reporting consortium has learned that Galizia received a cache of thousands of emails and documents tied to a company owned by Fenech. Investigators believe that she may have been killed before she could expose the contents of the documents.
The family of Galizia, who believe she was murdered for getting too close to the crimes of Malta’s political elite, issued a cautious statement after Muscat’s plea. “This development will begin the road for total justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia,” they said, adding that her assassination “destroyed her right to life and removed her right to enjoy her family and grandchildren who were born after her murder.”
The lawyer for the Galizia family read the statement in court. “The macabre murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia was intentional and could have been avoided. The victim paid with her life and her family are paying for the loss of their loved one,” he said. “I said all this today because if Daphne's family had to respond to the plea bargain based on their emotions, their response would be obvious.”
Maltese blogger Manuel Delia, who has written a book on the case, warns that Vincent Muscat’s confession does not solve the case. “Muscat is at the very bottom in the brutal pecking order of this mafia. He is not even a button man. He is a gofer that has seen things and remembered some of them and at a time when he came to face a possible life sentence he has used what he has seen and remembered to negotiate a reduced sentence for himself,” he said Tuesday. “Hearing his confession, his admission of guilt is a small step in the sad, long and so far otherwise fruitless search for justice.”