Malta marks 5 years since the murder of a journalist, demands justice

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) —

Malta marked on Sunday the fifth anniversary of the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a car bomb, just two days after two key suspects reversed course and pleaded guilty to murder on the first day of their trial.

The archbishop of the small Mediterranean island nation, Charles Scicluna, celebrated morning mass in the small church of Bidnija near where Caruana Galizia lived. Sunday’s day-long commemoration also includes a silent gathering at the site of the bombing, an evening demonstration organized by civil society organizations calling for justice and a vigil at a makeshift memorial to her outside the Valletta courts.

Caruana Galizia, who had written extensively on her website “Running Commentary” about suspected corruption in political and business circles in the EU country, was killed on October 16, 2017, when a bomb placed under her car detonated while she was driving near her houses. The killing shocked Europe and sparked angry protests in Malta.

A 2021 public inquiry report found that the Maltese state “must bear responsibility” for the killing because of a culture of impunity that emanated from the highest levels of government. But as recently as last month, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner condemned the “lack of effective results in establishing accountability”.

When the trial of brothers George Degiorgi, 59, and Alfredo Degiorgi, 57, began on Friday, the alleged killers retracted their pleas and pleaded guilty to murder and were each sentenced to 40 years in prison. The verdict brings the number of people serving their sentences to three, after Vincent Muscat pleaded guilty last year to participating in the murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The government and the opposition welcomed Friday’s verdict as a step forward, but said full justice still needed to be done.

“Daphne is still unable to write her blog, enjoy her children and grandchildren, potter in her garden or be with her loved ones,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola wrote on social media. “Today is not justice, it is a small step. Now for those who ordered and paid for it, for those who protected them, and for those who over the years did everything imaginable to cover it up.”

Caruana Galizia, 53, was a top Maltese investigative journalist who targeted people in then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s inner circle whom she accused of running offshore companies in tax havens revealed in the Panama Papers leak. The opposition was also targeted. When she was killed, she faced more than 40 defamation lawsuits.

Other legal proceedings related to the murder are currently ongoing in the Maltese courts.

Yorgen Fenech, a high-profile businessman with ties to the former government, is awaiting trial following his 2021 indictment for alleged complicity in murder and conspiracy to commit murder. His arrest in 2019 sparked a series of mass protests in the country that culminated in Muscat’s resignation.

Fenech pleaded not guilty to all counts in the pre-trial compilation of evidence. Two other men have been charged with obtaining the bomb and are currently in the pre-trial phase of gathering evidence. They pleaded not guilty.

The self-confessed middleman, taxi driver Melvin Theuma, was granted a presidential pardon in 2019 in exchange for his testimony.

The Maltese government issued a statement following the Degiorgios’ guilty plea on Friday, calling it an “important step forward” in bringing justice to a case that “represents a dark chapter in Malta’s history”. The statement said the government was committed to delivering “full justice to the family of Caruana Galizia and the people of Malta”.

Opposition leader Bernard Grech also said the sentencing was “another step towards justice”. But he said on social media: “We must continue to insist that the whole truth comes out, we want justice to be done in full.”

One of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sons, Matthew, said outside the courthouse Friday that he was “relieved” that the two brothers had been convicted and sentenced. “Now it’s about the remaining cases,” he said.

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