After unexpectedly changing their minds and admitting guilt to the car bomb murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, which stunned Europe and incited irate rallies in Malta, a judge in Malta has sentenced two brothers to 40 years in jail each.
George Degiorgio, 59, and Alfred Degiorgio, 57, had entered not-guilty pleas hours earlier, at the commencement of the trial on Friday in a Valletta courthouse, regarding the killing of Caruana Galizia in an explosion as she was driving close to her home on October 16, 2017.
The office of Prime Minister Robert Abela issued a statement soon after the sentence was handed down that said, “This is an essential step forward, to provide justice in a case that symbolizes a tragic chapter in Malta’s history.”
Matthew Caruana Galizia, one of her sons, told reporters, “I’m relieved that they have been found guilty and sentenced. Now, the prosecution of additional defendants is the focus, he said, referring to the ongoing proceedings.
But he claimed that the five years it took to bring his mother’s case to this point were “much too lengthy.”
After the change of plea, trial judge Edwina Grima went back to her chambers before pronouncing the punishments an hour later.
In addition, the two defendants were forced to pay court costs and 50,000 euros ($48,600) each from the proceeds of the crime.
Maximum punishment for them might have been life in jail.
Authorities said that a prominent Maltese businessman with connections to the government hired the brothers. That businessman is facing charges, and a separate trial will be held for him.
The Degiorgio brothers entered guilty pleas to each of the following charges, bringing the trial to a quick conclusion: wilful homicide, causing an explosion that killed someone, illegally possessing explosives, criminal conspiracy, promoting, constituting, organizing, or financing an organization with the intent to commit criminal offenses, and active participation in a conspiracy.
The Degiorgio brothers had refuted the accusations in the lead-up to the trial. Vincent Muscat, a third suspect, escaped going to trial after previously altering his plea to guilty. Muscat has been in prison for 15 years.
However, at the beginning of the trial on Friday, Alfred Degiorgio entered a not-guilty plea while his brother said he had nothing else to add, which the judge took as a not-guilty plea.
The reasons behind the defendants’ dramatic about-face were not immediately apparent.
In an attempt to negotiate a pardon in exchange for naming larger accused conspirators, including a former minister whose identity has not been made public, the brothers had failed.
The eagerly anticipated trial follows an independent investigation by one active judge and two retired justices, who exposed a climate of impunity fostered by the highest levels of the previous administration.
The investigation’s findings, which were made public in July of last year, showed that “tentacles of impunity” that extended from law enforcement to regulatory agencies caused a “collapse in the rule of law.”
Additionally, it claimed that the state had failed to take appropriate action to mitigate Caruana Galizia‘s life’s immediate and genuine risks. The investigation made it very evident that the assassination was either fundamentally related to or directly related to Caruana Galizia‘s investigation.
Melvin Theuma, the middleman in the murder plan who was pardoned by the president in exchange for information late in 2019, provided testimony and phone conversation recordings that were a significant part of the case.
He asserted that the scheme was ordered by prominent businessman Yorgen Fenech, who masterminded a group that received a contentious government contract to construct a power plant in 2015.
Fenech was detained in November 2019 and is also in the process of being tried.
A hidden firm allegedly used to transfer money to Panama-registered businesses owned by the then-energy minister Konrad Mizzi and the chief of staff of the government, Keith Schembri, was made known by Caruana Galizia. There is no proof that money exchanged hands.
Schembri and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat both left their positions as a result of Fenech’s imprisonment. Both have not been charged despite their denial of any role in the journalist’s murder.
On Sunday, a rally will be held to commemorate Caruana Galizia murder’s fifth anniversary, and Roberta Metsola, the president of the European Parliament, will deliver a speech.