Hitman who killed Maltese journalist reveals full details of the plot

Hitman who killed Maltese journalist reveals full details of the plot and how assassins argued over whether to use a sniper rifle before settling on a car bomb

  • Vince Muscat admitted involvement in murder of journalist Daphne Galizia
  • Mother-of-three Ms Galizia was killed in a car bomb attack near her home in 2017
  • The journalist was known for exposing cronyism and sleaze within Malta’s elite
  • Muscat was hired as lookout responsible for monitoring location of Ms Galizia
  • Told how original plan to shoot journalist was dropped in favour of car bomb

One of three men accused of killing a Maltese anti-corruption journalist has revealed the full details of the deadly plot.

Vince Muscat was sentenced to 15 years in prison in February after admitting his involvement in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia – who was killed in a car bomb attack near her home in 2017.

The journalist and mother-of-three – described as a ‘one-woman WikiLeaks’ – was known for exposing cronyism and sleaze within Malta’s political and business elite.

Muscat was hired as a lookout responsible for monitoring the location of Ms Galizia ahead of the attack, he told the court.

Speaking publicly for the first time since pleading guilty, he told today how the original plan to shoot the journalist was dropped in favour of a using car bomb.

They felt using a car bomb was ‘cleaner’ because killing her with a close-range rifle shot would have been ‘too noisy’.

Vince Muscat was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in February after admitting his involvement in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia – who was killed in a car bomb attack near her home in 2017

Journalist and mother-of-three Ms Galizia (pictured) – described as a ‘one-woman WikiLeaks’ – was known for exposing cronyism and sleaze within Malta’s political and business elite

Muscat allegedly worked alongside brothers, Alfred and George Degiorgio – but both have pleaded not guilty.

Local tycoon Yorgen Fenech ordered the hit, according to police, but he too denies wrongdoing.

Muscat claimed the alleged group of assailants hired a car similar to the one Caruana Galizia drove to practice breaking into it.

How murder investigation unfolded 

Car Bomb – October 16, 2017

On October 16, 2017 Daphne Caruana Galizia is killed in a car bomb targeting her vehicle not far from her home in the north of the island.

Aged 53, she was known for investigating high-level corruption, including contributing to the 2016 Panama Papers data leak.

Her killing triggers an outpouring of grief on the island, one of her sons accusing Muscat of being complicity and turning Malta into a ‘mafia island’.

On December 4, 2017, authorities arrest eight people in connection with the murder.

Charges – July 16, 2019

On July 16, 2019, three suspects are formally charged in connection with the assassination: brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, as well as Vince Muscat, all in their 50s.

The mastermind has not yet been identified.

On September 20, the government announces a public inquiry into the killing, just ahead of the expiry of a three-month deadline by the Council of Europe to set up such an investigation.

Legal Immunity – November 20, 2019 

On November 20, Maltese police arrest tycoon Yorgen Fenech in connection with the murder as he is sailing away from Malta on his yacht.

Fenech owns a Dubai company called 17 Black that Caruana Galizia had reported had connections with the government.

The arrest comes a day after the prime minister promises to pardon an alleged middleman if he names the person who ordered the assassination.

On the 23, Fenech demands legal immunity before revealing what he knows about the case. He is released on bail three days later.

Ministers quit – November 26, 2019

On November 26 Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and his tourism minister, Konrad Mizzi, resign. They had been accused by Caruana Galizia of being involved in corruption, which they denied.

Economy minister Chris Cardona says he is ‘suspending himself’.

Schembri is arrested but released two days later without charge, sparking accusations of a cover-up. Some sources claim Schembri was the mastermind of Caruana Galizia’s killing.

Prime Minister to step down  – November 30, 2019 

On November 30, party sources say Muscat will step down on January 18 once those behind the murder of Caruana Galizia have been charged

‘He always said that he will be leaving soon and he feels that now is the time to go,’ said one party source.

He also used his statement to apologise to members of Ms Galizia’s family, who were sitting in the courtroom. 

In pre-trial testimony against the Degiorgio brothers, Muscat said Alfred had got him on board, telling him they would be paid 150,000 euros (£128,343) for the murder – 30,000 euros (£25,675) of which was paid in cash upfront.

He said: ‘Alfred Degiorgio came to me and told me there was a good job for me.

‘The plan was to follow her steps and shoot her when the time was right.’ 

He and Alfred followed Ms Galizia’s movements for weeks – with George pushing to use a bomb because it could be planted at night, making it easier to avoid detection, Muscat said.

The pair used an auto-focusing telescope to spy on her in cafes and through the windows of her home, local media reports.

Muscat told the court: ‘We’d be sitting there on two bricks. It was uncomfortable and you’d get sore.

‘I’d go and get food sometimes. I was buying three packs of Rothmans Red a day. 

‘We disposed of the butts in a water bottle, so as not to leave any trace. We watched Daphne on her sofa with a laptop until 2am.’

The initial plan was to shoot Ms Galizia inside her home in the village of Bidnija using a sniper rifle with a telescopic sight device.

Alfred was ready to carry out the assassination – but George said the noise could get them caught.

Muscat said: ‘The plan was to have Alfred shoot from under the tree.

‘I would take him away from the scene in a stolen car. As soon as he shot, I would have to raise the gate so we could escape.’ 

While keeping watch over Ms Galizia’s house on the night of October 15, 2017, they noticed that, unusually, she had parked her car outside the gate. 

Muscat said he picked up the bomb, which was hidden in a shoebox, and met up with the other hitmen. 

The trio placed the device beneath the driver’s seat.

The bomb – which had 500g of explosives – had a petrol-filled water bottle attached to it to maximize the devastating impact, the court heard.

He described it to the court, saying: ‘Six inches thick, five inches wide and three inches long

‘It was a neat bomb, it had a stainless steel face.’ 

The bomb ‘came with a mobile phone’ with a slot for a SIM card. To detonate it, a particular text needed to be sent to the SIM.

At 5am the next morning, Muscat told the court that he and Alfred returned to a vantage point overlooking the house. 

In the early afternoon the court heard they saw Ms Galizia drive off and informed George, who was in a boat off shore ready to trigger the bomb remotely.

He detonated the bomb before his brother had given him the go-ahead. 

Ms Galizia’s car was out of sight and Muscat said they did not hear the explosion. ‘I thought it didn’t go off, it was no good,’ he said.

Then they looked back and saw a plume of smoke. 

The murder of Caruana Galizia sparked international outrage and protests that forced prime minister Joseph Muscat to resign

He added: ‘We were walking back to the car. We didn’t hear anything.

‘Alfred said, “I don’t think it exploded.” I looked back and saw black smoke. I swear, your Honour, we heard nothing from there. We heard only a small sound.’ 

A few weeks later, Muscat met Alfred who warned of looming police raids. They found out about the date of their arrest two or three weeks ahead of time.

Muscat said Degiorgio had told him he was getting information from Chris Cardona, who was then economic services minister and had often been attacked in Caruana Galizia’s blogs. Cardona has always denied any involvement in, or knowledge of the murder case.

The three alleged hitmen were eventually arrested on December 4, 2017. 

They made sure they were together in the same place when the police arrived. They expected to be released after a few days, but bail was repeatedly refused. 

Seven people in total have been charged with the plot, including tycoon Fenech.

Muscat also named former-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri. The accused Muscat is no relation to the former-PM.

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