Daphne Caruana Galizia, a prominent investigative journalist and blogger who reported on government corruption and the Panama Papers, was killed in a bomb attack in Malta in October 2017. As of October 2022, seven people admitted to or were charged with complicity in her killing.
In 2019, a suspected facilitator of the killing received a presidential pardon in exchange for naming those responsible for ordering the murder. In 2021, one man pleaded guilty to taking part in the killing and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In October 2022, two men were sentenced to 40 years each for executing the murder. As of October 2022, no trial date has been set for the alleged mastermind and two alleged intermediaries.
Caruana Galizia was killed on October 16, 2017, when the car that she was driving exploded near her house in Bidnija, in northern Malta. Her killers detonated a bomb placed under the driver’s seat by remote control. The journalist had told police two weeks earlier that she had received death threats.
Her blog, Running Commentary, which included investigative reports and commentary on local politicians, was one of the most widely read websites in Malta. Then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat condemned the attack, which he described as an “attack on press freedom.”
Caruana Galizia extensively reported on alleged corruption linked to the country’s elite, both in government and the opposition, and her critical coverage led to several legal battles. Her reporting on Muscat’s alleged connection to the Panama Papers corruption scandal forced the prime minister to call early elections in June 2017. Caruana Galizia’s last blog post, which was critical of the country’s opposition party, was posted just a few minutes before she left her house and was killed, news reports said.
CPJ joined with other rights organizations and the journalist’s family to repeatedly call on Maltese authorities to ensure the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s killing was independent and free from political interference. Members of the European Parliament who visited Malta in November 2017 criticized the country’s rule of law and noted a “perception of impunity” among government officials, and in June 2019, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expressed concerns over Maltese authorities’ investigation into the murder and passed a resolution calling for a public inquiry.
In July 2021, that public inquiry concluded that the journalist’s death could have been avoided if Maltese authorities took steps to fight the official corruption Caruana Galizia reported on, instead of creating an atmosphere of impunity ahead of the assassination.
On December 5, 2017, police arrested three men—Vince Muscat (not related to the prime minister) and two brothers, George and Alfred Degiorgio—for alleged murder, criminal use of explosives, involvement in organized crime, and criminal conspiracy. In July 2019, they were formally charged.
On November 14, 2019, authorities arrested Melvin Theuma, a taxi driver whom police described as a suspected middleman. Theuma offered to name those responsible for ordering the murder of Caruana Galizia in exchange for a pardon, which was granted.
On November 20, authorities detained the alleged mastermind of the attack, Yorgen Fenech, a businessman with close ties to senior government officials, as he was trying to leave Malta by boat. On November 30, police charged Fenech with complicity in the murder and other charges related to the case, including membership in a criminal gang and conspiracy to cause an explosion. Fenech pleaded not guilty and made no bail application when he appeared in court on November 30.
On August 18, 2021, prosecutors indicted Fenech on charges of complicity in murder and criminal association, saying he must stand trial within 30 months; following the court’s rejection of his bail request in April 2022, he remained in pretrial detention with no trial date set as of October 2022.
Several months before her death, Caruana Galizia reported on a company in Dubai that she alleged was connected to Maltese politicians; a Reuters investigation later found that Fenech owned that company, and noted that he declined to comment on that allegation.
In November 2019, investigations by journalists and the authorities uncovered links between Fenech and Prime Minister Muscat’s former chief of staff, and an ensuing political crisis prompted Muscat to announce on December 1, 2019, that he would step down as prime minister.
On February 23, 2021, Vince Muscat pleaded guilty at a pretrial hearing and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
On February 24, police charged two additional suspects, Robert Agius and Jamie Vella, with complicity in the killing for allegedly supplying the bomb, according to news reports. As of October 2022, they are in pretrial detention, and no trial date has been set in their case, according to news reports.
Following those arrests, Maltese National Police Chief Angelo Gafa said that “every person involved, be it mastermind or accomplice, is under arrest or facing charges,” The Guardian reported.
On June 22, 2022, Malta’s appeals court rejected the Degiorgio brothers’ remaining legal challenges, clearing the way for the trial to proceed, according to a Reuters interview with George Degiorgio.
In that interview, Degiorgio confessed to murdering Caruana Galizia and said he would plead guilty and implicate others in the assassination plot. Reuters said that it would not publish any further details of Degiorgio’s allegations, including the names of the accused individuals, all of whom deny involvement in any crime.
On October 14, 2022, a court in Valletta, Malta’s capital, sentenced Alfred and George Degiorgio to 20 years each for the assassination and fined them 50,000 euros (USD$49,000) after they both pleaded guilty, according to media reports.