The self-confessed killer of Daphne Caruana Galizia told a court on Thursday that he and two other men used binoculars and a telescope to follow the movements of the investigative journalist for days, before planting and triggering the car bomb that killed her in 2017.
Speaking in the presence of journalists and Caruana Galizia’s relatives in hall 22 of the law courts in Malta’s capital, Valletta, Vincent Muscat gave the fullest account yet of the plot to murder the journalist.
Caruana Galizia’s death in October 2017 was met with outrage across Europe, and embroiled Malta’s ruling Labour party in a political scandal that led to the resignation of the prime minister in 2019.
Seven men have either admitted to or been charged with complicity in the killing. They include the property and energy tycoon Yorgen Fenech, who has pleaded not guilty to masterminding the murder, and Melvin Theuma, a taxi-driver who confessed to being the middleman in the alleged contract killing.
Muscat, who like Theuma has turned state witness, said he met two other men accused of direct involvement in the murder, the brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, before Malta’s June 2017 general election.
“Alfred Degiorgio came to me and told me there was a good job for me,” he told the court on Thursday, in remarks reported by Malta Today, which was following the hearing from the courtroom. He said the job was to kill Caruana Galizia and that a price of €150,000 had been agreed.
“The plan was to follow her steps and shoot her when the time was right. After the election, Theuma gave us the go-ahead. He gave us a €30,000 advance in a brown leather bag. The sum was paid in €50 notes. We took €10,000 each and started work. Alfred and I followed her to Bidnija,” the village where Caruana Galizia lived.
He said the three of them used binoculars and a telescope to observe Caruana Galizia’s movements closely, and they spent whole days watching her.
“We’d be sitting there on two bricks,” he said. “It was uncomfortable and you’d get sore … I was buying three packs of Rothmans Red [cigarettes] 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.”
Muscat said the original plan was to shoot Caruana Galizia in her home: “The plan was to have Alfred shoot from under the tree. I would take him away from the scene in a stolen car … George started coming up with excuses [such as] the rifle was too noisy.”
The shooting plan was eventually abandoned and the men opted to use a bomb instead. “George Degiorgio always wanted a bomb … a bomb you place it at night and you leave. Quieter, less panic.”
He said the men began to discuss obtaining a bomb from Jamie Vella, who pleaded not guilty last month to complicity in the killing.
Muscat said the bomb had a stainless steel face and an apparatus in which the sim card would be inserted. “You send a particular message to the sim card on the bomb,” he said. “It would explode seconds later.”
In one particularly shocking moment in court, Muscat said he had told his alleged accomplices that he was worried that a car bomb might end up killing other people, and that they replied “we’ll go ahead, even if others are with her in the car”.
While keeping watch over Caruana Galizia’s house, they noticed on the night of 15 October 2017 that, unusually, she had parked her car outside the gate of her home.
Muscat said he picked up the bomb, which was hidden in a shoebox, and met up with the other hitmen. They then placed the device beneath the driver’s seat.
At 5am the next morning, Muscat and Alfred Degiorgio returned to a vantage point overlooking the house. In the early afternoon they saw Caruana Galizia drive off and informed George Degiorgio, who was in a boat, ready to trigger the bomb remotely.
He detonated the bomb before his brother had given him the go-ahead. Caruana Galizia’s car was out of sight and Muscat said they did not hear the explosion, but they looked back and saw a plume of smoke.
Muscat also reiterated claims he has previously made to police that he drove Alfred Degiorgio to meet the former economy minister Chris Cardona in Valletta in the run-up to the murder, and that Cardona allegedly tipped off the men before they were arrested in December 2017.
Cardona told the Malta Independent that Muscat’s claims were “craziness and blatant lies”. “I was never aware of any project to kill anyone,” Cardona said. “This is pure evil fiction.”
Before the hearing, Muscat apologised to the family of Caruana Galizia – a columnist and investigator whose blog on political corruption earned her a reputation as a “one-woman WikiLeaks”.
Theuma was granted a pardon in November 2019 to reveal what he knew about the murder and is living in a safe house. His evidence implicated Fenech, who was arrested in 2019 as he was attempting to leave Malta on his yacht. Fenech is in custody awaiting a decision on whether he will face trial.
The then prime minister Joseph Muscat – no relation to Vincent Muscat – was forced to resign in 2019 after allegations that members of his administration had tried to sabotage the police investigation.