VALLETTA (Reuters) – One day in the summer of 2017, Vince Muscat dropped his friend Alfred Degiorgio at the Busy Bee, a harbour-front café near Malta’s capital renowned for its pastries stuffed with ricotta cheese. Degiorgio didn’t stay long.
FILE PHOTO: People gather at the Great Siege Square calling for the resignation of Joseph Muscat following the arrest of one of the country’s most prominent businessmen as part of the investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, in Valletta, Malta November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo
A few minutes later, he jumped back into the car to report to Muscat that they had a contract: To kill the island’s top journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Daphne was blown up by a car bomb on Oct. 16, 2017. The murder shocked Europe and revealed the island’s violent, criminal underbelly. For years Daphne had run a popular blog famous for its punchy political opinions and allegations of corruption. It had made her many enemies.
This is the previously untold account of the plot to kill Daphne, a contract killing that earned the killers just 150,000 euros. Muscat revealed these sensational details to the police in April 2018, in the hope of getting a pardon. Details of his confession were passed to Reuters last year but were not published until now to avoid damaging the investigation.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (no relation) has so far refused Vince Muscat’s request for a pardon, even as he granted a pardon and immunity from prosecution to another figure in the plot, a taxi driver called Melvin Theuma. Theuma has admitted police that he acted as a middleman between the killers and the person or people who ordered Daphne’s murder. He has been released under police protection, according to a police source, and is due to testify in court on Friday.
“It’s a complete injustice that Theuma should give evidence against Vince when Vince was the one that led police to him and helped solve this case. He is the one who should be pardoned, not Melvin,” said Pauline Muscat, Vince’s wife, speaking publicly for the first time.
Officials said Theuma was arrested on Nov. 14 as part of a separate investigation into illegal gambling, however. After his detention, he offered information about Daphne’s killing and provided evidence that led to the arrest six days later of Yorgen Fenech, one of Malta’s leading businessmen, they said. Fenech is being questioned by police. Fenech’s lawyer declined to comment and Theuma’s lawyer didn’t respond to a request for comment.
SEEKING A PARDON
The first arrests in the investigation took place on Dec 3, 2017 when Muscat and his two alleged accomplices, brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, were charged with Daphne’s murder. All three denied the charges. After lengthy preliminary hearings, they were indicted in July to stand trial by jury at an undetermined future date.
Muscat, who was known to police for minor misdemeanors, including importing birds, agreed to spill the beans in April 2018 after police said his statement would only be used as evidence if Muscat obtained a pardon. A person briefed in detail about Muscat’s confession relayed the contents to Reuters. Muscat told police that the killers were paid 150,000 euros to murder Daphne, with 30,000 euros delivered upfront, this person said. They used a bomb bought from Maltese gangsters and supplied by the Italian mafia.
Police have said they believe Muscat was a henchman for George Degiorgio, known by the nickname “Ic-Ciniz” (the Chinese), leader of an organized crime group. Alfred Degiorgio, known as “Il-Fulu” (the Bean), was a member of the same gang, according to police. The brothers continue to deny Daphne’s murder and have declined to answer police questions. Marc Sant, a lawyer defending Vince Muscat, declined to comment, as did lawyers for the brothers.
In interviews with police, Muscat named Theuma, the taxi driver, as the middleman who arranged Daphne’s killing, the person familiar with his confession said. Muscat drove Alfred Degiorgio to several meetings with Theuma, Muscat told police. He said he didn’t hear the two men’s discussions about killing Daphne, but Alfred Degiorgio briefed him after each meeting. Details of the meetings were also relayed by Alfred to George Degiorgio, Muscat said.
According to Muscat’s account, after getting the contract to kill Daphne, the plotters first decided to shoot her and bought a rifle