Prosecutors allege they were hired by a top Maltese businessman with ties to the government. That businessman has been charged and will be tried separately.
The Degiorgio brothers have denied the allegations. A third suspect, Vincent Muscat, avoided trial after previously changing his plea to guilty. Muscat is serving a 15-year prison sentence.
Alfred Degiorgio pleaded innocent in a court in Valletta on Friday while his brother stated he had nothing to say. The court interpreted that as a not guilty plea.
The brothers had unsuccessfully tried to get a pardon in exchange for naming larger alleged conspirators, including a former minister whose identity has not been revealed.
The bomb was placed under the driver’s seat and the explosion was powerful enough to send the wreckage of the car flying over a wall and into a field.
A top Maltese investigative journalist, Caruana Galizia, 53, had written extensively on her website “Running Commentary” about suspected corruption in political and business circles in the Mediterranean island nation, an attractive financial haven.
Among her targets were people in the inner circle of then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whom she accused of disclosing offshore companies in tax havens in the Panama Papers leak. But she also targeted the opposition. When she was murdered, she faced more than 40 libel cases.
The arrest of a top businessman with connections to senior government officials two years after the assassination sparked a series of mass protests in the country, forcing Muscat to resign.
Yorgen Fenech was charged in 2019 with alleged complicity in the murder, by either ordering or inciting to commit the crime, inducing another to commit the crime, or promising to offer a reward afterwards . He was also charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Fenech has not pleaded guilty to any charges.
No date has been set for his trial.
A self-proclaimed intermediary, taxi driver Melvin Theuma, was given a presidential pardon in 2019 in exchange for testimony against Fenech and the other alleged conspirators. Two men, Jamie Vella and Robert Agius, have been charged with delivering the bomb, but their trial has not yet begun.
A deputy prosecutor, Philip Galea Farrugia, told the court that Theuma had been asked by an unnamed person to find someone to kill Caruana Galizia. Theuma reportedly approached one of the Degiorgio brothers and a payment of 150,000 euros ($146,500) has been negotiated, Galea Farrugia said.
Galea Farrugia also said that a rifle was initially chosen as the murder weapon, but that it was later turned into a bomb. Prosecutors also said a mobile phone – one of three George Degiorgio carried on a cabin boat in Malta’s Grand Harbor – caused the explosion.
A 2021 public investigative report found that the Maltese state “must bear responsibility” for the murder of Caruana Galizia because of the culture of impunity emanated from the highest levels of government.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, has condemned the “lack of effective results in establishing accountability five years later”.
In a letter to the current Prime Minister, Robert Abela, the commissioner expressed the need to protect journalists in Malta and cited ongoing defamation cases against Caruana-Galizia’s family.