Three men suspected of building the bomb that killed the Maltese anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia were arrested on Tuesday after a hitman admitted carrying out the murder and offered to turn evidence in a dramatic plea deal.
Vince Muscat, one of three men charged with the 2017 murder, pleaded guilty on all charges at a pre-trail hearing in Malta on Tuesday afternoon.
Judge Edwina Grima told Muscat’s lawyer: "These are grave accusations. Murder, conspiracy... he [Muscat] possibly faces a life term."
The suspect repeated that he pleaded guilty and the judge then handed down a reduced sentence of 15 years, saying she took into account the fact that he had collaborated with police on the case.
The reduced sentence is part of a plea deal and he must also pay €42,000 in court costs and provide additional information about both the Caruana Galizia murder and the 2015 murder of Carmel Chircop, a local lawyer.
The two killings are not at this stage thought to be connected.
Jamie Vella and brothers Adrian and Robert Agius, who Muscat is believed to have told police supplied the car bomb and SMS code that triggered it, were arrested as the hearing was taking place.
They and their lawyers were not immediately available for comment.
Daphne Caruana Galizia, a journalist and blogger known as a “one-woman Wikileaks” for her exposés of high-level corruption in Malta, was killed by a car bomb in October 2017.
Muscat and brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio were arrested in December 2017 and charged with planning and carrying out the attack. The Degiorgio brothers continue to plead not guilty.
Muscat’s plea deal is the second time a suspect has provided evidence leading to a potential breakthrough in the case.
Melvin Theuma, a taxi driver who was arrested in November 2019, confessed to being the middle man in the killing and turned state evidence in exchange for a pardon.
Theuma provided evidence that led to the arrest six days later of Yorgen Fenech, one of Malta’s richest men and the owner of a Dubai-based company called 17 Black on which Caruana Galizia had reported.
Mr Fenech, who has denied wrongdoing, is awaiting trial for masterminding the killing.
He, in turn, told police that Keith Schembri - the long-time chief of staff for Joseph Muscat, Malta’s prime minister - was also involved, according to a Reuters investigation.
Mr Schembri has denied any wrongdoing and any knowledge of the murder or its perpetrators.
Joseph Muscat, who is not related to Vince Muscat, resigned in December 2019.
Vince Muscat initially asked for a similar deal to Theuma, but his request for a pardon was rejected in January.
The Times of Malta reported he had secured a presidential pardon for his evidence related to the killing of Chircop, meaning he will not be prosecuted for that crime.
A lawyer for Caruana Galizia’s family said in court: “the macabre murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia was intentional and should have been prevented. The victim has paid with her life and her family is suffering the loss of their loved one.
"However, in the circumstances, and given they were informed by the Attorney General about the process in this case, the family expresses the hope that this step will begin to lead to full justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia.”