Two brothers pleaded guilty on Friday to the murder of a prominent journalist in Malta five years ago, marking a stunning turnaround in the closely watched trial in the tiny Mediterranean nation.
The guilty pleas from George and Alfred Degiorgio came on the first day of their trial in Valletta for the 2017 killing of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia — and just hours after the brothers had pleaded not guilty.
“Their position has changed … they declare they are guilty,” defence lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace told the court.
The defendants were then asked by the court how they pled, to which each replied, “guilty”.
The car bomb killing of investigative journalist Caruana Galizia, 53 — described as a “one-woman WikiLeaks” — led to widespread anger internationally, and sparked mass protests in Malta and the resignation of the prime minister.
One of Malta's most prominent public figures, Caruana Galizia was a vocal critic of the country's political elite, whom she accused of cronyism and corruption in her blog.
The October 16, 2017 car bomb attack near her home came hours after she posted a message that read: “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”
The much-delayed trial of the brothers — charges against whom included murder, causing a fatal explosion and criminal conspiracy — began on Friday with George Degiorgio hurling accusations at prosecutors.
“Don't you know who killed Daphne?” George Degiorgio shouted at the prosecution upon entering court.
“Your friends, those you were shoulder to shoulder with … Go investigate them!”
A third man, Vincent Muscat, pleaded guilty last year to the murder and was sentenced to 15 years in jail.
As proceedings opened, judge Edwina Grima said a defence request to suspend the trial, due to what lawyers said was their lack of time to prepare, had been refused.
The Degiorgio brothers said last year they were prepared to implicate a former government minister in exchange for a pardon, which was not granted.
George Degiorgio confessed to the crime during an interview from jail in July, calling it “just business”.
Earlier on Friday, he repeated his not guilty plea before the court.
His brother Alfred, seated in a wheelchair, said: “I have nothing to say.”
The court recorded this as a not guilty plea.
Still awaiting trial is Yorgen Fenech, the wealthy businessman considered by prosecutors to be the alleged mastermind of the murder.
Caruana Galizia's assassination sparked outrage around the world and put Malta, the EU's smallest member state, in the spotlight over its apparent rule-of-law failings.
Joseph Muscat resigned as prime minister over the affair in January 2020, following mass protests over his perceived efforts to protect friends and allies from the investigation.
A 2021 public inquiry into Caruana Galizia's murder found the state should bear responsibility for her death, by creating a “climate of impunity” for those who wanted to silence her.