Man admits to car bomb murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

Three others have pleaded not guilty to charges relating to the killing

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A man has admitted to his role in the car bomb assassination of Maltese anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, whose work included a role in the Panama Papers revelations.

Vince Muscat changed his plea to guilty during a pre-trial hearing and was sentenced to 15 years, a relatively lenient term, after he co-operated with police.

The 2017 car bomb killing of Caruana Galizia, 53, shone a spotlight on corruption on the island.

Muscat has been under arrest since December 2017 when, along with two other men, he was accused of planning and carrying out the assassination.

The other two have not changed their pleas of not guilty.

FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a banner depicting anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia during a commemoration at the site where the journalist was assassinated with a car bomb in 2017, in Bidnija, Malta, October 16, 2020. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo

The victim's family expressed their "hope” that the plea would be a significant step in securing justice for Caruana Galizia.

Her killing "destroyed her right to life and removed her right to enjoy her family and grandchildren who were born after her murder", said the family’s lawyer, Jason Azzopardi.

In a pretrial hearing on Tuesday, Muscat's lawyer Marc Sant informed the court that his client wanted to register an admission.

When asked how he wanted to plead, Muscat replied: "Guilty."

Judge Edwina Grima told the lawyer: "These are grave accusations. Murder, conspiracy. He possibly faces a life term."

But Muscat again pleaded guilty to charges including murder, possession of explosives, placement of the bomb and criminal conspiracy.

He must also pay €42,930 ($52,150) in court expenses.

Two brothers, George and Alfred Degiorgio, were arrested in December 2017 along with Muscat, and businessman Yorgen Fenech is also awaiting trial for allegedly orchestrating the murder.

Mr Fenech denies the charges.

Caruana Galizia, described as a "one-woman WikiLeaks", was known for investigating high-level corruption, including contributions to the 2016 Panama Papers data leak.

The self-confessed middleman in the plot, Melvin Theuma, gave state evidence in 2019 in return for a pardon.

Muscat's request for a similar deal was denied last month, but a legal source said he had been offered a reduced sentence in a plea bargain.

No official information about the deal has been given and lawyers agreed on Tuesday that submissions for punishment would take place behind closed doors.