Malta: In shock move, two hitmen plead guilty and are sentenced to 40 years in prison for the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia

As the first criminal trial finally opened in connection with the October 2017 assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, instead of facing a full trial, hitmen Alfred and George Degiorgio pled “guilty” and negotiated a plea bargain, accepting 40 years in prison instead of a possible life sentence – a shock move after long proclaiming their innocence and fighting to delay legal proceedings. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the sentencing and emphasises the need for full criminal justice for all those involved in Caruana Galizia’s murder.

On 14 October, as the criminal trial finally started in the case against two hitmen, brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, instead of hearing testimony from around 100 witnesses and reaching a jury verdict as planned, court came to a rapid conclusion when the Degiorgios instead changed their plea to “guilty” and negotiated a plea bargain, both receiving a sentence of 40 years in prison for their role in Caruana Galizia’s assassination. They were also ordered to pay a fine of 42,930 each for expenses, plus 50,000 in criminal proceeds.

The Degiorgio brothers have been in custody since December 2017, just a few months after Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb on 16 October 2017. These proceedings marked the start of the first trial against anyone implicated in the murder – a long overdue development on the eve of the five-year anniversary. Five other men have been arraigned in connection with the assassination and are awaiting trial, including accused mastermind Yorgen Fenech.

“We welcome the sentencing of Alfred and George Degiorgio, which marks a long overdue step towards justice for the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Nearly five years on, it’s more important than ever to ensure that full criminal justice is delivered for all those involved in this heinous crime,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s EU and Balkans Desk who was present in court in Malta, as part of a joint mission of international NGOs who travelled to the country to advocate for press freedom reforms and take part in commemorative events on the anniversary. 

The trial had been due to start on 4 October, but was postponed when Alfred Degiorgio failed to appear in court following a period of hospitalisation due to his hunger strike. The judge held him in contempt of court and fined him, ordering proceedings to resume on 14 October. RSF’s Director of Operations and Campaigns Rebecca Vincent monitored the 4 October proceedings in court, along with the 6 October hearing in a constitutional case the Degiorgios filed, seeking more time for their newly appointed legal aid lawyer to prepare. Both Degiorgio brothers attended the 6 October hearing, despite Alfred having claimed to be too weak to appear in court just two days prior. The judge rejected the constitutional claim on 11 October, allowing the criminal trial to proceed on 14 October as planned.

“We continue our campaign for justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia not only because of what it means for Malta, but also internationally. Far too many cases of murders of journalists have been committed with impunity, but when justice is secured, it sends a clear signal that such heinous violent crimes against journalists will not be tolerated. We will continue to closely follow all legal proceedings in this case and advocate for the wider press freedom reforms still urgently needed to ensure this can never happen again, in Malta or anywhere,” said RSF’s Director of Operations and Campaigns Rebecca Vincent.

Malta is ranked 78th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index, a staggering 31 places lower than its ranking at the time of Caruana Galizia’s assassination in 2017.

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78/180
Score : 61.55
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