Daphne Murder Accused Details Plot To Kill For 150,000 Euros
One day in the summer of 2017, Vince Muscat dropped his friendÂ Alfred Degiorgio at the Busy Bee, a harbor-front cafÃ© near Maltaâ€™s capital renowned for its pastries stuffed with ricotta cheese. Degiorgio didnâ€™t stay long.
A few minutes later,Â he jumped back into the car to report to Muscat that they had a contract: To kill the islandâ€™s top journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Daphne was blown up by a car bomb on Oct. 16, 2017. The murderÂ shocked Europe and revealed the islandâ€™s violent, criminal underbelly.Â For years Daphne had run aÂ popular blog famous forÂ itsÂ punchy political opinions andÂ allegations of corruption. It had made her many enemies.
This is the previously untold account of the plot to kill Daphne, a contract killing that earned the killers just 150,000 euros. Muscat revealed these sensational details to the police in April 2018, in the hope of getting a pardon. Details of his confession were passed to Reuters last year but were not published until now to avoid damaging the investigation.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (no relation) has so far refused Vince Muscatâ€™s request for a pardon, even as he granted a pardon and immunity from prosecution to another figure in the plot, a taxi driver called Melvin Theuma. Theuma has admitted to police that he acted as a middleman between the killers and the person or people who ordered Daphneâ€™s murder. He has been released under police protection, according to a police source, and is due to testify in court next week.
â€œItâ€™s a complete injustice that Theuma should give evidence against Vince when Vince was the one that led police to him and helped solve this case. He is the one who should be pardoned, not Melvin,â€ said Pauline Muscat, Vinceâ€™s wife, speaking publicly for the first time.
Officials said Theuma was arrested on Nov. 14 as part of a separate investigation into illegal gambling, however. After his detention, he offered information about Daphneâ€™s killing and provided evidence that led to the arrest six days later of Yorgen Fenech, one of Maltaâ€™s leading businessmen, they said. Fenech is being questioned by police. Â Fenechâ€™s lawyer declined to comment and Theumaâ€™s lawyer didnâ€™t respond to a request for comment.
The first arrests in the investigation took place on Dec 3, 2017 when Muscat and his two alleged accomplices, brothers AlfredÂ and GeorgeÂ Degiorgio,Â were charged with Daphneâ€™s murder. All three denied the charges. After lengthy preliminary hearings, they were indicted in July to stand trial by jury at an undetermined future date.
Muscat, who was known to police for minor misdemeanors, including importing birds, agreed to spill the beans in April 2018 after police said his statement would only be used as evidence if Muscat obtained a pardon. A person briefed in detail about Muscatâ€™s confession relayed the contents to Reuters. Muscat told police that theÂ killers were paid 150,000 euros to murder Daphne, with 30,000 euros delivered upfront, this person said. They used a bomb bought from Maltese gangsters and supplied by the Italian mafia.
Police have said they believe Muscat was a henchmanÂ for GeorgeÂ Degiorgio, known by the nickname â€œIc-Cinizâ€ (the Chinese), leader of an organized crime group.Â AlfredÂ Degiorgio, known as â€œIl-Fuluâ€ (the Bean), was a member of the same gang, according to police. The brothers continue to deny Daphneâ€™s murder and have declined to answer police questions. Marc Sant, a lawyer defending Vince Muscat, declined to comment, as did lawyers for the brothers.
In interviews with police, Muscat named Theuma, the taxi driver, as the middleman who arranged Daphneâ€™s killing, the person familiar with his confession said. Muscat drove AlfredÂ DegiorgioÂ to several meetings withÂ Theuma, Muscat told police. He said he didnâ€™t hearÂ the two menâ€™s discussions about killing Daphne, but AlfredÂ DegiorgioÂ briefed him after each meeting. Details of the meetings were also relayed by Alfred to GeorgeÂ Degiorgio, Muscat said.
According to Muscatâ€™s account, after getting the contract to kill Daphne, the plotters first decided to shoot her and bought a rifle with telescopic sights. Muscat told investigatorsÂ the rifleÂ was supplied from Italy, and that AlfredÂ DegiorgioÂ was to fire the weapon.
The gang began their work by watchingÂ Daphneâ€™sÂ movements, tailing her car and observing her home, according to Muscatâ€™s confession. TheyÂ identified a window where sheÂ oftenÂ satÂ whileÂ working on her laptop. At one stage, sandbags were placed on a wallÂ which had a view of the windowÂ to provide a stable rest for the rifle.
Daphne Murder Accused Details Plot To Kill For 150,000 Euros
Muscat told investigators how, as surveillance continued, they followed Daphne on a family outing to the Phoenicia Hotel, by the gates ofÂ Maltaâ€™s capitalÂ Valletta, and to the airport when she and her husband, Peter, went on a foreign trip.
Muscat said thatÂ Theuma had helped watch the coupleâ€™s car in the airport carpark to identify when she returned home. A member of Daphneâ€™s family confirmed she had visited the Phoenicia HotelÂ onÂ Aug.Â 17 andÂ 26 andÂ hadÂ traveled abroad with Peter fromÂ Sept.Â 16 toÂ Sept.Â 21.
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AfterÂ their scouting operation, the gang decided, for reasons not yet explained, that it would be too difficult to shootÂ Daphne, according to the account of Muscatâ€™s confession given to Reuters.
Returning the rifle to the supplier, they were then provided with a bomb and shown how to detonate it, according to Muscat. Police say they have identified those suspected of supplying the weapons and hope to make arrests soon.
Daphne lived in the village ofÂ BidnijaÂ where she had a house in a walled compound. She usually parked her car inside the compound. ThatÂ posed an obstacle to her would-be killers, who needed access to her vehicle to place theÂ bomb.Â In case they had to climb into her garden to reach the car, theyÂ devised a special leash toÂ control the dog that ranÂ around inside.
But on the evening of Oct. 15, 2017,Â Muscat and theÂ DegiorgioÂ brothersÂ realized the car had been parked outside the gate to the compound. In anÂ interviewÂ with Reuters,Â Daphneâ€™s son, Matthew,Â previouslyÂ described how he had parked the car in the road that night, something he did quite often.
In the early hours of Oct. 16, police have said in court, the twoÂ DegiorgiosÂ and Muscat went toÂ BidnijaÂ to plant the bomb.
The person briefed on Muscatâ€™s confession saidÂ MuscatÂ alleges Alfred broke into the car by levering open the rear-quarter window passenger side. With George watching out from a high vantage point, and Muscat watching the lane outside Daphneâ€™s house, Alfred crept inside the car and put the bomb under the driverâ€™s seat.
In court hearings, police described how telephone data revealed that GeorgeÂ DegiorgioÂ later boarded a yacht and was in the Grand Harbour of Valletta when Daphne left her home just before 3Â p.m.Â on Oct. 16.
According to the prosecution case, GeorgeÂ DegiorgioÂ sent a text message from the yacht to a device inside Daphneâ€™s car which detonated the bomb and killed her.
According to Muscatâ€™s account, the balance on the cash price for her killing was handed to AlfredÂ DegiorgioÂ by Melvin Theuma within 10 days of theÂ bombingÂ at a place calledÂ RamlaÂ Taz-ZejtunÂ in the south of Malta. Police sources declined to discuss details of any financial transactions. Lawyers for the brothers declined to comment.
Daphne Murder Accused Details Plot To Kill For 150,000 Euros
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