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Assassin brothers jailed 40 years for car-bomb killing of Malta journalist

People holding placards that read “mafia government” with photos of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia at a protest on Nov. 29, 2019. (AFP/Getty Images)

Two men were sentenced to 40 years in prison each Friday for the 2017 car-bomb murder of Maltese anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, a brutal killing that rattled Europe and drew international attention to the tiny Mediterranean country’s criminal underworld.

Brothers George Degiorgio, 59, and Alfred Degiorgio, 57 pleaded guilty to the assassination of Caruana Galizia, a muckraker who had investigated drugs, arms traffickers, politicians and judges in a country largely known as a picturesque tourist destination. They previously claimed innocence but had faced the threat of life imprisonment.

Prosecutors alleged that the brothers had been hired to kill Caruana Galizia by one of Malta’s wealthiest people, Yorgen Fenech, according to the Associated Press. Fenech is awaiting trial. There were also questions as to what role, if any, politicians played in her death. Caruana Galizia had linked associates of then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with suspicious financial transactions described in the Panama Papers, which detailed the hidden infrastructure of offshore tax havens. (A probe later cleared Muscat and his associates of wrongdoing related to that scandal.)

In a blog post published on the day of her murder, Caruana Galizia accused a top Muscat aide of corruption. The aide — who was subsequently subjected to sanctions by the United States — denies wrongdoing. The premier was pushed out of office in 2020 by protesters who were furious at how the investigation of Caruana Galizia’s murder was handled; an independent probe concluded last year that the Maltese state bears responsibility for her death due to its “culture of impunity” and failure to recognize the risk to her life.

“It’s been half-a-decade of agony for Daphne’s family and for the country,” wrote European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, who is Maltese, in a Facebook post. “Daphne still cannot write her blog, enjoy her children and grandchildren, potter in her garden or be with her loved ones. Today is not justice, it is a small step.”

“Daphne’s killers should never have been allowed to do what they did in the first place and the systemic failures that enabled her assassination need to be effectively addressed,” said Corinne Vella, a sister of Caruana Galizia, in a Saturday email to The Washington Post.

Caruana Galizia worked as a journalist in Malta for more than 30 years, according to a foundation established in her memory. She ran a lifestyle magazine and a corruption-focused blog titled “Running Commentary.” Her aggressive reporting on both government and opposition figures meant she was facing some 43 libel suits at the time of her death — many of which her family is still fighting.

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Caruana Galizia also received numerous threats of violence before her assassination. In 1995, her front door was doused in fuel and set on fire, and her dog — one of three that were killed during her lifetime — was left in front of her home with a slit throat. In 2006, she published an article on neo-Nazi groups in Malta, leading someone to arrange a stack of tires behind her home and set them ablaze.

“She was insulted and pressured on a daily basis. She was hated,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, a spokesperson for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), who testified at the inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s murder and who had sought to support the reporter. “Unfortunately, she was already targeted, and we didn’t have time to set up any protection or legal framework for her.”

Caruana Galizia was 53 when she was killed near her home in a remote town in northern Malta, where she lived with her family for safety purposes. The brutal nature of her murder shocked the European Union, where hits on journalists are rare. It also spurred calls for reform in Malta, where reporters must deal with an increasingly hostile climate.

Malta ranks 78th out of 180 countries on RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index, 31 places lower than at the time of Caruana Galizia’s death.

In September, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights wrote a letter to Malta’s prime minister, Robert Abela, outlining her concerns about press freedom.

“Freedom of expression, including media freedom and the safety of journalists, is a prerequisite of any democratic society,” the commissioner wrote, adding that it is “necessary to comply with international standards.”

“We attach the utmost importance to holding the persons who commissioned and murdered Ms. Caruana Galizia accountable, and to continuing our work to ensure that the environment journalists operate within is free,” Abela replied.

Harrison Smith contributed to this report.

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