Life sentence sought for tycoon over Malta journalist murder

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Malta's attorney general called Wednesday for a life sentence for businessman Yorgen Fenech for allegedly masterminding the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, which rocked the Mediterranean island nation four years ago.

Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg laid formal charges against Fenech, who was arrested in November 2019 trying to leave Malta on his yacht, for complicity in the murder and criminal conspiracy.

The bill of indictment, which confirms that Fenech will stand trial, requests life imprisonment for the murder charge and between 20 and 30 years in prison for the criminal conspiracy charge.

Fenech has denied involvement and pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Caruana Galizia was one of Malta's most prominent investigative journalists before she was assassinated in a car bombing close to her home on October 16, 2017.

The murder of a reporter who had exposed cronyism and sleaze within Malta's political and business elite sparked international outrage and protests that eventually forced prime minister Joseph Muscat to resign.

At the time of her death, she was investigating a highly controversial power station deal, in which Fenech was one of the main shareholders and a director.

It later emerged that Fenech had a secret company in Dubai, 17 Black, which intended to funnel money to two Panama companies belonging to then energy minister Konrad Mizzi and Muscat's then chief of staff, Keith Schembri. No money was actually transferred.

- Sniper plan dropped -

According to the indictment, Fenech is accused of asking an associate of his, taxi driver Melvin Theuma, to hire three hitmen who would be paid 150,000 euros ($175,000) to kill Caruana Galizia.

The hitmen had allegedly initially planned to shoot the journalist with a sniper rifle from the other side of a valley, while she sat on her sofa at home.

But the plan was dropped at the last minute and a car bomb chosen instead.

It was detonated at 2:58pm, allegedly by George Degiorgio, through a text message sent from his boat.

Degiorgio and his brother Alfred are both awaiting trial for planting the bomb. A third man, Vincent Muscat -- no relation to the former premier -- pleaded guilty earlier this year and was jailed for 15 years.

In a separate development in March, Schembri was charged with money laundering and fraud.

A public inquiry into Caruana Galizia's murder last month found the Maltese state responsible for creating a climate of impunity in the country that allowed her to be killed, including through the coordination by staff in the prime minister's own office of online harassment campaigns against her.

Prime Minister Robert Abela apologised to the Caruana Galizia family after the inquiry’s conclusions, and pledged to take all of its recommendations onboard.

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