The Maltese man who was hired as a lookout to keep tabs on Panama Papers journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia before she was killed in October 2017, told a court he and her killers argued over whether to assassinate her with a rifle at close range—they ultimately decided it was “too noisy”—before settling on a bomb because it was “cleaner.”
Vincent Muscat ‘il-Koħħu,’ who is serving a 15-year-sentence after pleading guilty for his role in Galizia’s murder, apologized to her family ahead of his five-hour testimony on Thursday, according to The Times of Malta and other media reports. “I admitted all the charges against me and I have been sentenced,” he told the court.
He then painted a picture of the plot to kill her with precision, including how he and fellow defendant Alfred Degiorgio spent their time while watching the journalist at close range in cafes and through the windows of her Maltese home using an auto-focusing telescope. “We’d be sitting there on two bricks. It was uncomfortable and you’d get sore,” he said. “I’d go and get food sometimes. I was buying three packs of Rothmans Red a day. We disposed of the butts in a water bottle, so as not to leave any trace. We watched Daphne on her sofa with a laptop until 2 a.m.”
Seven people have been charged with murder and complicity including Maltese tycoon Yorgen Fenech, who Muscat says masterminded the plot. Fenech, who was arrested trying to sail to Italy, denies the accusation.
Muscat described how he took the job to kill her. “Alfred Degiorgio came to me and told me there was a good job for me,” he told the court.“The plan was to follow her steps and shoot her when the time was right.”
He then described how he and the others were paid a €30,000 advance, in €50 notes. “We took €10,000 each and started work. Alfred and I followed her to Bidnija,” he said, referring to her home village. He then said the original plan was to kill her inside her home.
At one point, they planned to carry out her execution with a sniper rifle with a telescopic sight on it. Alfred Degiorgio was ready to pull the trigger, but his brother George Degiorgio called off the hit, telling the men it was “too noisy” and they would likely be caught. “A bomb will be easier to install, much cleaner,” they decided.
“The plan was to have Alfred shoot from under the tree,” he said, according to Maltese media reports. “I would take him away from the scene in a stolen car. As soon as he shot, I would have to raise the gate so we could escape.”
Muscat also named several people close to former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s inner circle, who he said had ordered the hit, including Malta’s former Minister for the Economy Chris Cardona and Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri. Muscat the admitted killer is not related to Muscat the former prime minister.
During the testimony, Galizia’s sons live-tweeted some of the horrific details. “Alfred Degiorgio got a small water bottle, filled it with petrol and tied it to the bomb to make its impact even more devastating,” Matthew Caruana Galizia tweeted. “It was made of stainless steel, sophisticated, clearly foreign made... It had a slot for a SIM card.”
“Alfred Degiorgio got a small water bottle, filled it with petrol and tied it to the bomb to make its impact even more devastating.... It was made of stainless steel, sophisticated, clearly foreign made.... It had a slot for a SIM card.” https://t.co/5vPS7uFlbi
— Matthew Caruana Galizia (@mcaruanagalizia) March 11, 2021
The two men had a cache of weapons in their car to make their escape. “We had weapons in the car,” he said. “There was a 9mm automatic that took a 16-round magazine, and an AK-47 in the car in case we encountered a roadblock.”
Then as the journalist’s sons and husband listened, Muscat described the bomb that was so strong it sent her car off the road into a nearby field and literally blew her body to bits. “Six inches thick, five inches wide, and three inches long,” he said, using his hands to show the approximate size. “ It was a neat bomb, it had a stainless steel face.”
He went on to say that it had a slot for a SIM card to control the detonation with high precision. “The bomb came with a mobile phone. It had a switch. You send a particular message to the SIM card on the bomb,” he said. “It had some 500g of explosive.”
Then he added that it was so important to the people who hired them to make sure she did not survive, they reinforced the bomb. “We attached a petrol bottle to it in case it wasn’t strong enough,” he said.
They also “obtained” a car identical to Galizia’s so they could practice how to open the back window and insert the bomb under the driver’s seat. He also said that Alfred Degiorgio was apparently at one time dealing with two groups who both wanted to hire them to kill Galizia. “One time, Alfred told me Cardona sent me a message,” he said, referring to the former Minister for the Economy. “He mentioned the €150,000. He said there are two groups… they quoted the same price.”
On the night before she was killed, Muscat said he was summoned to pick up the bomb at a garage in a suburb of Valletta. Galizia had left her car outside that night rather than inside the garage, giving them a perfect opportunity to plant the deadly explosive. They installed the bomb in the middle of the night, carrying it in a backpack to her car.
Then they met again at 6 a.m. the morning of the murder and waited for hours before she came outside. “‘Ċens, she’s coming out,’ Degiorgio told me… but she went back in,” Muscat said. “Shortly after, she re-emerged, it was like she had forgotten something.”
Then Galizia got in her car and drove out of her driveway and down a winding road. They detonated the bomb just before the road dipped, Muscat testified. “We were walking back to the car. We didn’t hear anything,” Muscat told the court. “Alfred said, ‘I don’t think it exploded.’ I looked back and saw black smoke. I swear, your Honor, we heard nothing from there. We heard only a small sound.”
Muscat then told the court he was shocked at the national and international attention the murder garnered. He said he had no idea how important she was or the impact of what they had done.