The three alleged murderers of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia were allegedly paid €150,000 to kill her with a car bomb, according to new claims.
The alleged assassins initially planned to murder the anti-corruption crusader by shooting her with a rifle, but in the end opted for a bomb which they planted inside her car.
The trio – brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio and Vince Muscat – are awaiting trial for the October 2017 murder of Mrs Caruana Galizia.
They were arrested a few weeks after the killing but deny any involvement.
But according to an investigation by Reuters, they agreed to carry out the contract killing in the summer of 2017.
As the claims came to light, one of the journalist’s three sons, Paul Caruana Galizia, described the whole nexus of money, corruption and deadly intent as “a horror story”.
The investigation is based on details allegedly revealed to the Maltese police by Muscat, who hoped to secure a pardon.
He is said to have told police that after the €150,000 payment was agreed on, €30,000 was delivered upfront.
The alleged killers initially planned to shoot the journalist with a rifle equipped with telescopic sights.
They did surveillance on her home and at one point placed sandbags on a wall, from where they would have had a clear shot at Mrs Caruana Galizia as she worked at her computer.
But that plan was aborted for reasons unknown and the trio instead decided to use a car bomb, allegedly supplied by an Italian mafia organisation via Maltese gangsters.
On the evening of October 15, 2017, they broke into the journalist’s car when it was parked outside her home in the village of Bidnija and planted the device under the driver’s seat.
The next day, the bomb was allegedly detonated by a text message sent from a mobile phone by George Degiorgo from a yacht in the Grand Harbour of Valletta, the capital.
The journalist was killed instantly and the burning, blackened wreckage of her car strewn over a field.
The rest of the money for the contract killing was handed over to Alfred Degiorgio 10 days later, according to the Reuters report.
Lawyers for all three alleged killers declined to comment.
The alleged middleman in the assassination plot was Malvin Theuma, a taxi driver who was arrested by police on November 14.
He then provided evidence that led to the arrest six days later of Yorgen Fenech, a business tycoon and one of Malta’s richest men.
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Fenech, in turn, has told police that the mastermind behind the killing was Keith Schembri, the long-time chief of staff for Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, according to sources cited by Reuters.
Mr Schembri, a close friend and supporter of the prime minister, resigned from his post on Tuesday and was later arrested in connection with the case.
Neither he nor his lawyers have issued any statement but in the past he has denied any involvement in the murder.
The prime minister has defied calls from opposition MPs, Maltese newspapers and civil society groups to resign. He said on Thursday that he hoped the murder investigation would be wrapped up within “the next few hours”.
But Matthew Caruana Galizia, another one of the journalist’s sons, wrote on Twitter: “He should step down now.”
Adrian Delia, the leader of the opposition Nationalist Party, said: “Our country is being held hostage. All those involved in criminality need to be brought to justice. All.”