Malta sends three suspects for trial on charges of killing anti-corruption journalist


FILE PHOTO: People hold up photos of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia during a protest marking eighteen months since her assassination outside the office of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at Auberge de Castille in Valletta, Malta April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

VALETTA (Reuters) - Three men will face trial in Malta for their alleged involvement in the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia after the island's attorney general issued a bill of indictment against them, court officials said on Tuesday.

The indictment comes days before a deadline that requires suspects who have not been formally committed for trial within 20 months of arrest to be granted bail.

Vincent Muscat and brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio are accused of having planted and set off a bomb that exploded in Caruana Galizia's car near the Maltese capital Valletta on Oct. 16, 2017. All three suspects have pleaded not guilty during pre-trial proceedings known as the compilation of evidence, held before a magistrate.

It is not known when the trial will start.

The murder of Caruana Galizia, who penned an anti-corruption blog, appalled Europe and raised questions about the rule of law on the Mediterranean island.

Muscat and the Degiorgios were arrested and charged in December 2017 and have been in detention ever since. The courts have turned down repeated requests for bail citing the continuing police investigation and public order.

Maltese police have said their investigations are continuing as the three are not thought to have been the masterminds behind the killing, the motive for which is unknown.

The three suspects have not said a word to police, according to usually well-informed Maltese media.

Evidence presented in court by prosecutors over the last two years has suggested that Caruana Galizia, 53, was blown up by a bomb activated by a mobile phone.

Muscat was allegedly the spotter who watched the journalist drive out of her house in Bidnija, seven miles from Valletta, while one of the Degiorgio brothers is alleged to have set off the bomb by phone while on a yacht in Valletta harbour.

Officers from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations and Europol have helped Malta police investigate the case.

Caruana Galizia's family has repeatedly called on Malta's government to hold an independent public inquiry into the murder and into whether the government could have acted to prevent it.

The Council of Europe backed their call in a report last June and said an inquiry should be held within three months.

The government has said that a public inquiry could hinder the continuing police investigations, although the foreign minister has indicated that an inquiry might be held.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, a frequent target of Caruana Galizia's writings, has offered a million euro ($1.2 million) reward for information leading to the arrest of the culprits.

(Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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