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The sons of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia carry her coffin after her funeral in Mosta, Malta, on Nov. 3, 2017.MATTHEW MIRABELLI

What struck Matthew Caruana as he sat in a Maltese courtroom listening to the testimony of a man involved in his mother’s assassination was the nonchalant brutality of the plot – the hit was just another job.

Mr. Caruana’s mother, journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, died on Oct. 16, 2017, when a bomb placed under the driver’s seat of her leased Peugeot was detonated.

Mr. Caruana and his family have been seeking justice ever since in a case that reverberated across Europe, exposing the forces bent on silencing Malta’s most famous anti-corruption campaigner and ending several high-level government careers.

The testimony in recent days of Vince Muscat, one of the three men charged in the murder of Ms. Caruana Galizia, was not easy for Mr. Caruana, 35, the director of the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation.

“I knew a lot of the details already, but it’s different when you hear it from the mouth of the murderer,” he said in an interview. “The first thing you realize is that these people are psychopaths. They take pleasure in murdering, but they think of it as merely work. And no one told them that this is wrong. No one told them that they shouldn’t do this. There was no deterrent – they operated with complete impunity.”

Mr. Muscat is not related to Joseph Muscat, the Maltese prime minister who stepped down in early 2020 amid allegations that some members of his administration tried to sabotage the police investigation into the murder.

In February, Vince Muscat was sentenced to 15 years in prison after admitting his role in the murder. In witness testimony that began last week and continues this week in Valletta, Malta’s capital, he spoke publicly for the first time about the strategy that, he claimed, he and two other men concocted.

The two others charged in the murder are brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, who have pleaded not guilty and await trial.

In total, seven men have been charged in the plot, including Melvin Theuma, a taxi driver who confessed to being a middleman and has turned state witness, and Yorgen Fenech, the Maltese casino and hotel magnate who was arrested in 2019 as he was trying to flee Malta on his yacht.

Matthew Caruana speaks ahead of the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Awards ceremony in London on Nov. 8, 2018.BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

Mr. Fenech has reportedly implicated Keith Schembri, Joseph Muscat’s former chief of staff, of being the plot’s mastermind, an accusation Mr. Schembri has denied. Mr. Fenech’s request for immunity in exchange for testimony was rejected, and he is in detention, though no date has been set for his trial.

In his pretrial testimony against the Degiorgio brothers, Vince Muscat spoke in detail about the assignment to kill Ms. Caruana Galizia and how it changed as her movements were put under observation. At the time, her hard-hitting blog “Running Commentary” implicated several Maltese politicians in the Panama Papers offshore-finance industry scandal.

He said the first plan was actually devised a couple of years before the murder; the idea then was to gun her down with an AK-47 assault rifle. In the new plan, the 53-year-old mother of three sons was to be shot in exchange for a €150,000 ($223,000) fee.

“The plan was to follow her steps and shoot her when the time was right,” Mr. Muscat told the court. “After the [June, 2017] election, Theuma gave us the go-ahead. He gave us a €30,000 advance in a brown leather bag. … Alfred [Degiorgio] followed her to Bignija,” the village where she lived.

Mr. Muscat said he and the Degiorgio brothers spent days watching her movements, using binoculars and a telescope, as they sat on bricks – “It was uncomfortable and you’d get sore.”

He said the plan to shoot her from under a tree was abandoned because the crack of the rifle would be too noisy, potentially alerting the police. So they decided to use a car bomb, which could be triggered remotely. At one point, the hitmen considered planting the bomb in her car when it was spotted near a hotel. “They [the alleged hitmen brothers] said, ‘We’ll go ahead … even if she’s with others,’ ” Mr. Muscat said.

His admission that the desire to eliminate Ms. Caruana Galizia was so strong that collateral deaths would be tolerated shocked the court, according to Maltese media reports.

The car-bomb design, using material that may have come from the Sicilian Mafia, was sophisticated and included a slot into which a SIM card could be inserted. “You send a particular message to the SIM card in the bomb,” Mr. Muscat explained. “It would explode seconds later.”

Before dawn on the day of the murder, he and Alfred Degiorgio went to a point of land overlooking Ms. Caruana Galizia’s house, Mr. Muscat testified. In the early afternoon, when she drove away, they informed George Degiorgio that she was in her Peugeot. He was on a boat and sent a message to trigger the bomb.

In the 41 months since the murder, there has been only one conviction – Mr. Muscat’s. The slow pace of the trials has taken a severe emotional toll on Ms. Caruana Galizia’s family members, who through their foundation are still fighting for justice. “My mother was in the middle of exposing massive corruption schemes,” Mr. Caruana said. “We are calling for justice for those stories too. We fight daily not just for the accountability for the murder, but also [to expose] the corruption that my mother was exposing.”

He said all of Malta is watching and wants wholesale reforms of the police, the government and the judiciary. “What has been achieved so far didn’t happen naturally,” he said. “It happened because people protested, because my family fought for justice, other people backed us, NGOs in and outside Malta helped, European parliamentarians helped. It’s all because of them.”

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