December 20, 2017 / 6:14 PM / a year ago

Malta triggerman listened to blogger blast over phone, police say

VALLETTA (Reuters) - A man suspected of triggering the car bomb that killed Maltese anti-corruption blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia is believed to have listened to the explosion live down the phone of a spotter, a court heard on Wednesday.

Police allege that George Degiorgio was sitting on a boat outside Valletta harbour on Oct. 16 when he sent an SMS which detonated the bomb as Caruana Galizia drove out of her village, Bidnija, in northern Malta.

Mobile phone data showed that Degiorgio’s brother, Alfred, and another suspect, Vince Muscat, had repeatedly visited Bidnija in the days before the blast, police said. Forensic experts also found Alfred’s DNA on a discarded cigarette at a vantage point overlooking the village.

All three deny the murder, which shocked the European Union and raised questions about the rule of law on Malta.

Shortly before the blast, George Degiorgio received a call from his brother, said Inspector Keith Arnaud as he laid out evidence for a second day to a magistrate who will have to decide whether to put the three suspects on trial.

“The phone call between the two brothers lasted 107 seconds, which was approximately the time it took to drive from the Caruana Galizia family home to the site where the car exploded, just down the hill,” Arnaud told the court.

Shortly after the deadly blast George Degiorgio sent a text to his partner: “Buy me wine, my love”.

Caruana Galizia dedicated much of her time to rooting out allegations of corruption on Malta, the smallest country in the EU. The cases that often involved senior politicians and government officials.

She had never written about the three suspects and her family believes that even if they carried out the attack, they were only acting on someone else’s orders.

“We believe the murder was a political one,” Caruana Galizia’s husband, Peter, told a separate Malta court that is looking into a request by the family to have Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta removed from the investigation, since he is married to a government minister.

They argue that he has a conflict of interest because the blogger was a fierce critic of the government.

Valletta has rejected the suggestion and said on Wednesday the case was “definitely not over”. He added: “It is the intention of the police to ensure that investigations are brought to their full end.”

Reporting by Chris Scicluna, editing by; Crispian Balmer, Larry King

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