Suspects in Malta blogger's murder sent to trial

VALLETTA (Reuters) - Three men accused of killing Maltese anti-corruption blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia were committed to trial on Thursday by a magistrate hearing preliminary evidence.

Brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat were arrested in early December on the strength of phone intercepts and accused of having killed Caruana Galizia in a carbomb as she drove out of her home on Oct. 16.

In the Maltese judicial system, police have to present initial evidence to a magistrate, who decides whether there are sufficient grounds to press charges. On the third day of the preliminary hearing, Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit ruled that the three should be sent to trial.

The trio have denied wrongdoing.

Police told the court that George Degiorgio was sitting on a boat outside Valletta harbor when he sent an SMS to trigger the deadly bomb, which had been planted overnight in Caruana Galizia’s hire car.

Mobile phone data showed that Alfred Degiorgio and Muscat had repeatedly visited Caruana Galizia’s home village Bidnija in the days before the blast.

Police believe they watched from a nearby vantage point as Caruana Galizia set out in her car and told George Degiorgio via telephone to detonate the device.

Her death shocked Malta, the smallest nation in the European Union, which has been engulfed by a wave of graft scandals, including accusations of money laundering and influence peddling in government -- all of which have been denied.

Caruana Galizia exposed many of these cases, but had never written about the three suspects, who had fallen foul of local police in the past. The slain blogger’s family say the mastermind behind the killing must still be at large.

Malta’s attorney general must now draw up precise charges against the Degiorgios and Muscat, and no trial date has been set.

Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer