A Maltese court charged three men Tuesday with the car-bomb slaying of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, as details from the investigation indicated she was killed by a remote-controlled explosion of TNT.
Seven other Maltese men were released on bail pending further investigation.
The arrest of the 10 men Monday was the first breakthrough in the Oct. 16 killing that shocked this Mediterranean island and led the European Parliament to send a delegation on a fact-finding mission related to the rule of law in Malta.
The three main suspects, who all had previous police records, arrived under heavy police escort at the court late Tuesday and pleaded innocent to the charges, which included murder and possession of explosive material. They were represented by a court-appointed lawyer.
Peter Caruana Galizia, the victim’s husband, attended the hearing.
Daphne Caruana Galizia was a leading investigative reporter whose exposes focused on corruption, drug trafficking and scandals involving Malta’s elite. She also wrote about Maltese links to the Panama Papers leaks about offshore financial havens. She was killed when a bomb blew up in her car she drove near her home.
Ahead of the arraignment, officials with knowledge of the investigation said FBI equipment helped in the collection of “electronic communication evidence” that led to the suspects. The evidence included triangulation data of the call that triggered the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia.
The type of explosive used was TNT, the officials also said, contradicting earlier reports that Semtex plastic explosive had been used. The officials agreed to discuss the case only if not quoted by name because they weren’t authorized to release details.
The officials said the investigation into the other seven arrested men would continue, but with no charges being filed, the men had to be released under Maltese law within 48 hours of their arrest. They were forced to turn over their passports and must check in regularly with police.
The three suspects ordered held all had previous brushes with the police. Two of them, Vincent Muscat, 55, and Alfred Degiorgio, 52, were acquitted in 2004 on armed robbery charges while Degiorgio’s brother George, 54, was charged with possession of unlicensed weapons and tools used to pick locks. Muscat, who shares the Maltese prime minister’s last name but is not a relative, also was critically injured in a 2014 shooting from which he recovered.
At a news conference announcing the arrests Monday, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the FBI helped Maltese police in their investigation together with Europol, the European Union’s police agency and other European investigators, including from Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation.
Muscat said the suspects were arrested on “reasonable suspicion” of involvement in Caruana Galizia’s killing. He would not give more details, citing concerns that divulging information could compromise the case.
Minutes before her death, Caruana Galizia, 53, had posted on her blog, Running Commentary, that there were “crooks everywhere” in Malta.
Malta has a reputation as a tax haven in the European Union and has attracted companies and money from outside Europe as well.
Last week, a European Parliament delegation expressed concerns over the rule of law in Malta and issued a warning that the “perception of impunity in Malta cannot continue.”
Late Tuesday, Malta’s prime minister — a frequent target of Caruana Galizia’s reporting — said her slaying was “the worst chapter of my time as prime minister.”