One of three men accused of planting and detonating the car bomb that killed anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 pleaded guilty to the crime and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Vincent Muscat is the first person to be sentenced for the murder, which led the ruling Labor Party in Malta into a political scandal and led to the resignation of its prime minister at the end of 2019.

In a day of dramatic developments, police made three new arrests, apprehending brothers Adrian and Robert Agius, and their partner Jamie Vella, suspected of supplying the bomb used to assassinate Caruana Galizia.

News of the arrests emerged just after Muscat’s lawyer announced in court that his client was ready to change his guilty plea.

Muscat, whom police believe they acted as a hitman in a contract to kill the journalist, reportedly negotiated a more lenient sentence in exchange for providing state prosecutors with information about others involved. He also obtained a presidential pardon to help shed light on an entirely separate case – the 2015 murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop.

Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela and his cabinet reportedly approved Muscat’s pardon request on Monday. Chircop died at the age of 51, killed by gunmen on his way to work. The case was never resolved.

In one statement to the court, a lawyer from the family of Caruana Galizia welcomed the condemnation of Muscat, saying that “this step will begin to lead to complete justice”.

The journalist is survived by her widow and three sons. Their lawyer, Jason Azzopardi, said: “A person who admitted his involvement in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia denied him his right to life and denied him the right to enjoy his family, including his grandchildren. children born after his death. kill.

“The macabre murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia was intentional and should have been avoided.”

Muscat admitted all six charges in the Caruana Galizia case: intentional homicide, causing an explosion resulting in the death of a person, illegal possession of explosives, conspiracy to commit a crime, promotion of a group intending to commit criminal acts and participation in such a group. He could be released as early as 2029, with a reduction in his sentence for the time already served and good behavior.

The evidence he has provided in hours of police recording is expected to help prosecute others. Arrested in December 2017, Muscat was indicted alongside brothers George and Alfred Degriorgio, who still deny any involvement.

A third man, Melvin Theuma, received a presidential pardon. He claims to have acted as a go-between, hiring and paying the Degiorgio brothers to carry out the murder on behalf of Maltese property and energy mogul Yorgen Fenech.

The businessman, who was one of the many targets of Caruana Galizia’s investigations, is currently in police custody, accused of orchestrating the crime. He denies being involved in the murder.

The guilty plea was filed on Tuesday shortly after 1:30 p.m., Muscat standing alongside in a heavily guarded courtroom, while the Degiorgio brothers watched from the benches behind him. Magistrate Edwina Grima sentenced him to 15 years in prison shortly after, and he was ordered to pay € 42,930 (£ 37,000) in court costs.

Brothers Agius and Vella were arrested along with 10 other people during police raids in December 2017. However, no charges were brought and they were released without charge. Last October, Maltese newspapers reported that a member of the Muscat family had been offered silent money by Robert Agius and Vella in exchange for his silence. The approach was corroborated on behalf of his client by Muscat lawyer Marc Sant, who said the money was refused.

Just before her death, Caruana Galizia had received a leak consisting of hundreds of thousands of emails and documents from a company partly owned by Fenech, which had won a lucrative government contract to build a power plant.

Police said at a hearing in the Fenech case last August that they believed the journalist was killed for what she was about to reveal about the power plant, operated by a company called Electrogas.