Murder accused Vincent Muscat was the man who told police that Melvin Theuma was the middleman in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder, his former lawyer told a public inquiry into the assassination on Friday.
Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi said that Muscat had given police Theuma’s name on April 23, 2018 and that former prime minister Joseph Muscat and his then-chief of staff Keith Schembri were informed of that at the end of that month. Before that, the police only knew of someone named “M”.
Vincent Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, is one of three men who stand accused of placing and detonating the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia in October 2017. The other two men accused of the crime are brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio.
Death threats following meeting
Azzopardi told the public inquiry that after his client named Theuma to the police, the Degiorgio brothers confronted their alleged co-conspirator and told him that they knew he was speaking to the police.
There were underworld rumours that il-Koħħu’s relatives would be attacked and his prison food started being checked, Azzopardi said. The man received death threats in July 2018.
Pardon request turned down as ‘hearsay’
Il-Koħħu was angling for a presidential pardon in exchange for the information he was providing the police, Azzopardi confirmed. But that pardon request went nowhere.
Azzopardi said that he had been approached by then-justice minister Owen Bonnici during a funeral. Bonnici told him that authorities could only provide one pardon in the case, he said.
And Lawrence Cutajar, who at the time was police commissioner, had told Azzopardi privately that “the word from above is that his [Koħħu’s] testimony is hearsay” [minn fuq ġejja li x-xhieda tiegħu hija hearsay]”, Azzopardi said.
That meeting happened on October 7, 2019, Azzopardi told the inquiry.
That same day, former prime minister Joseph Muscat told the press that he was “not keen on pardons” as they had proven ineffective in the past.
Azzopardi dropped Muscat as a client that same month, telling Times of Malta that the decision had been taken in “partnership”.
Theuma, who has named businessman Yorgen Fenech as the murder mastermind, was granted a pardon in the case the following month, on November 25.
Azzopardi told the inquiry that Fenech’s name was first mentioned to his former client on September 8 of that year.
As it happened
Live blog ends
10.20am This live blog will end here. Thank you for having joined us, we will have a summary of Azzopardi’s testimony available at the top of this article shortly.
Testimony to continue behind closed doors
10.15am Arthur Azzopardi says that Koħħu’s request for a pardon had been forwarded by the police, not his lawyer.
He is asked about Joseph Muscat’s infamous party at Girgenti. But Azzopardi will be answering that question privately – his testimony will now continue behind closed doors.
The public inquiry will continue on Wednesday morning.
‘Word from above is that his testimony is hearsay’
10.10am Arthur Azzopardi is asked how Vince Muscat had named Melvin Theuma.
He says that he was described as the middleman in the murder, acting on someone’s behalf.
The witness is asked if he knows why he was not granted a pardon.
Arthur Azzopardi says that during a meeting on October 7, 2019, [Deputy Police Commissioner] Carmelo Magri and Nesren Grixti were asked to leave the room.
Lawrence Cutajar told him “The word from above is that his testimony is hearsay” [minn fuq ġejja li x-xhieda tiegħu hija hearsay].
“I am quoting Cutajar verbatim,” Azzopardi says.
Yorgen Fenech’s first mention
10.07am All those in the taxi business know that Melvin Theuma had a taxi stand at Portomaso, Arthur Azzopardi says.
Not only did Theuma not pay his taxi’s due fee, but it also sported a sticker advertising Portomaso. Other taxi drivers had noted this. Others in the racing circles also knew of Theuma's links to Yorgen Fenech.
The hypothesis was that Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed not because of something she wrote, but because of something she was still to write, Azzopardi tells the inquiry.
“Was Yorgen Fenech ever mentioned during the meetings you attended with police?” the lawyer is asked.
Azzopardi: “No. It was September 8, 2019 that his name was mentioned.”
10.05am Answering a question from judge Michael Mallia, Arthur Azzopardi confirms that April 23, 2018 was the first time the police had heard of Melvin Theuma’s name.
Increased police patrols
10.04am The threats increased in 2019, Arthur Azzopardi says.
“How do you have this info?” judge Lofaro asks.
Azzopardi replies: “Just as journalists and police have their sources, so do we defence lawyers. (Vince) Muscat has friends too.”
On October 12, 2019, Lawrence Cutajar, [inspector] Nesren Grixti, Keith Arnaud and Arthur Azzopardi met. The lawyer says he was told that patrols would increase in frequency.
10.02am Arthur Azzopardi says that there were persistent rumours that Koħħu’s relatives could be attacked. There was talk of an acid attack on his daughter.
“I was worried, and Vincent too. At the time his family was not alerted, not to alarm them.”
In around July 2018, threats were made to Vince Muscat’s life.
Arthur Azzopardi and Keith Arnaud met at (then police commisisoner) Lawrence Cutajar’s office to ask for protection for both the lawyer and his client.
Cutajar told him: “if we give you protection, we’ll be confirming that Koħħu really is spilling the beans”.
‘Owen Bonnici said there could only be one pardon’
9.58am From then, il-Koħħu started being monitored. He no longer ate alone and his food was checked – even food brought by his family, Arthur Azzopardi says.
He says he visited il-Koħħu five times in jail, informing Keith Arnaud and Silvio Valletta in the process.
Then one day, during a funeral, Arthur Azzopardi says he was approached by (former justice minister) Owen Bonnici, and he found it strange.
Bonnici told him that he could only offer one pardon.
‘Koħħu first named Melvin Theuma’
9.55am Asked if middleman Melvin Theuma’s name had come across as the time, Azzopardi says the police only knew of someone named “M”.
It was Vince Muscat who first named Melvin Theuma, Azzopardi says.
At the end of April 2018, the police commissioner, the deputy commissioner and Arnaud had met Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri about this, Azzopardi says.
After that meeting, Vince Muscat was confronted by the Degiorgio brothers (who also stand accused of carrying out the murder). They told him that they knew that he was spilling the beans.
In another meeting, the Degiorgios told him that they knew that not only that he was spilling the beans, but also the specific cases.
9.50am Azzopardi says it was ultimately confirmed that il-Koħħu was genuine and wanted to cooperate.
He gave strong details and when the bill of indictment was issued, Muscat said that he would stop cooperating if the trial went ahead.
The jury was effectively postponed and Koħħu continued to speak, Azzopardi says.
A pardon explained
9.45am Azzopardi takes the stand.
He is asked about his relationship with Caruana Galizia and says he believes he and the late blogger had a “very good” relationship.
He is asked if he has been released from professional secrecy, since he was a former lawyer of Vincent Muscat, one of the three alleged hitmen. Marc Sant, who replaced Azzopardi as Muscat's lawyer, confirms Muscat has given his release.
Azzopardi tells the inquiry that between March and April 2018, he and his former client had discussed requesting a presidential pardon.
Azzopardi: “On April 10 I had informed [inspector] Keith Arnaud of the decision taken by Koħħu [Vince Muscat]. At the time I was visiting Muscat in prison basically every day.
“Arnaud began to gauge how genuine Muscat really was. We ultimately confirmed that he was genuine and wanted to cooperate.”
He said a first meeting with Arnaud took place on April 23, with another the following day.
9.35am Good morning and welcome to this live blog. We’re at the Valletta law courts, where lawyer Arthur Azzopardi is due to testify in the Caruana Galizia inquiry.