Former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar held two secret meetings with a close associate of the middleman in the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination plot, which sources say could have jeopardised the entire case.
Mr Cutajar held two controversial meetings with Edwin Brincat, known as Il-Ġojja, a personal friend and confidante of self-confessed murder middleman Melvin Theuma during the course of the investigation, Times of Malta has confirmed.
Mr Theuma has been granted a presidential pardon to reveal all in connection with the car bomb which killed the 53-year-old journalist in October 2017.
Sources say his testimony and evidence has been the lynchpin of the entire murder case.
The first secret meeting between the then-police chief and Il-Ġojja occurred when the team of murder investigators had settled on a plan on how to arrest Mr Theuma at some point in 2019.
Sources said the meeting happened without the knowledge of the investigative team and raised serious concerns of “possible collusion” between the former police chief and one of the suspected players in the murder investigation, when it was flagged by investigative partners at a later date.
Sources said that when the meeting was uncovered, Mr Cutajar had been approached by these investigative partners and told not to do so again. The former police boss has barely played an active role in the Caruana Galizia case.
However, despite being urged not to get actively involved in the murder investigation, Times of Malta is informed Mr Cutajar met again with Il-Ġojja just as the murder investigation team had decided on a tentative date to arrest Mr Theuma. The meeting took place just days before the arrest eventually took place.
“The arrest of Melvin Theuma and extraction of evidence in the form of audio recordings he possessed were key to this case. Holding meetings with a close associate of his just before his planned arrest raised alarm bells and put the case at risk,” one source familiar with the case said.
The date of the arrest, originally scheduled for November 16, was moved forward by several days, as a change in Mr Theuma’s daily routines raised fears among investigators he had been tipped off about his impending arrest over an illegal gambling operation.
Subsequent evidence seized by the police confirmed those fears, as the middleman knew he, his wife and his wife’s daughter were going to be arrested in a money-laundering investigation used as a front by police to seize evidence in connection with Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Questions raised as to how the matter was treated internally
However, a source familiar with the investigation said the tip-off about the money-laundering probe and the arrest date is believed to have come from within the police’s Economic Crimes Unit.
Sources said that when Mr Cutajar had been approached about the second meeting by investigators, he had admitted to meeting the associate of Mr Theuma again but insisted there had been nothing ill afoot.
Mr Cutajar insists his meetings with Mr Brincat had been intended to extract information to help the investigation, particularly linked to the audio recordings that Mr Theuma provided investigators to back up his testimony.
Contacted on Saturday, Mr Cutajar told Times of Malta that the first meeting had been initiated by Mr Brincat and was connected with unrelated matters. During that meeting, he had taken it upon himself to try to find out if Mr Brincat knew about the existence of the recordings. He said Mr Brincat had denied knowledge of the recordings.
Il-Ġojja, a close friend of Mr Theuma, is believed to have first convinced the murder middleman to begin recording his conversations with Yorgen Fenech, the man accused of commissioning the murder of the 53-year-old journalist.
The recordings are now key evidence in the murder case.
One source described Mr Brincat as having been a quasi-adoptive father to Mr Theuma, whose own father, an alcoholic, had been largely absent from his life.
Mr Cutajar told Times of Malta he had met with other informers and contacts in the criminal world on the case and insisted this had been done in good faith and only to help the investigation. He also says that, at a meeting held at the Malta Security Services offices, he had informed the investigative partners of his actions.
Mr Cutajar argues that his efforts to help the investigation are now being spun out of context.
He said that throughout the investigation he had taken personal responsibility for key decisions, which had ultimately led to the arrest of Mr Fenech over the murder plot.
Meanwhile, questions have been raised by investigative partners as to how the matter was treated internally by the police.
They said that Mr Cutajar had not been formally interrogated about the meetings, nor had Mr Brincat.
This, the sources said, showed the matter had not been treated with the seriousness it deserved.
Others insisted that the police had looked into the matter but said this was the “bare minimum” that could have been done.
Mr Cutajar handed in his resignation as police chief last month, shortly after Robert Abela took over as prime minister.
Mr Cutajar, who had been in the job for three-and-a-half years, faced a barrage of criticism about the police force’s failure to investigate top government officials or follow up on financial crime reports submitted to it by the FIAU.
Mr Cutajar, however, has defended his work at the helm of the police force, citing declining crime rates and the growing number of police officers recruited into the force. A long-serving officer who has been a member of the force for more than three decades, Mr Cutajar was a well-liked figure within the force and among police unions.
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