Murder suspect Vince Muscat’s family was offered hush money in a bid to stop him from further implicating the alleged suppliers of the bomb used to assassinate journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, told the police two suspected gang members, Robert Agius and Jamie Vella, had supplied the three alleged hitmen with the explosive device.
The murder suspect went on to give taped testimony about the alleged bomb suppliers to the police last January in a bid to walk free from charges that he, together with brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, planted the bomb and triggered the explosion that killed the journalist on October 16, 2017.
According to Muscat, the initial plan was to shoot the journalist from a vantage point overlooking her Bidnija home. He told investigators that Agius and Vella supplied three rifles with telescopic sights for them to try out.
After the three rifles were test-fired, two of them were returned as they “were not very good”, il-Koħħu told police.
One of the rifles was even “rusty”, Muscat said.
The details emerge from a joint collaboration between Times of Malta and Malta Today.
Muscat pointed towards Alfred Degiorgio as the person with experience in handling the rifles and the one who would carry out the assassination attempt with the weapon.
The Degiorgios maintain their innocence and are set to face a trial in connection with the murder.
The attempt to shoot the journalist through a window where she often worked on her laptop was later abandoned in favour of the car bomb.
He told investigators that Agius and Vella showed them how to arm the device, described as being half the size of A4 paper, and also provided them with the SMS code necessary to detonate it.
Muscat said they were also told by the pair that the bomb would detonate around 15 to 30 seconds after the SMS was sent.
The fatal SMS with the code “Rel1=on” was allegedly sent by George Degiorgio just before 3pm on October 16, 2017.
Robert Agius, together with his brother Adrian and Jamie Vella were among the 10 men arrested in December 2017 during raids on multiple locations suspected as being used to plot and execute the murder.
All three were released without charge days later.
Late last year, one of Muscat’s family members was approached in Marsa by Agius and Vella with an offer: the pair would give the family €1,500 per month in exchange for Vince Muscat’s silence about the journalist’s murder and other crimes.
When contacted, Muscat’s lawyer Marc Sant confirmed the offer was made and said it had been refused. The police were informed about this attempt back in January. Sant said police have shown “little interest” in the information about the attempt to silence Muscat.
Criminal defence lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, who until June was defending Robert Agius in court on a heroin-trafficking conspiracy charge, said he was not acting for the Agius brothers and could not comment on their behalf about the information Muscat had given to the police.
Azzopardi, who before November 2019 was representing Vince Muscat, denied having known of this information before dropping the brief for his client.
Sources said the police have of late not dedicated many resources to reeling in the alleged bomb suppliers as their main focus at this stage of the investigation is on those involved in commissioning the murder.
However, Maltese law enforcement has requested help from their European counterparts to help bring down the men believed to have supplied the bomb which killed Caruana Galizia.
The request was made to Europol in 2019 and is aimed at gathering enough evidence of criminal activity to bring the men to justice.
Times of Malta understands that Maltese police have identified Robert and Adrian Agius as the heads of a local crime group and described them as “high-value targets”. The request is for collaboration with other EU law enforcement agencies to share intelligence.
Police sources said they were aware of the hush-money claim.
“But the people making the claim would have to testify about this. We still need to corroborate certain claims. We also need to be careful about the problem of double jeopardy. But we are determined to get to the bottom of this case.”
What did Yorgen Fenech say?
Middleman Melvin Theuma said Yorgen Fenech had told him: “‘Make sure you send a message to Maksar because that’s where the bomb was made.’ I did not even give it any weight because I don’t know who Maksar is.” Theuma’s claim not to know Maksar was given short shrift in court by the lawyer of Vince Muscat.
“You did not ask Fenech who the Maksar brothers were? You say Yorgen knew them, yet you the middleman did not know about them?” Theuma denied knowing who they were: “I just hear they are called ‘Maksar’, but I’ve never spoken to them, nor do I know of them or the way they look.”
Reporting by Jacob Borg, Ivan Martin (Times of Malta), Matthew Vella (Malta Today).