Three men accused of murdering journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia were warned “at least three weeks” ahead of time that one of them was to be arrested in connection with the assassination, a court heard on Tuesday.
Vince Muscat, who has admitted to killing Caruana Galizia as part of a plea deal, told the police that himself, George and Alfred Degiorgio knew beforehand that George Degiorgio was to be apprehended.
Muscat and Alfred Degiorgio thought they would be arrested but then released. The three were arrested together in Marsa in December 2017, with George Degiorgio apprehended with his partner’s phone number written on his hand.
All three were charged with Caruana Galizia's murder a few days later. While Muscat has admitted to the crime and is cooperating with investigators, the Degiorgio brothers are pleading not guilty to charges. Business tycoon Yorgen Fenech is being tried separately for complicity in the murder.
Testifying on Tuesday, superintendent Keith Arnaud provided details about information that Muscat has given to investigators. He was testifying in the compilation of evidence against Ta’ Maksar brothers Robert and Adrian Agius, Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio.
The four face charges related to two separate murders which Muscat has provided information about - that of Caruana Galizia in October 2017 and that of lawyer Carmel Chircop, who was killed two years earlier, in 2015.
Robert Agius and Vella are accused of complicity in Caruana Galizia’s murder. The two Agius brothers also stand accused of ordering Chircop’s murder, which Vella and Degiorgio, together with Muscat, allegedly carried out.
In around four hours of testimony, superintendent Arnaud spoke about both the Caruana Galizia and Chircop murders separately.
What Arnaud testified about Caruana Galizia’s murder:
• Vince Muscat told the police that Robert Agius and Jamie Vella supplied the bomb and showed them how to use it. The men practiced in a Naxxar garage.
• Agius also got them a Peugeot 108 identical to Caruana Galizia’s car, to practice picking its lock.
• The bomb contained 500g of explosive and Alfred Degiorgio added a small bottle of petrol to it, to help it along.
• The men moved the bomb to Santa Venera as they planned to place it in Caruana Galizia’s car when she was in Valletta and wanted to have it close by.
• Caruana Galizia was being followed and her house observed. When the men spotted her car parked outside one evening, they got into action and placed it that night, detonating it the next day.
• Alfred Degiorgio picked the car’s lock while George Degiorgio drove them there and back.
• An earlier plan to shoot her through her window as she worked was ditched, with George Degiorgio keener on the bomb plot. Rifles provided by Robert Agius and Jamie Vella for that plan were returned to them.
• Muscat drove Alfred Degiorgio to Marsascala to collect payment for the murder. They received €120,000, with Muscat taking one-third of that, €40,000, as his cut.
• The Agius brothers, Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio answered practically no questions when they were interrogated.
What Arnaud said about Chircop’s murder:
• Vince Muscat told police that himself, Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio carried out the hit. Vella fired the shots and Degiorgio drove the getaway car, a Toyota Ractis.
• The gun was provided by the Ta’ Maksar brothers, Robert and Adrian Agius.
• After killing Chircop, they parked the car in a Santa Venera garage, changed clothes and split up.
• Muscat received €20,000 for the murder, with Robert Agius handling him €10,000 of that himself.
• Chircop’s wife recalled her husband arguing with Adrian Agius over money Agius owed him.
• Agius was interrogated by the police. He said their dispute concerned a property sale and he intended to sue Chircop in the civil courts. The investigation slowed down until Vince Muscat confessed (in exchange of a pardon) last month.
The Agius brothers and Jamie Vella were represented by Alfred Abela and Rene Darmanin. Degiorgio was represented by William Chetcuti.
Superintendent Keith Arnaud and inspectors Shawn Pawney and Wayne Camilleri prosecuted, assisted by George Camilleri from the attorney general's office.
Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia represented the Caruana Galizia family. The Chircop family was represented by lawyer Vincent Galea.
Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo presided.
The case continues on Wednesday, March 10.
Case adjourned to tomorrow
12.22pm That’s all from court for today – the case is adjourned to tomorrow, Wednesday March 10, at 8.30am.
This live blog will end now. Thank you for having joined us. We will have a summary of the key points of testimony available at the top of this article shortly.
Moving the bomb
12.15pm Alfred Degiorgio was mainly on lookout duties. When he spotted Daphne’s car parked outside her house on October 15, he had called Vince Muscat. The three men decided to place the bomb that night, moving it from the Naxxar garage to Mosta.
That's all the testimony from Arnaud for today.
Returning the rifles
12.10pm Muscat told the police they had also been given three rifles, as part of the previous plan to shoot Daphne Caruana Galizia. Those were also kept in Naxxar.
When they decided to use the bomb instead, they had returned the rifles to Robert Agius and Jamie Vella.
How big was the bomb?
12.08pm The bomb was the thickness of two cigarette packets and the size of an A4 paper folded over twice.
Muscat told the police how it was given to them by Robert Agius and Jamie Vella at the Naxxar garage. The two men showed them how to operate it. Alfred Degiorgio had added a small bottle of petrol to it to accelerate the process.
It contained 500g of explosive to ensure the murder was success, “not like Romeo Bone”.
The bomb was then moved to the Santa Venera garage and eventually to Mosta when planning shifted to the October 16 plan.
Men had 'at least three weeks' notice about arrests
12.04pm Vince Muscat told the police that they knew “at least three weeks ahead” that George Degiorgio was to be arrested.
Muscat and Theuma
12.02pm Azzopardi asks Arnaud about Vince Muscat and Melvin Theuma.
Arnaud: Melvin Theuma approached Alfred Degiorgio, not Muscat.
Muscat told police he dropped Degiorgio off to meet Theuma at Msida cafe Busy Bee around three times and watched them chat, though he could not make out what was said.
Muscat also saw Theuma speak to the Degiorgios in Ħamrun and also drove Alfred Degiorgio to collect money after the murder.
Muscat did not know whether it was Theuma himself who wanted her killed, or if someone else was behind it.
11.58am The alleged hitmen were thinking of placing the bomb in Daphne’s car when she was in Valletta. They had often followed her to the Phoenicia hotel, and another time to Notte Bianca.
The men had placed the bomb in a Santa Venera garage, to have it close to hand, Muscat told the police. That corroborated phone tracking data, which linked the bomb SIMs to Santa Venera.
Daphne was being regularly followed. Asked by Jason Azzopardi, Arnaud says Vince Muscat and George Degiorgio had followed Daphne and her husband to the airport once and then told middleman Melvin Theuma, a taxi driver who had a stand at the airport, to report back whenever she returned to Malta.
Details about Daphne hitmen's phones
11.53am Lawyer Jason Azzopardi asks Arnaud for specifics about the phones used by the men accused of murdering Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Arnaud says there were two sets of SIM cards – the men’s own phones and burner phones. The latter were activated in August 2017. The SIM cards used for the bomb were first switched on in November or December of 2016.
Muscat's payment for Chircop
11.50am Answering a question by AG lawyer George Camilleri, Arnaud reiterates that Muscat told the police he received €20,000. The first €10,000 came from George Degiorgio on behalf of Robert Agius, and he then received two separate payments of €5,000 each directly from Robert Agius himself.
Men of few words
11.44am Police also seized documents from Robert Agius’ home in the limits of Rabat, Arnaud says.
All four said practically nothing during their police statements, he says. They all had lawyers present.
Arnaud presents four DVDs featuring the interrogations of all four.
Drugs in one car, cash in the other
11.42am Arnaud testifies about the arrests of the Agius brothers and Vella. He was not present, he says – inspectors Pawney and Camilleri were.
Police who arrested the Agius brothers found around 300g of heroin under the driver’s seat of a Seat car used by Adrian Agius.
Inside a Mercedes used by Robert Agius, they found around €45,000 in cash.
Electronic devices seized during the arrests are to be sent to The Hague to be analysed by Europol experts. The Asset Recovery Bureau is looking into other vehicles seized during the arrests. All those cars are registered in other peoples’ names.
Arnaud continues testimony
11.36am Proceedings continue where they left off, with superintendent Keith Arnaud testifying.
Accused men back in the dock
11.31am We’re close to resuming – the accused men are back in the dock.
Degiorgio wants separate proceedings
11.22am We’ve been told that George Degiorgio has filed a request to have proceedings against him separated from those against the other three men in the dock.
Reminder: In this court, Degiorgio is facing charges of having murdered Carmel Chircop. Proceedings against him for Caruana Galizia's murder are happening separately.
Degiorgio is arguing that he has already faced a compilation of evidence concerning the journalist's murder and should not have to face a repeat of that.
The attorney general's office has 24 hours to reply to Degiorgio's application.
Identifying the men
11.06am Arnaud says the police suspected that the men who approached Muscat’s relative were Jamie Vella and Robert Agius. The relative, who told police that he had not gotten a good look at the man seated in the car, did not identity Robert Agius during an ID parade.
Magistrate Farrugia Frendo suspends the session for 20 minutes.
Hush money offer
11am Arnaud refers to reports about Muscat being offered money by Agius and Vella to keep quiet about the murder (Muscat’s family was allegedly offered €1,500 per month as hush money).
He says a relative of Muscat’s was approached by Jamie Vella in Marsa. Vella pointed at a man in a car and told the relative that it was Robert Agius, and offered the €1,500 monthly payment.
Muscat’s relative had turned down the offer, and not seen the men again.
Times of Malta had revealed that hush money offer last October.
Payment for the murder
10.55am Muscat and Alfred Degiorgio went to Marsascala to collect their payment. They had received €30,000 as a deposit. They then received €120,000, with Muscat getting a €40,000 cut of that.
Muscat told the police that Robert Agius had obtained an identical Peugeot 108 to the one Caruana Galizia had, to allow them to practice picking its lock.
Muscat also showed the police the Naxxar garage where the bomb had been kept. The garage was leased by John Bugeja at the time. Bugeja had done business with Robert Agius and owed him some money.
Placing and detonating
10.50am Muscat told the police that one concern they had was how to place the bomb. One day, Caruana Galizia’s car was parked outside her gated house.
George Degiorgio drove them to a spot nearby. Muscat and Alfred Degiorgio went through some fields and got to the Peugeot. Degiorgio picked the car lock, they placed the bomb and left, returning early the next morning.
The plan was for Alfred Degiorgio to call George once Caruana Galizia left the house. They kept watch using binoculars. At one point, she exited the house but immediately turned back. Alfred told George to hold on. Then she re-exited and left. The bomb was detonated.
Testing the bomb
10.42am Vince Muscat told the police that the bomb was supplied by Robert Agius and Jamie Vella, Arnaud says.
He said George Degiorgio had asked whether it was more powerful than the one that injured Romeo Bone, and was told it contained 500g of explosive. (Bone lost both his legs in a car bomb that went off at Msida circus in February 2017)
The bomb was tested at a Naxxar garage, Muscat told the police, with Robert Agius and Jamie Vella showing them how to handle it.
There was another plan which involved shooting Daphne Caruana Galizia through her window as she worked, and weapons were supplied to do that. But George Degiorgio always preferred the bomb option, Arnaud tells the court.
December 2017 arrests
10.35am Arnaud confirms that the Ta’ Maksar brothers and Jamie Vella were among those arrested back in December 2017. But there was not enough evidence to press charges against them, and they were released.
10.31am Arnaud recounts details that emerged from the compilation of evidence against Alfred Degiorgio, George Degiorgio and Vince Muscat – about their phone movements, tracking George Degiorgio's boat the Maya and homing in on the suspects.
A man and a cigarette butt
10.25am A person told the police that they had seen a car regularly in the area, as well as a person. Arnaud says he went there.
Past a barbed wire fence was a spot with full view of the Caruana Galizia family home. There was a cigarett butt beneath a tree close by. The DNA matched that of Alfred Degiorgio (George’s brother, who is also accused of murdering Caruana Galizia, in a separate case).
10.20am Arnaud turns to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and recounts details.
The bomb that killed her was placed under the driver’s seat of a Peugeot 108 she was leasing, and activated using an SMS sent by a mobile phone.
FBI, Europol and NFI experts established that the bomb was triggered by a SIM card inside it. The message was sent a few minutes before 3pm (on October 16, 2017).
Cell towers showed one number which police were tracking move from St Paul’s Bay to Marsa, to sea out north that day.
Police later realised two other numbers had moved along with that one. One was George Degiorgio's personal number. The other was a burner phone. All three phones were regularly traced together, in the Bidnija area.
Photos, video presented
10.13am Arnaud presents photos of the Santa Venera garage where the getaway vehicle was parked, as well as an optical disc feat0uring a recording of the statement given to police by one of the Agius brothers.
Muscat named Ta' Maksar as bomb suppliers
10.08am Muscat had also admitted to his role in Caruana Galizia’s murder, Arnaud says. He gave the police information about the bomb used and the Agius brothers’ role in supplying it.
The brothers were arrested in Baħrija. Jamie Vella was arrested at his home in Ibraġġ.
10.05am Muscat told the police he collected €10,000 from George Degiorgio, who gave it to him on behalf of Robert Agius, and the other €10,000 from Agius himself.
They disposed of the getaway vehicle and threw the gun into the sea at Marsa.
10.02am The trio had rehearsed the getaway route, which was chosen to avoid morning traffic in Birkirkara.
Muscat told the police that they took the car back to the Santa Venera garage and then headed to a flat nearby which Vella owned. They changed clothes and went their separate ways.
Arnaud says Muscat has show the police the garage where Chircop was killed, as well as the Santa Venera garage where they parked the getaway vehicle.
9.59am Muscat said they had driven to the garage in a car garaged in Santa Venera. The murder weapon was provided by Ta’ Maksar and the group had backup weapons too.
Just before 7am, Chircop arrived. George Degiorgio stopped the car right next to him. Jamie Vella fired five shots. Muscat said they hit him in the back.
Contract to kill Carmel Chircop
9.52am Muscat told the police that George Degiorgio was the getaway driver while Jamie Vella and himself sat in the backseat.
Muscat said Degiorgio had approached him about the hit, telling him at the Marsa potato shed that Ta' Maksar had a job for him, to kill a lawyer over a money issue.
The lawyer was Carmel Chircop. Muscat was offered €20,000 for his role and the plan was shoot Chircop from a car. Vella was to fire the shots and the group had eventually settled on killing him at the Birkirkara garage complex.
Il-Koħħu's testimony offers breakthrough
9.50am All the information pointed towards Agius, but the investigation then slowed down, Arnaud says.
That changed last month, when Vince Muscat (il-Koħħu) decided to speak out.
Muscat (who has obtained a pardon for his role in Chircop’s murder) admitted that he was one of three men at the crime scene.
“Vince will testify here in person, so I won’t go into too much detail,” Arnaud says.
Agius' overseas alibi
9.47am Agius told the police that he had gone abroad one day before the murder and had only learnt of it through his wife.
Arnaud tells the court that Agius was often seen with George Degiorgio but brushed that off and told investigators he knew Degiorgio from Buġibba.
Chasing the money
9.42am Adrian Agius was hauled in for questioning by the police, Arnaud testifies. He refused legal assistance.
Agius lived in Żebbuġ at the time and told the police he got to know Chircop through a warehouse deal. He also had business with Ryan Schembri: the plan was set up an office at the previously-mentioned Qormi premises.
A promise of sale was signed which bound Chircop to sell it for €3 million, allowing for a €700,000 profit for the seller.
Adrian Agius complained that Chircop had not declared that as profit from the sale but instead marked it down as a loan. Agius told the police that had no need to kill Chircop, because he intended to challenge the validity of that private writing through a civil lawsuit.
Agius said Chircop had chased him for the money, but said there was nothing especially heated about it. “There are others chasing me for money (too),” he told police.
Agius told the police that he and Chircop met at Yorkdale (in Naxxar) several times. He said he had received legal advice to take the matter to court in the same week Chircop was killed.
A €600k debt
9.35am Maryrose Chircop told the police that the money issue had been settled out of court. Police found a document among Carmel Chircop’s items, concerning a store in Qormi that was to be sold to the owner of More Supermarket (Ryan Schembri). Chircop was to take money on the promise of sale and there was special hypothec on the Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq property.
Chircop was owed around €600,000, Arnaud says.
The superintendent says Etienne Cassar had told police about this deal, that when bust when Schembri fled Malta.
Police had also spoken to Kevin Dingli, who told them that Chircop appeared worried that week but that the two had not discussed any issue. Chircop rented an office at the Dingi&Dingli law firm.
A debt and Adrian Agius
9.32am Maryrose Chircop told investigators about a particular case her husband had with Adrian Agius. Her husband was owed some money, she told them.
She told them that just months earlier, in July 2015, she and her husband had gone to see a villa in Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq, together with Adrian Agius, which he was being offered to settle the debt. Maryrose Chircop told investigators that she had advised her husband not to take the villa.
That summer, as the couple were on holiday in Italy, her husband had an argument on the phone with Adrian Agius, arguing about the payment.
Carmel Chircop told his wife that he did not want Adrian Agius to know that they were abroad.
Arnaud tells the court that the police confirmed thar Chircop was abroad that September and that he and Agius had spoken over the phone at that point. The last call between the two was in October.
Searching Chircop's office
9.27am Police spoke to Chircop’s wife, Maryrose, who opened up her husband’s office and other garages. Investigators found nothing of interest.
Arnaud says the Chircop house was a two-minute walk to the crime scene, through an alleyway, Sqaq San Pawl.
Following the car
9.23am Homicide investigators went around nearby houses and shops, looking for CCTV footage. They found a camera on Triq John Borg, behind the Birkirkara school.
It showed a Toyota Raptis entering the garage complex before daybreak and exiting minutes after 7am. It headed to Triq l-Isqof Labini and then to Triq Anglu Mallia and onto Naxxar Road.
Investigators tracked the car using footage from various CCTV camera. The car then took at left onto Triq Carmel, then onto Valley Road, then Triq Azzopardi, Triq Guze Orlando and onwards to Fleur de Lys.
From there, it headed to St Joseph High Road and then took a road close to a petrol station there. That’s the last point the car was tracked to.
Arnaud presents a timeline of that route to the court.
Finding the bullets
9.18am Arnaud says shots were fired just as the church clock struck 7am.
An autopsy found eight entry and exit wounds on Chircop’s body, all caused by bullets. Chircop was possibly hit by four shots in his back and next to the right side of his neck, as well as lower back. Another hit his right hand.
The coroner found two bullets inside the body.
Arnaud says police found two projectile close by: one was next to some electric scooters and the second was lodged in a wall. The car showed some signs of damage and experts found traces of another projectile, possibly a fifth bullet.
Finding the body
9.12am Arnaud recalls receiving a call at around 7.15am, telling him a lawyer had been found dead at a garage in Birkirkara.
The man’s body was right by the garage door, face up. Three-fourths of the body was inside the garage inside, with his calves outside. The door was partly opened. There was blood around the abdomen and head.
A Mercedes was parked inside the garage and a briefcase and mobile phone were close to the body.
Keith Arnaud testifies
9.08am Superintendent Arnaud will be the first witness in this complex case.
The first questions centre on Chircop's 2015 murder.
Robert Agius to face charges in Chircop murder
9.06am The attorney general has upped the ante against Robert Agius: he will also face charges of having ordered Chircop’s murder, the court is told.
Previously it was his brother Adrian who faced that charge alone.
The new charge is read out, and the accused are asked to confirm their details and enter their plea. They all do so and plead not guilty except for Degiorgio, who refuses to say a word.
Galea representing Chircop family
9am As we suspected, lawyer Vincent Galea is representing the Chircop family in proceedings.
Magistrate in court
8.58am Two more lawyers take their place in court: George Camilleri from the attorney general’s office and Therese Comodini Cachia, who represents the Caruana Galizia family along with Jason Azzopardi.
We've also spotted inspector Shawn Pawney alongside superintendent Arnaud.
Magistrate Farrugia Frendo enters the courtroom. Proceedings are set to begin.
How were the suspects caught?
8.50am One of the four – Degiorgio – has been in custody since December 2017, when he was arrested and charged with killing Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The other three were apprehended on February 23 in police raids in Swieqi and Baħrija. But that wasn't the first time they were arrested in connection with the Caruana Galizia murder.
All three – Ta’ Maksar brothers Robert and Adrian Agius and Jamie Vella – were among the 10 people arrested when police caught George Degiorgio back in December 2017, though they were then released without charge.
Ta' Maksar brothers in court
8.48am The Maksar brothers are escorted into court. They speak with their lawyer Alfred Abela, as Degiorgio has a word with his lawyer, Cuschieri.
Superintendent Arnaud and inspector Wayne Camilleri have walked into court, as has lawyer Vince Galea. We’re not sure why Galea is here, though he’s taken a place on the prosecution’s side. He might be here to represent the Chircop family – we’ll find out soon enough.
As the courtroom fills up, court staff open two of the large windows, to let in some fresh air.
8.39am Jamie Vella was COVID-positive when police arrested him and the Ta’ Maksar brothers late last month, and was arraigned while dressed in full personal protective equipment. He skipped last week’s hearing, when magistrate Lia recused herself, on account of his illness.
But Vella is here today, wearing white PPE. He’s seated a few metres away from his co-accused George Degiorgio.
Who are the lawyers?
8.37am Alfred Abela and Rene Darmanin are representing the Agius brothers and Vella.
George Degiorgio assisted by William Cuschieri.
We expect superintendent Keith Arnaud and inspector Wayne Camilleri to be prosecuting, though neither is in court yet.
Caruana Galizia family lawyer Jason Azzopardi is here. The Chircop family was not represented last week and that appears to be case today, too.
View from above
8.32am We’re in hall 22, which is one of the law courts’ larger courtrooms. The media is seated in the gallery, viewing proceedings from above. Hopefully the (unamplified) acoustics will allow us to hear everything clearly.
What are the charges?
8.25am Robert Agius and Jamie Vella are accused of complicity in Caruana Galizia’s murder and possessing explosives.
Vella is accused of ordering Chircop’s 2015 murder.
George Degiorgio and Jamie Vella are accused of killing Chircop. Degiorgio is also facing separate charges of having killed Caruana Galizia, in a different court.
The four men also face a series of other charges, from forming part of a criminal organisation to heroin possession.
8.20am Good morning and welcome to this live blog. We're at the Valletta law courts a bit earlier than usual today. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 8.30am.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us