Weeks before his murder, lawyer Carmel Chircop tried to recover €600,000 owed to him by the man now accused of commissioning his killing, the victim's widow told a court. 

Mary Rose Chircop took the stand on Tuesday, weeping as she remembered how she first learned about the murder six years ago, after reading news headlines about a lawyer shot dead in Birkirkara. 

"I ran to the police station, demanding to know: 'Who is the lawyer?'" she recalled. 

The widow also described how her law student son would have been with his father on the morning of the shooting, only his lecture was cancelled that day. 

She said that months after the murder, the accused tried to get the debt cancelled in court, finally reaching an out-of-court settlement for a fraction of the original amount owed. 

Chircop was gunned down outside his garage on October 8, 2015 as he went to collect his car for work. Adrian Agius is charged with commissioning the murder, while his associates Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio are accused of carrying out the hit. 

In a previous sitting, state witness Vincent Muscat, who has been granted a pardon in return for his evidence in the case, outlined how the drive-by shooting took place.

Giving evidence for the first time on Tuesday, Chircop's widow described how Agius, also known as Tal-Maksar, originally owed her husband €750,000 because of a business arrangement linked to the company Erom Limited.

After making payments totalling €150,000, some €600,000 remained unpaid and a constitution of debt was signed with a repayment date set for July 2015.

When this payment lapsed, she said she and her husband had been to see a villa in Baħar ic-Cagħaq offered as part of a proposed settlement, but they didn't like it.

In the weeks and months later, she described overhearing two conversations between her husband and Agius, in which the lawyer asked for payments. However, he never received any money.

Five months after the murder, Agius started court proceedings against the victim's widow and son to cancel the contract and a hypothec (rights over the property of a debtor) on the villa.

After one hearing, they instead reached an out-of-court settlement for €165,000, telling the court that she and her son wanted the issue to be settled "once and for all".

The hearing also heard evidence of first responders to the scene at John Borg Street, who described seeing Chircop's body in a pool of blood with gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen. 

Inspector Sandra Zammit described speaking to Chircop's widow on the day of the murder and when asked if he had had any trouble lately, she had "immediately named Adrian Agius".

She told them her husband and Agius, Etienne Cassar and Ryan Schembri had a business connection that involved "big money". An officer told the inspector that he had once spotted an "agitated" Chircop on the phone in Sliema saying "when are you going to pay? My patience is running out".

The timing of the call linked to a number of calls between the lawyer and Agius. 

When he was interrogated, Agius admitted he was being chased for repayments and that Chircop had told him the villa, which was a guarantee to the sum, "was now his". 

However, he told police he was abroad on the day of the murder and his mobile was confirmed to be linked to Telecom Italy that day. 

The Agius brothers, also known as Tal-Maksar, as well as Vella and Degiorgio were arraigned in February.

Vella and Robert Agius are also charged with supplying the bomb that killed journalist Caruana Galizia in October 2017. Degiorgio is separately accused of being one of three hitmen who planted and detonated the bomb. 

Tuesday's case also heard evidence from first responders to the scene of the Caruana Galizia murder and a run-down of the case by Inspector Kurt Zahra.


LIVE BLOG


Sitting ends

1.25pm Zahra finishes his testimony and that's it for today. The case is deferred until Wednesday at 8.30am. We'll have a brief summary of today's evidence above, in a few minutes. 


Vincent Muscat pardon

1.21pm Vincent Muscat then asked for a pardon. Zahra and Arnaud began to speak to him. Muscat did not mention names, but gave police an idea of where his version to could lead. He referred to people as 'A, B, or C'.

Muscat, also know as il-Koħħu, gave his version of the murder before inquiring magistrate Neville Camilleri on February 12. 

He was ultimately granted a pardon for the murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop and sentenced to 15 years in prison as part of a plea deal when he admitted the murder of Caruana Galizia. 


Arresting Fenech

1.19pm Zahra turns to Fenech's arrest on November 20, 2019. This wasn't the plan but police "had to act" when they got information that Fenech was about to leave the country.

He was charged with complicity in the murder. 


Sounding out the middleman

1.16pm Zahra continues giving evidence. He spoke to Theuma on November 19, 2019 to sound him out over the information he was willing to put forward.

Theuma gave the overview of how it all started.

He claimed there was a request to kill Caruana Galizia because she was going to publish something against Fenech's uncle.

Theuma was to get in touch with George Degiorgio and the price for the hit was set at €150,000.


Pardon request

1.13pm Zahra runs through how Theuma had begun to record Fenech. Theuma was arrested on November 14, 2019.

Arnaud told Zahra that police had found a number of tapes and devices in a plastic box, which was in Theuma's possession when he was arrested. 

The box, containing tapes of conversations with Fenech, was opened in the presence of lawyers and magistrates. Theuma told police he wanted to speak about the murder of Caruana Galizia and requested a presidential pardon. 


'That one of the tower'

1.08pm Police learnt that Mario Degiorgio, a brother of the accused, would communicate with him on the phone. 

"There was constant reference to 'that one'", Zahra tells the court. 'That one' was identified by Melvin Theuma, who has since been handed a pardon in return for his testimony in the murder case.

Theuma would take money to the hitmen in jail, and paid €15,000 for bail for Anca Pop, George Degiorgio's partner. 

There was also reference to 'that one of the tower', which was considered to be a reference to Yorgen Fenech, who lived in Portomaso tower.

Fenech has since been charged with conspiring to murder Caruana Galizia. 


Alleged hitmen charged

1.05pm Police began interrogations. Suspected hitmen Alfred and George Degiorgio and Vince Muscat answered no questions. Muscat also refused a DNA sample. The trio were charged in court the next day. 

"That closed the first stage," Zahra says.

Zahra says that when he needed to move away from the investigation occasionally, Arnaud would update him. 


December 2017 raid

1pm Under a magisterial warrant, police decided to arrest the suspects on December 4, 2017. A full team met in the early hours. Inspector Arnaud was to approach the Marsa potato sheds from land, while Zahra was to coordinate the approach with the Armed Forces. Medical officers were on standby. 

There were searches at the suspects' homes and other searches on land and sea. Mobiles were found on the seabed and lifted by the armed forces. 

Forensic officers slipped the items into evidence bags in the presence of Europol officers. 


Maksars, Jamie Vella suspects at early stage

12.58pm Zahra describes how CCTV cameras in the area were assessed and dash cams of cars who often passed through the route seized. An old laptop was also seized. 

Neighbours were spoken to and the FBI arrived in Malta to help.

Police explained the crime scene and the cigarette butt. 

Meanwhile, Joseph Muscat, the then prime minister, announced a €1 million reward for information so police set up a task force to handle calls.

Witnesses were approached and police set sights on a number of suspects. Among them were the Maksars and Jamie Vella.  


Journalist's movements previous day

12.55pm Matthew Caruana Galizia told police how on the morning of October 15, 2017 his mother had gone for a coffee at Palazzo Parisio, Naxxar.

He and his father joined her. Matthew then took his mother's car to go to Exiles in Sliema. 


Experts appointed

12.53pm Zahra runs through a list of experts appointed to work on the magisterial inquiry and how foreign help was requested.

The inquiry was first handled by Magistrate Anthony Vella, now a judge. 


Cigarette butt retrieved

12.50pm A neighbour, Frans Sant, told police how he had witnessed the explosion. Other neighbours living close to the alleged hitmen's vantage point told police about a small white car with a distinctive sticker on the windshield, Zahra testfies.

Later in the evening, the vehicle was no longer in sight. The area was swept and a cigarette butt retrieved. 


Car identified through hubcaps

12.47pm Matthew Caruana Galizia told Zahra that he rushed out shortly after hearing an explosion, saw the car on fire and identified it as his mother's car by its hubcaps.

He told police that he had used his mother's car the day before and it hadn't been used since then. 

Police did not press further. 


Car bomb scene

12.43pm Inspector Zahra recalls the day of October 16, 2017, when calls began to trickle in about the Bidnija bomb. He was told that the victim was likely to be "is-sinjura Daphne Caruana Galizia". 

He arrived at the crime scene at around 4pm. It was already fenced off and the first responders were there. 

From high up he could see the car, it was still burning and there were 'black dotted marks' left by the vehicle and human body parts scattered around. 

There was a number plate, belonging to a Peugeot vehicle rented earlier that year by Caruana Galizia from Percius Car Hire. 

He recalls seeing Matthew Caruana Galizia and Corinne Vella, a sister of the murdered journalist. Caruana Galizia said his mother had left the house, returned to pick up a chequebook and left again. 


Inspector Kurt Zahra takes stand

12.41pm We're back, with Inspector Kurt Zahra, from Major Crimes Unit, homicide squad.

He is to testify about the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder. 


15-minute break

12.18pm Inspector Arnaud informs the magistrate that the next and final witness today is Inspector Kurt Zahra, who is expected to testify at some length. 

The magistrate suggests another break before the last witness. We'll be back in 15 minutes. 


Another person questioned

12.12pm Inspector Sandra Zammit has been testifying. She says she had spoken to a third party who also had some business with Chircop. He was questioned at Birkirkara station but ceased to be of interest to investigators later on. 


Italy alibi

12.04pm The inspector confirmed that Chircop died of gunshot wounds. She recalls how Agius was interrogated. He confirmed he had a business and that there was a villa to guarantee the sum.

He told police the lawyer was calling him often, chasing for repayments. 

Chircop had told Agius at one point that since repayment was not affected, "the villa was now his". 

On the day of the murder, Agius was abroad, he told police, who confirmed that his mobile was linked to Telecom Italy that day. 

He told police he felt under pressure over the issue of repayment and that "the circle was closing in on him". 


'My patience is running out'

12.01pm One officer told the inspector that he had once spotted an "agitated" Chircop in Sliema. The officer overheard Chircop saying "when are you going to pay? My patience is running out now."

The witness says that she tracked that call profile and discovered that within the time frame there had been a number of calls between the lawyer and Agius. 

She alerted Inspector Keith Arnaud. Agius was arrested. 


Widow immediately' named Adrian Agius

11.58am Later that day the officer spoke to Chircop's widow and son at the police station. When asked if her husband had any trouble lately, she "immediately named Adrian Agius", who is also known, along with his brother as 'tal-Maksar'.

She told police about business between her husband and Agius, Etienne Cassar and Ryan Schembri. It involved "big money".

The officer said the widow often heard her husband question Agius about pending payments and that the calls continued, even when the couple were abroad. 


Large pool of blood

11.53am An officer from the international crimes unit takes the stand. She is testifying about the Chircop murder. 

Neighbours had alerted police about a shooting that morning. She went to the the garage complex, where she met a very agitated neighbour saying that a man had been shot. There was a large pool of blood.

The police went over the ramp, came to the victim and noticed he had been shot in the chest and abdomen. There was a briefcase and jacket over it.

Bullet shots were also seen on the Mercedes vehicle inside.

After confirming the identity of the victim, he was taken to the hospital mortuary. 


Another first responder

11.50am Next up is PC Roderick Vassallo. He is also testifying about the Caruana Galizia murder. He was on day duty at Ta Kandja.

He drove to Bidnija, where he saw a car on fire. He intervened to calm an argument about a mobile. 


A trail of fire

11.48am We're hearing from a range of first responders to the scenes of both murders. 

PS Juan Mula is up next. He was a first responder to Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder. He was stationed at RIU on October 16, 2017 and recalls a call about a car ablaze at Bidnija hill. 

On the way to the scene, he heard that it was a car bomb, so they accellerated to get there fast. 

"There was a trail of fire, all along the path taken by the car. The car was on fire too," he says.

He confirms a photo taken on site to preserve the crime scene. 


PC Mario Fenech testifies

11.45am Another police witness, PC Mario Fenech, takes the oath. That day, on October 8, 2015, he says he was alerted in the early morning to John Borg street, Birkirkara.

A person was found dead. He sealed off the area to preserve the scene of the crime. 

He blocked access to the site and was there for over three hours, he says. 


Inspector's testimony concludes

11.44am Inspector Spiteri confirms her input in the report. She was sergeant at the time. 

She had spoken to neighbours living near the garage complex. 


Lawyer found dead

11.40am The inspector and a colleague went on site to garage number 46. The victim lay on the floor, shot in the chest, the witness testifies. There was another shot on the garage door and on the wall.

Augustine Grixti had a neighbouring garage and had found the lawyer dead on the floor when he went out to take out his car. 

The officer recalls that the victim's foot jutted out beyond the garage door, while his jacket lay on his briefcase on the floor. 

The witness says she kept watch at the scene of the crime until other officers arrived. 


Case resumes

11.37am We're back and returning to the Carmel Chircop murder. Inspector Oriana Spiteri is testifying. 

She recalls receiving a call from the control room to an alert regarding a man shot twice in his chest, and who was probably dead.

The call came from an Augustine Grixti. 


Short break

10.54am The witness presents a report. It covers data track records of RIU vehicles at the explosion site, the patrol sheet of the day and photos of the crime scene. 

That's all from this witness. The sitting is suspended until 11.20am because George Degiorgio needs to attend another hearing. 


The murder scene

10.48am The police inspector says he recognised the journalist's son, Matthew Caruana Galizia. He was arguing with a man, named Vella, accusing him of taking photos of his mother. In the scuffle, Vella's phone was damaged. Vella said it cost €1,000.

The witness says the victim's car was damaged, and the roof "blown away". A human figure was in the driver's seat. 


Police inspector takes stand

10.44am Inspector Anton Cilia takes the stand in connection with the case involving the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed in a car bomb in October 2017.  

He says that on October 16, 2017, police control room got a call about 3pm. He got to Bidnjia at 3.19pm.

He spotted human parts "scattered around the field" and grass patches on fire. 


Bill of sale

10.41am The Attorney General lawyer asks about these documents. The witness explains that the details are filled in by the buyer.

There's no hard and fast rule, he says, but the declaration of ownership must be signed before a notary or commissioner of oaths. 

The Maya was a pleasure yacht and the bill of sale was signed on February 16, 2017. That was the date when the sale was registered at Transport Malta, he explains. 


Daphne bomb boat

10.36am Gordon Cutajar from the Merchant Shipping Directorate of Transport Malta now takes the stand. 

He presents a bill of sale for a boat called Maya from Ivan Formosa to Alfred Degiorgio.

NB: This is the first connection to Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder mentioned this morning. The Maya was the yacht allegedly used to detonate the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia in 2017. 


Mary Rose Chircop leaves court after testifying in her husband's murder case. Photo: Chris Sant FournierMary Rose Chircop leaves court after testifying in her husband's murder case. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier


Widow's testimony concludes

10.30am Mary Rose Chircop says that she and her son were her husband's heirs. They faced the civil action, where they were assisted by a lawyer. 

Agius was arguing that the private writing was null because not all parties were present at the signing of the agreement.

The lawyer says the agreement was regarding money to be given by Adrian and the company. 

"Your husband gave the company a loan. Do you confirm?" the lawyer asks.

"I don't know what a constitution of debt is," she replies.

"Your husband loaned €750,000," the lawyer says.

She says she discussed the €165,000 with her son and together they agreed.

"'We left on good terms,' you said earlier on. No insults or fighting."

"Not at all," the witness replies.

That's all from this witness for now. 

"If a constitution of debt is a loan, then it's a loan but otherwise, I don't understand."


'He looks quite nice'

10.27am Asked about phone calls with Agius, she says she listened to two or three. She says her husband never shouted or swore.

"He would discuss legal matters?" the lawyer asks. 

"Yes," she replies.

Asked about the visit to the villa and Naxxar, she recalls telling her husband that Adrian Agius "looks quite nice". 

On the car parking, she says she used to complain about him leaving his car parked outside and would tell him to park it in the garage. 


Signing constitution of debt

10.23am The witness says she was not present when the constitution of debt was signed at the notary's office in the morning but went in the afternoon.

She signed a paper in the presence of a woman and wasn't sure if she was a secretary or lawyer.

Notary Matthew Mangion was not there. 


Cross-examination begins

10.22am Alfred Abela, lawyer for the Agius brothers and Jamie Vella, is to cross-examine the witness first. 


Sitting resumes

10.20am We're back. Mary Rose Chircop resumes her testimony, seated in a chair in front of the witness stand. 


Short break

10.05am The magistrate suggests a short break of 15 minutes. 


Paid €165,000 from €600,000 debt

10.01am Arnaud finishes his questioning and Vince Galea, her lawyer, continues. 

He asks about the civil lawsuit after the murder. She says that Adrian Agius had filed proceedings to declare the agreement null and void. Agius' lawyer was Arthur Azzopardi, she says. 

On questioning, she says she was paid €165,000 out of a €600,000 balance. She and her son wanted this issue to be settled "once and for all". 


Out-of-court settlement

9.57am Five months after the murder, Adrian started proceedings in court to cancel the hypothec (rights over the property of the debtor). After one hearing, they reached an out-of-court settlement. 

"Adrian Agius handed over some money, he withdrew the case and we cancelled the hypothec," she says. 

They settled in 2017 and there are no further civil matters pending between Adrian Agius and Mary Rose Chircop, she confirms. 


Money was not received

9.54am The couple went to Venice and Rome for their wedding anniversary on September 14. Soon after reaching Italy, her husband got a call and Mary Rose overheard.

"I heard my husband say, 'Adrian, you've already skipped some payments. I'll be away on Monday. Come to the office on Tuesday.'

"After hanging up, he told me that Adrian would go to his office the following week. The phone discussion was normal. Carmel did not speak in a fighting tone."

Mary Rose confirms that her husband did not receive the money. 


'You're going to pay me, right?'

9.51am Three weeks later, the couple were having a coffee in Naxxar when Adrian walked in. Carmel moved to another table to talk to him, the witness testifies. 

"I wasn't part of the conversation. But when we left, just before parting company, I heard Carmel tell Adrian, 'so you're going to give me payments, right?'"

Later Carmel told Adrian that they didn't like the villa. But at Naxxar, they left on good terms.


Erom Limited

9.47am The witness explains that Adrian, Ryan Schembri and others were directors of Erom Limited. She says the couple went to see the villa around July 2015, after the date of repayment of debt had lapsed. 

She says she is no lawyer and does not quite understand what a constitution of debt is but says the notary was Matthew Mangion. Her husband had called for her to sign the papers too.

She says the couple viewed the villa around 4.30pm. Adrian Agius was there with the couple, along with some women and kids. 

There was a pool but the couple didn't like the property and they left after agreeing that Carmel Chircop would get back to Agius. 


9.44am Going back to the details of the debt, Mary Rose Chircop says her husband was meant to get €750,000 but got €50,000 and some subsequent payments of €100,000, leaving a €600,000 balance. 

The constitution of debt was signed in 2014, payable over one year. 


A villa in a settlement

9.40am One day, the widow continues, her husband was offered a villa in a settlement. 

She went along with him to see the place in Bahar ic-Cagħaq. When they got there, they spotted a man, who was a stranger to them both. 

Chircop called Adrian, then knocked on the villa door but got no reply. Then Adrian called to apologise for the delay. 

After seeing the villa, Mary Rose told her husband she didn't quite like the place and her husband said he wasn't impressed either. 


Chircop was owed €600,000

9.37am Mary Rose Chircop resumes. She says her husband worked at law firm Dingli and Dingli for three years. 

She is asked to identify the accused. All four remove their masks and she identifies Adrian Agius. She says that her husband had signed a deed of constitution of debt with Erom Limited. Adrian was the director.

When another director, Ryan Schembri, fled, her husband was left with an outstanding credit of some €600,000.  


Disturbing court

9.35am The court chastises Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio for loud whispering. "Please, you're disturbing the court. Seems you have a lot to say."


The body of Carmel Chircop is removed from a Birkirkara garage, where he was shot dead in 2015. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaThe body of Carmel Chircop is removed from a Birkirkara garage, where he was shot dead in 2015. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina


Parked in garage

9.33am Inspector Keith Arnaud, who is investigating the case, asks the witness some questions. 

Mary Rose says that on the day of the shooting, her husband had parked the car in the garage. He would usually leave it parked opposite a barbershop, but hadn't found a space.

She gives the location of the garage complex. Their garage was the first one, right near the outer ramp.


'My son should have been with him'

9.29am That day, the couple's son, a third year law student, would have been with his father, had his lecture not been cancelled, the witness testifies.

She ran to the police station, demanding to know "Who's the lawyer?" . An inspector came and broke the news to her.

At this stage, the witness breaks down in tears. The magistrate tells her to have some water but she continues.


Day of the murder

9.25am On the day of the murder, her husband left at 6.45am, his normal time. She was going to collect post at MaltaPost, five minutes away. On her return, she tried calling him on the phone. The first time, he didn't take the call, the second time, it was not in a position to respond, the third time it was dead. 

"I thought he had left the phone behind," she says. "Then I got a call on the landline. It was Carmel's sister, a Franciscan nun. They used to call each other every day."

Mary Rose Chircop breaks down and her voice cracks. 

The nun told her to check Facebook, where they saw news reports that said 'Lawyer shot dead' and 'Birkirkara laywer shot dead'. 


35th wedding anniversary

9.22am Mary Rose says that she and her husband were going to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary. They had an office adjoining the couple's home. 

His routine was that he would come back from his office and go to the Birkirkara office. He would leave early at 7am and get back at 7pm. 

"We had an agreement between us not to discuss work. He sometimes took relatives' issues on, and I would get to know later when they brought us some gift," she says.


Widow takes the stand

9.20am We're allowed in. Mary Rose Chircop, the widow of Carmel Chircop, takes the stand. 


Behind closed doors

9.06am Some discussion is being held behind closed doors - possibly a witness giving testimony. That might be why we have not been allowed in so far this morning. 


A pack of lawyers

8.57am There's a group of lawyers, representing the accused and the families of the two victims:

  • Alfred Abela and Rene Darmanin for the Agius brothers and Jamie Vella;
  • Vince Galea and Alan Zerafa for the Chircop family;
  • Jason Azzopardi for the Caruana Galizia family;
  • William Cuschieri for Degiorgio.

Waiting to enter

8.53am There's tight security at hall 22, where we are waiting to be allowed up to the gallery to watch proceedings.

 

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