Ta’ Maksar brothers Robert and Adrian Agius were arrested together by the side of a road in Baħrija by police officers who were heading to their homes to catch them, a court heard on Wednesday.
Officers from the police’s major crimes unit were en route to Robert Agius’ Baħrija home in February when they spotted the suspect driving a Mercedes SUV at speed, police witnesses testified.
They then saw the Mercedes pulled up on the side of the road, Agius behind its wheel, as another man leaned on the car and spoke to him. That man was his brother and fellow murder suspect, Adrian Agius.
Superintendent Fabian Fleri, who led the police team, told a court that they had made their move as Robert Agius put his Mercedes into reverse gear, blocking his exit and arresting him.
Inside his car, they found more than €50,000 in cash, dozens of keys, multiple remote controls and several mobile phones.
Meanwhile, a separate police team that was on its way to Mellieħa to arrest Adrian Agius was alerted, changed direction and headed to the Baħrija site, arrest warrant in hand.
Adrian Agius’ car contained smaller amounts of cash, bank cards and a “substance” that previous witnesses have testified was heroin.
The Agius brothers and two others, Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio, stand accused of crimes related to the separate murders of lawyer Carmel Chircop and journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Chircop was found dead with gunshot wounds to the chest inside a Birkirkara garage complex in 2015. A court heard on Tuesday how he was owed more than €600,000 by Adrian Agius at the time of his death.
Caruana Galizia was blown up in a car bomb explosion in October 2017, in an assassination that caused ripples across the world.
Adrian Agius stands accused of having ordered Chircop’s murder. Vella and Degiorgio are alleged to have carried it out.
Vella also stands accused, together with Robert Agius, of having supplied the bomb used to blow up Caruana Galizia in 2017. Degiorgio is being charged in separate proceedings with having committed that murder.
A fifth man involved, Vince Muscat, has been given a presidential pardon in exchange for testimony against the three in the Chircop case. Muscat has also admitted to being among those who placed and detonated the Caruana Galizia bomb, and is serving a 15-year sentence for that crime.
A court on Wednesday heard testimony from multiple police officers involved in the February 2021 operations to apprehend the Agius brothers and Vella.
The court heard that:
- Vella was arrested at his Ibraġ villa. Police found multiple mobile phones and passports there as well as other items, including a car with foreign number plates.
- Degiorgio, who was already in police custody, was served with an arrest warrant at Corradino prison.
- Officers seized multiple firearms from Robert Agius’ home. The guns were all licensed, with many registered under Agius’ wife. Agius also had a money counting machine in his garage that was too big for the police to seal, and a further €25,680 in cash there.
- An officer stationed at Valletta in 2015 recalled being asked by a colleague stationed at the law courts to make a copy of a report concerning a Birkirkara murder. He told the court that the request aroused his suspicions.
Parts of Wednesday’s testimony had already been heard in separate proceedings against Degiorgio concerning Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder – a point Degiorgio and his lawyer were keen to drive home.
Lawyer William Cuschieri told the court that his client had already been served with a bill of indictment in the Caruana Galizia murder case, and should not be made to hearing evidence concerning that all over again.
Their objections elicited some sympathy from magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo, who however pointed out that it was the attorney general's prerogative to decide on charges it wished to file against suspects.
“You’ll be shooting yourself in the foot if there ends up being a constitutional case concerning this being a trial by media,” Cuschieri told chief prosecutor Keith Arnaud.
The prosecution responded by saying that it was duty-bound to present all evidence against each of the accused at the compilation of evidence stage.
The case continues on May 11.
Lawyers Alfred Abela and Rene Darmanin represented the Agius brothers and Jamie Vella. Lawyer William Cuschieri represented George Degiorgio.
Lawyer Jason Azzopardi appeared on behalf of the Caruana Galizia family and lawyer Vincent Galea represented the Chircop family.
As it happened
Live blog ends
12pm That's all from us for today. We will have a summary of the day's key points of testimony available at the top of this article shortly.
Thank you for having joined us.
Case adjourned to May 11
11.51am The magistrate adjourns the case to May 11 at 8.30am.
George Degiorgio speaks to his lawyer and the Agius brothers speak to theirs. Jamie Vella is escorted out of the courtroom.
No further witnesses
11.47am The prosecution has no further witnesses to present today, Arnaud tells the court. Three others were meant to testify, but they’ve been caught up with work duties.
Defence lawyer Alfred Abela would like to know whether there are other civilians due to testify in the Chircop case.
Arnaud checks his notes, and tells Abela that there are nine civilian witnesses scheduled to testify on May 11 (next Tuesday) and another civilian due to testify at a later date.
The Caruana Galizia murder scene
11.41am Police constable Malcolm Cefai was stationed in Mosta at the time Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered.
He was one of the first people to reach the Bidnija murder site and recalls details from that horrific scene – from seeing body parts to the victim’s distraught son scuffling with an eyewitness he believed had taken photos of the scene.
Cefai is followed by another Mosta-based police officer, who recounts similar details.
She recalls seeing the car’s roof blown off.
“I thought to myself, ‘this is not a normal fire,’” she tells the court.
A mysterious request
11.32am Policeman Robert Sammut was stationed in Valletta in 2015.
He tells the court that on October 12 of that year, he was approached by an officer stationed at the law courts, who asked him to print out a report.
Sammut says he noted that the report concerned a Birkirkara murder, and asked the officer why he was requesting a copy.
He says he updated the report and noted that Keith Arnaud had been told that the report had not been shown to anyone.
That’s all from Sammut – a rather confusing piece of testimony, without context or explanation at this stage.
Keys to garages
11.25am Police sergeant Kevin Grima was also part of that initial investigation into the Chircop murder.
He tells the court that on October 9, 2015 he received a call from his superior, Keith Arnaud. He was to meet Chircop’s site at the murder scene.
The victim’s son gave police 10 keys, including the keys to another garage where a Jaguar car was parked. The keys were returned to the family at a later stage.
Finding Chircop's dead body
11.22am Police officer Lorna Spiteri, who was stationed in Birkirkara in 2015, will testify next.
She recalls receiving a call about a dead person inside a garage complex (Carmel Chircop). She went onsite and spoke to the neighbour who had placed the call.
Chircop was on the floor, his feet jutting out of the door and his briefcase close by, with a jacket folded over it. He had gunshot wounds to his chest and there were gunshot signs on the garage lock.
Escorted to Floriana health centre
11.15am Police constable Sandro Mamo from the homicide squad testifies.
Mamo was also involved in the arrest of Adrian Agius and search of his Mellieħa house. He repeats what his colleagues said.
The suspect was taken to the Floriana health centre and then to the police lockup, he says.
George Degiorgio's CCF arrest warrant
11.12am George Degiorgio, who was already in police custody and facing Caruana Galizia murder charges at the time, was handed an arrest warrant related to the Chircop case at Corradino Correctional Facility, Geradas notes.
He was told why he was being arrested escorted to the police depot.
Searching Adrian Agius' car
11.10am Gerada shifts his testimony to the arrest of Adrian Agius.
He tells the court of items seized from Agius’ grey Seat car: a black bag with a Samsung mobile phone, €3,000 in cash, a Hugo Boss wallet, the accused’s personal documents and bank cards belonging to him and his relatives.
There were other things, too: a SIM card, insurance documents, a bag with seven DVDs and a transparent bag with a brownish substance.
One of the officers had noticed Agius tossing something to the side of the road. It turned out to be two sachets of a whitish substance.
(Agius is also facing heroin trafficking charges).
Inside Agius’ Mellieħa house, they found and seized two laptops, eight hard drives and a number of other items.
The day before Daphne's murder
11.03am Onto another witness – police sergeant Joseph Gerada from the homicide squad.
Gerada was involved in the Caruana Galizia murder investigation and tasked with finding CCTV cameras nearby that could be helpful to investigators.
He also met with one of the victim’s sons, Matthew Caruana Galizia, close to the Naxxar trade fair grounds. Matthew gave the police a rundown of his mother’s activities on the day before she was killed.
She had gone for coffee at Palazzo Parisio, where he and his father, Peter, had joined her. He then took his mother’s car and drove to Exiles in Sliema for a swim.
A Luger pistol
11am Police constable Jesmond Delicata is the next witness. He was also involved in the February arrests.
Delicata repeats the sequence of events leading to the Agius brothers’ arrests and then runs through a list of items seized from Robert Agius’ house.
One of the firearms seized was Luger pistol, he says.
10.52am The magistrate returns and the hearing can resume. Inspector Wayne Camilleri takes over the prosecution from superintendent Keith Arnaud.
Back in the dock
10.49am The four accused men are back in the dock. They’re all wearing suits. Degiorgio is in black, while the other three are in blue.
A curious detail: the four are always escorted into court in the same order, and sit in the same order. George Degiorgio, Jamie Vella, Robert Agius, Adrian Agius.
10.23am The magistrate orders a short recess. She orders everyone out of the courtroom but asks the prosecution and defence to remain, to discuss something in private.
A money counting machine in the garage
10.22am Curmi runs through a search of Robert Agius’ house and adds some more details to what has already been heard.
Police found a money counting machine in the garage that was too large to seal, he says. Agius told them that he had it to make it easier to count cash.
Guns were found, unloaded, in a safe. The weapons were registered, many in Agius’ wife’s name.
Robert Agius seizures
10.12am Police sergeant Kevin Curmi is next to testify. Curmi also works at the major crimes unit and was part of the team led by superintendent Fleri, responsible for arresting Robert Agius.
He repeats what his colleagues have said about that operation, recounting details of the arrest and the items seized from his Mercedes - more than €50,000 in cash, dozens of keys, a handful of remotes and several mobile phones.
Arresting the brothers
10.06am Superintendent Fabian Fleri from the major crimes unit testifies.
Fleri recalls being given arrest warrants for the Agius brothers and Vella on the morning of February 23.
He says he formed three teams, One, led by Lydon Zammit, would focus on Vella. A second, led by Shaun Pawney, would be responsible for Adrian Agius. Fleri says he led the third team, responsible for Robert Agius.
Fleri says his team headed to Baħrija, Zammit’s went to Swieqi/Ibraġ and Pawney’s to Mellieħa.
En route, they spotted a grey Mercedes driving ahead of them. They then saw the car, stationary, with Robert Agius at the wheel. A Seat car was parked closed by. Adrian Agius was leaning next to the Mercedes, talking to the driver, his brother Robert.
Police overtook the two. As the Mercedes was about to reverse, they moved in and arrested the brothers. Pawney’s team came to arrest Adrian Agius and then went on to search his house.
Search of Vella's house
10.01am Police constable Sherona Buhagiar testifies. Buhagiar works at the major crimes unit.
She was involved in the arrest of Jamie Vella and repeats what her colleagues said earlier about that arrest and search of his Ibraġ house. That's all from her.
Degiorgio objects to repeat testimony
9.59am Alfred Abela requests a copy of these documents. The court grants him access.
William Cuschieri tells the court that his client (George Degiorgio) is objecting.
He’s listening to testimony he’s already heard before in other cases, he says.
The magistrate says that it is up to the prosecution to decide on the charges it wishes to press. While the objection can be minuted, there’s not much else to do, shed adds.
William Cuschieri turns to Keith Arnaud: “if there ends up being a constitutional case concerning this being a trial by media, you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot,” he tells the chief prosecutor.
Cuschieri dictates his note to the court – Degiorgio has been charged with the Caruana Galizia murder elsewhere and a bill of indictment has been issued. He objects to hearing that evidence all over again and reserves the right to take further action.
Tracking Degiorgio's boat
9.53am Saliba also worked to analyse CCTV footage related to the Caruana Galizia murder and presented a 31-page document containing details of movements down to the second, he says.
Saliba tells the court how he analysed footage of the Grand Harbour using multiple cameras, and surveilled George Degiorgio’s boat Maya as it exited and reentered the harbour, berthing at the Marsa potato shed.
This surveillance took place in November 2017 – one month after Caruana Galizia’s murder, Arnaud explains.
It appears the intention was to obtain footage of Degiorgio’s boat, to compare to footage from the day of the murder.
Timeline of Chircop murder
9.45am The next witness is a former police sergeant, Manuel Saliba.
Saliba tells the court that he was given the job of checking security camera footage (concerning the Chircop murder) to identify any useful information and then hand that information over to court experts and help them recreate a timeline of events.
He is shown the visual timeline – nine pages of still images extracted from CCTV footage.
Arnaud shows Saliba another document. It’s dated October 12, 2015, and it concerns Adrian Agius refusing legal assistance (Agius was questioned by police following Chircop’s murder, but released without charge at the time).
Saliba identifies Adrian Agius in court.
Catching the Maksar brothers on the road
9.36am Another constable, Terence Scibberas, testifies.
Sciberras was also involved in arresting Rober Agius. He repeats what his colleague said: they were driving to Baħrija at 1.15pm when they saw a
Mercedes SUV driving at speed. The car then stopped and the driver spoke to someone else. That someone was Adrian Agius.
“As we stopped next to the two, Robert Agius reversed his car. We blocked his path to prevent him from escaping and ordered him out.”
Other officers approached Adrian Agius and arrested him too.
9.33am The witness tells the court that he was also present when Vince Muscat showed the police the getaway route used for the Chircop murder, from Birkirkara to Santa Venera.
Defence lawyer Alfred Abela asks the witness whether the firearms they found were licensed.
“I believe so,” he answers. He says police opened the safes because Robert Agius gave them the keys himself.
Searching Agius' house
9.29am Police then searched Robert Agius’ house. His wife was there.
They found several cars and a metal workbench in the garage.
In the house, they found several mobile phones, another empty DHL parcel, a diary and €25,680 in cash. A small safe contained a firearm and bullets.
Agius’ passport and bank cards were in his bedroom, together with an iPad. There was another safe in a wardrobe there, containing another firearm and 29 bullets. Another cabinet contained hard drives and documents.
Agius was then taken to the police depot.
Arresting Robert Agius
9.24am Police constable Christopher Saliba testifies. Saliba works at the major crimes unit and was involved in the arrest of Robert Agius this past February.
Saliba reveals how the police spotted Agius driving a Mercedes car as they were en route to arrest him.
Police stopped the car and arrested the suspect. He had €240 in cash in his left trouser pocket and €5,000 in cash in his car. Police found a further €49,500 in cash in the back of the car.
Inside the car, police found two pouches containing 33 keys, eight remotes and other items – SIM cards, mobile phones. There was an empty DHL parcel on the dashboard, together with other mobile phones.
The car and its key were both sealed and taken in as evidence.
Bidnija and Theuma
9.15am Inspector Nicholas Vella testifies.
Vella was present at the Caruana Galizia murder scene. He runs through what he saw – a burning Peugeot car in a Bidnija field – and says a magisterial inquiry had then started.
In December 2018, Vella was transferred to the police’s anti-money laundering squad.
That following September, he was part of the team investigating Melvin Theuma (the self-confessed middleman in the Caruana Galizia murder).
Vella says that when they arrested Theuma in November, he immediately told officers that he wanted to speak to Keith Arnaud and the police commissioner “to pass on information about the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder.”
Vella says foreign technical experts were appointed by the magistrate to assess seized items. That's all from him.
Seizures from Vella's home
9.09am Another sergeant, Jeffrey Gerada, takes the witness stand.
Gerada was also involved in the February 23 arrest of Vella.
He recalls Vella opening the door when police showed up at his villa. Officers read him his rights and informed him they were there in connection with Carmel
Chircop’s murder. Vella called his lawyer. His partner was in the bedroom.
Gerada runs through items they seized during their search: UK currency, iPhone boxes, four mobile phones in the kitchen, two SIM card holders - Vodafone and Epic – two guarantee forms for mobiles, another phone in the kitchen cabinet.
They seized five more phones in the hallway.
Gerada repeats what his colleague said about what they found in the garage: cars, passports and cash.
Gerada was also involved in the December 2017 arrests that led to the arraignment of the alleged Caruana Galizia hitmen. The Agius brothers, known as Ta' Maksar, were among those arrested. Gerada identifies the two in court.
Plenty of iPhones and multiple passports
9am Police sergeant Christian Azzopardi is the first to testify.
Azzopardi was involved in the February 2021 arrest of Jamie Vella. He tells the court his orders were to seize devices and documents related to the case.
The arrest happened in Ibraġ. Azzopardi recalls seizing cash and a key. A forensics team combed through the property, room by room.
They found two iPhones in a bedroom and many others – “eight or nine” – in the kitchen.
Inside the garage, they found a Volvo, Mercedes, Citroen and BMW, passports in Vella’s name, a driving licence, business cards, cash in euro and foreign currency. The BMW had foreign number plates.
Items were sealed and signed into evidence. Vella, (who was COVID-19 positive at the time), was taken to Boffa hospital and then into police lockup.
8.54am Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo takes her place. The court hearing begins.
Armed to the teeth
8.50am There's a very heavy security presence in court this morning: we've counted six armed security guards in the courtroom's main area, with a seventh guard up in the gallery.
The magistrate's deputy registrar takes her place. Proceedings should be starting any minute now.
Accused in court
8.45am All four men facing charges here – the Agius brothers, Vella and Degiorgio - have been escorted to the dock.
They have a word with their respective lawyers. It’s worth recalling who they are:
- Alfred Abela and Rene Darmanin are representing the Agius brothers and Jamie Vella.
- William Cuschieri is representing George Degiorgio.
- Jason Azzopardi is representing the Caruana Galizia family.
- Vincent Galea is representing the Chircop family.
- Superintendent Keith Arnaud is leading the prosecution, assisted by attorney general lawyer George Camilleri.
What happened last time?
8.36am It is the second consecutive day that this court has convened: the Agius brothers and Vella were last in court on Tuesday, when the court heard testimony from Chircop’s widow, first responders at the Chircop murder scene and inspector Kurt Zahra.
Mary Rose Chircop’s testimony provided the most insight into the case. She told the court that one of the accused, Adrian Agius, owed her husband €600,000 at the time of his death. In the subsequent months, she and her son agreed to strike off the debt against a €165,000 payment.
A police inspector testified that before his death, Chircop had been seen speaking heatedly on the phone demanding to know “when are you going to pay?”. The timing of that incident tallied with records of calls between Chircop and Agius, the court heard.
Read our full report of Tuesday's court sitting.
8.30am Good morning and welcome to this live blog. We’re at the Valletta law courts, where this complex case is to resume inside hall 22.
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