A dusty side road on the outskirts of Mosta leads to a scrapyard, home to garbage trucks, rusty old skips, and a man suspected of supplying the bomb used to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The small yard is surrounded by CCTV cameras and sealed off with a high, bolted gate. It has a clear unobstructed view of the Caruana Galizia family home.

The yard sits just a stone’s throw away from a vantage point, at the edge of the Mosta-Bidnija valley, used by a group of alleged assassins to stalk the movements of the journalist in the weeks before her 2017 murder.

When a bomb was detonated in Caruana Galizia’s car one sunny October day, a plume of black smoke rose from the valley and towered over the scrapyard.

That yard, and the villa next door, is owned by Jamie Vella, the mystery man who was last month charged with supplying the bomb that was placed beneath the driver’s seat of Caruana Galizia’s small rental car.

Little is known about Vella, a plump 37-year-old with short brown hair. Sources say he keeps a “deliberately low profile” and with no social media profiles or online presence, he is a digital ghost.

But that does not mean he is not known to law enforcement.

Vella forms part of what sources describe as one of Malta’s most dangerous organised crime groups.

The group, headed by brothers Adrian and Robert Agius, known as tal-Maksar, have long been on law enforcement’s radar.

Last October, a joint report by Times of Malta and Malta Today detailed how they had been identified as “high value targets” by local and foreign law enforcement.

But although they had long been known to the authorities, for years they were allowed to operate with relative impunity.

Vella may have also used his international connections to help procure the bomb used to kill Caruana Galizia

Vella and the tal-Maksar brothers were finally arrested in tactical police raids last month after one of Caruana Galizia’s hitmen, Vincent ‘il-Koħħu’ Muscat struck a plea deal with the authorities.

Vella and the younger Agius brother Robert were named and charged with supplying the bomb used to murder Caruana Galizia. The two were also charged along with Robert Agius with the murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop in 2015.

Sources said Vella lent the crime group an international dimension.

After all, the Maltese men are believed to be the local cell of a much larger European network of organised crime.

They are suspected of being involved in importing narcotics, mostly cocaine, from South America into the EU, via the Netherlands.

The group has also been linked with other rackets, from cigarette smuggling via Libya to the reactivation of ornamental rifles that are then smuggled from eastern Europe and sold on to criminals in Italy.

Vella, who has a licence to own a gun, has been linked to an international arms’ dealing investigation, Times of Malta has confirmed.

Law enforcement sources suspect Vella, who was locally investigated but never charged for importing stolen vehicles, may have also used his international connections to help procure the bomb used to kill Caruana Galizia.

By 2017, Malta’s home-grown bomb-makers had either retired, or, in the case of Peter ‘l-Ħaqqa’ Cassar, killed in the violence that propelled the tal-Maksar crime group to the top of the criminal food chain.

Law enforcement sources say Vella was tracked from Malta to Albania at least three times in the months before Caruana Galizia was killed.

It is from contacts in the Albanian underworld that Vella is believed to have secured the device. And, according to information handed to police by self-confessed hitman Vincent Muscat, it was Vella and Agius who taught the assassins how to set off the bomb.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us