The Malta Independent 9 December 2018, Sunday

Updated: Daphne’s murder - Accused meant to go on fishing trip with man who topped up his mobile

Helena Grech Thursday, 1 February 2018, 09:32 Last update: about 11 months ago

A friend of the three men accused of the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia testified in court yesterday to say that he was asked to top-up one of the men’s phones with credit.

Caruana Galizia was assassinated on 16 October 2017 in a car bomb attack just metres away from her Bidnija residence. Following police investigations, assisted by the FBI and Dutch forensics experts, George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat were arrested and charged with carrying out the heinous act.

The compilation of evidence against the three men continued to be heard yesterday. Some 15 witnesses took the stand, the majority of whom were police officers hailing from different units who described the brutality of the scene of the crime, including debris and dismembered body parts.

One witness, Miguel Caruana, a Go employee who mainly sells SIM cards, testified that on the day of the murder, George Degiorgio asked him to top up his mobile-phone with credit. This is significant because in the previous hearings when the compilation of evidence began, prosecuting inspectors testified to intercepting phone data showing how Degiorgio had requested a phone top-up. Investigators believe that the phone was used to send a text message and detonate the bomb.

Caruana described Degiorgio as his “fishing buddy”, adding that on the day of the murder, the pair were supposed to go fishing on Degiorgio’s boat. Roughly 45 minutes after Caruana arrived for the trip, at the potato shed in Marsa where the accused where arrested, George Degiorgio informed him that he would not be going, leading him to head home.

In addition to this, a married couple who lived in the vicinity of the crime testified to having seen a suspicious white rental vehicle in the two-three weeks preceding the day of the murder. The husband and wife both said, in separate testimony, that they never saw the car again after 16 October.

Defence lawyers Martin Fenech and William Cuschieri stressed the lack of credibility over this testimony because neither of the couple could identify the make of the car, and that they themselves said it was a very common vehicle.

Car rental employees took the stand to say that the company had a copy of the key for the rental car being driven by Caruana Galizia while she had the main copy. In the months preceding the murder, Caruana Galizia had suffered a bumper-to-bumper collision and had the car taken for repairs while she was abroad. The prosecution, therefore, tried to establish a chain of custody of the vehicle before the slain journalist had it in her possession again.

In previous court sessions, police had described how phone data records showing activity around the time of the murder and other forensic evidence led them to charge the three men.

On 21 December, presiding magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit concluded that there is enough prima facie evidence to issue a bill of indictment against the accused, however evidence will continue to be heard before reaching this stage.

Caruana Galizia’s husband Peter, her sister Helene and her parents were all present for yesterday’s session, as they have been for each court hearing.

Lawyers Martin Fenech, Josette Sultana, William Cuschieri and Martha Muscat are representing the accused. Inspectors Kurt Zahra and Keith Arnaut are prosecuting, while being assisted by Deputy AG Philip Galea Farrugia. Lawyers Therese Comodini and Jason Azzopardi are appearing parte civile for the family. 

The case has been adjourned to 7 February.

 

Photo John Borg

Below find a minute by minute account of what took place in court today.

12.39pm: Defence lawyer Cuschieri told the court the accused are not enjoying the same visiting rights as other prisoners, and that they aren’t able to speak to their family peacefully like others. The court asked Cuschieri to file a formal application on the matter.

12.35pm: Another officer testified about trying to get to the burning wreckage but that it was impossible to put the fire out.

12.27pm: Another officer described the gory details of the crime scene. She spoke of body parts strewn across the ground, how the roof of the blasted car had caved and that she was taking details from CPD officers on the scene. She also recounted an eye-witness report of somebody who had seen the car go up in flames.

12.20pm: More police officers are testifying over their involvement on the day of the murder. One officer described how Matthew Caruana Galizia broke a man's phone after he claimed to have taken photos of the brutal scene. Police confirmed they never checked the phone to see if this was the case.

12.10pm: Inspector Keith Arnaud asked whether the CID officer did any other verification to assertion that it was George Degiorgio’s boat being used. He replied by saying Transport Malta footage from 16 October helped corroborate info gathered on 23 November.

12.02pm: Lawyer William Cuschieri and Martin Fenech are cross examining the witness, a CID sergeant. They questioned how the CID officer concluded that the CCTV footage on 16 October when the pictures show the boat from so far away. The witness said that police have large screens to work off, and that the boat had been identified in the course of investigations and not simply off a screen. The CID officer said he was given special instructions, and that one doesn’t simply work of a screen. He said he was informed of a particular boat in a particular area and that one considers all relevant factors when identifying it. Defence lawyers called into question the credibility of identifying the George Degiorgio’s boat on 16 October from CCTV footage alone. The witness said that from the CCTV footage alone one cannot identify.

11.45am: A CID sergeant said that CCTV footage spotted George Degiorgio’s boat leaving the grand harbour on the day of the murder. When the boat returned on the day of the murder, at around 2.55pm, it came into the port, stopped near the siege bell and stayed there for a while. Then it continued on its way. Asked why the CID officer singled out that particular boat, he said it was because it belongs to George Degiorgio. CID officers had trailed the boat and snapped some pictures on 23 November. The pictures were exhibited to the court. He said that more pictures were taken to ascertain that the boat spotted on the day of the murder was indeed the boat belonging to George Degiorgio.

11.34am: A police constable has now taken the witness stand. He is also describing the day of the murder and his involvement. More officers and RIU members are testifying. One officer testified to describe how he was tasked with gathering all CCTV footage and analyzing anything helpful caught on tape.

11.28am: An RIU officer is now testifying. He described being alerted to the car bomb and going to the scene together with Inspector Cilia. He went on to describe the argument between Matthew Caruana Galizia and the other man who allegedly photographed the scene. The RIU officer said that he then went relatively close to the charred car. He said the green colour was no longer recognizable. He also said that it looked as though there were body parts in the car, on the passenger side.

11.25am: Lawyer Martin Fenech is cross-examining the witness, Inspector Antoine Cilia from the RIU. Cilia confirmed that he had not seen any police looking into the phone of the man who was arguing with Matthew Caruana Galizia.

11.21am: Inspector Antoine Cilia from the RIU testified he noticed a number plate - QQZ668 - belonging to a rental car in the nearby field. Cilia spotted parts of the body of the slain journalist on the passenger side of the car. Turning to the day that the Marsa potato shed was raided, leading to the arrests of the accused, Cilia described his involvement. Cilia located the QQZ 668 number plate between the adjacent field and the road.

11.15am: Inspector Antoine Cilia from the RIU took the witness stand. He described the events on the day of the murder (16 October), how he was alerted to the car bomb and that somebody was inside the car. Cilia said from his records police arrived on the scene at 3.10pm. He arrived on the scene at 3.16pm. Cilia described seeing wreckage across the street and the charred car in a nearby field. Cilia described calming down an argument between two men. This is with reference to an argument between Matthew Caruana Galizia, Daphne Caruana Galizia's son, and a resident who allegedly stopped to snap a picture of the horrific scene. The man denied taking any pictures while Cilia continued to calm down the situation.

11.09am: The Go employee, Miguel Caruana, testified how that morning, he was contacted by George to top-up his mobile. The witness said that he went to get a scratch card, and texted him the number. The witness confirmed that it was the first time George had asked him to top up his phone. Asked if he knew the reason why George asked him on that day, the witness said he just assumed he was either out at sea or could not buy a card himself for whatever reason.

11.02am: The Go employee testified that George Degiorgio's number was saved on his phone next to the symbol of a crown, in order to identify him. Asked about the last time they went fishing, the witness said it was towards the end of summer. The witness had been under investigation surrounding the journalist's murder. They had agreed to go fishing one more time after the end of summer. George Degiorgio did not arrive, the witness was there from 5.30am, waiting three quarters of an hour, saw that Degiorgio was not coming and left for home. George owned the boat they would go fishing on, he said. The witness described how the shed was found at he end of the dock, which belonged to nobody but was used by everybody.

10.56am: Arnaud questioned a Go employee,Miguel Caruana, about his work selling mobile SIM cards. The witness confirmed that the SIM cards are sold with credit in them, and that bundles of SIM cards sometimes have successive telephone numbers attached to them. The witness recognised and identified the three accused. Asked how he knew the accused, the witness said that they were "fishing buddies" in Marsa next to the potato shed. He said that usually they would be alone and would go out some 30 miles offshore.

10.53am: Another witness took the stand. The prosecution declared that no criminal action will be taken against this sixth witness regarding the investigation surrounding the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. The magistrate cautioned the witness, who works at Go Mobile, that should he respond to any questioning that he feels will incriminate himself he can pass on the question.

10.50am: A fifth witness took the stand, who works as a car-sprayer in Zebbug. He had been engaged by the Percuis car hire to work on a "grey" car. It had damage to its rear bumper. He had been given the key by the panel beater and taken it to his garage. He had one other employee assisting him. The prosecution is attempting to establish how many people had access to the rental car that was being driven by Caruana Galizia. Upon request from Fenech, the witness confirmed that he does not recognise three of the accused.

10.43am: The witness was cross-examined by Martin Fenech. Fenech pressed him to say whether the white rental car previously used by Caruana Galizia had a sticker. The witness said the white one would have had a company sticker on the back. He was unable to recall whether the green car was also fitted with a sticker.

10.34am: A fourth witness stand took the stand, Mario Fenech, who is a manager at Percuis car hire. He confirmed that three months before the incident, Caruana Galizia's rental car was changed. He corroborated much of what the previous car hire witness had said in his testimony. He also confirmed that the company had used its spare key once to drive the car, on 11 September, from her Binija residence to their garage. The witness stressed that he had not touched the car again after driving it back from Bidnija to the garage.

10.30am: The Percius employee was being cross-examined by lawyer Martin Fenech. Fenech asked about any distinctive features on the white rental car of Caruana Galizia before using the Green car. He said the only sticker is the licence information. Asked whether the witness recognises any of the accused, he said that he does not.

10.26am: The Percius employee said a week later, when the car was ready it was taken back to Caruana Galizia. The car spent the weekend in Percuis' garage. He confirmed that the company keeps a spare key and Caruana Galizia had another key. Asked about who had access to the spare key, the witness said a number of employees did. He confirmed that the spare key worked manually while Caruana Galizia's key had worked remotely.

10.21am: The Percius employee testified that he had only ever driven her rental car when Caruana Galizia suffered a bumper-to-bumper some months ago. On 11 September the witness had gone to her residence to pick the rental car from Caruana Galizia to replace it while hers was repaired. It was confirmed the witness had a spare key to the car. He had taken the car to a panel beater on the same day and later dropped off the key in Caruana Galizia's letterbox.

10.19am: Witness number three has taken the witness stand. The witness is an employee of Percuis car hire and taxi service. The rental car employee testified that Caruana Galizia has engaged his company's services for around six months. Before that, she had leased another car for around four months. He said that the first car leased was a white Peugeot, and the second one was a green car. Caruana Galizia had wanted a new rental car to which Percuis complied.

10.16am: Lawyer Martin Fenech cross examined the witness. He again asked why the witness, nor the partner, did not take note of the number plate. The witness could not explain why they did not take down the number plate, that it was for no particular reason.

10.13am: Pressed about details of the car, the witness said it was a common small white car, one very difficult to distinguish.

10.10am: The witness described that the white car being small and common, with the numberplate ending in QZ. Asked about any distinctive features, the witness could not recall. The second witness confirmed that the white car spotted 9.30am and again at 2.30pm was the same car. The number plates both ended in QZ and the car was parked in the exact same spot. Asked about whether they had spotted anyone in the vicinity, the witness said nobody was seen. The witness said that after 16 October, the day of the murder, the white car had not been spotted again. It was also confirmed that the car had been spotted near by up to 2-3 weeks prior to 16 October.

10.08am: The second witness described leaving their home at around 9.30am on the day of the murder. The white car was spotted as the witness was leaving the house. After needing to go out again at around 2.30pm and again spotted the white car.

10.05am: Inspector Keith Arnaud questioned whether white car had any distinctive features. The witness spoke of a sticker on the car of a rental company. The witness has now left the stand and their partner is testifying next.

10.03am: Cuschieri took over the cross-examination, asking the witness to confirm that one person was in the car. The witness could not say if another person was hiding inside. Cuschieri pressed on whether it could be the witness saw two different white cars and mistook them for the same one. After being continually pressed, the witness said that yes it is possible however they noted down the letters of the number plate and after the day of the murder they never spotted another white car close to their residence.

10am: The witness is being cross-examined by defence lawyer Martin Fenech. Fenech questioned how the witness could have been suspicious of the car and did not take down its number plates. Asked again why the witness did not take down the number plate of the car since they had become suspicious of it, the witness said that in fact the letters had been noted down but the witness did not think to take down the numbers. Pressed by Fenech, the witness said "hindsight is 20-20".

9.58am: Going back to the day of the murder, the witness was not the only one to see the car, but the witness's partner had still spotted the car at around 2.30pm.

9.55am: The witness said they had spotted a man in the white rental car a few times. "The impression I had at the time was that the man in the car was Arab looking, possibly Libyan but I only spotted him for a few moments. I found him suspicious because he seemed stiff". "Also, it's not a traffic-heavy area. If somebody comes to the area its for a reason," the witness told the court.

9.53am: The witness described seeing "commotion" shortly after, referring to police lights, ambulances and the authorities. The white car was a rental one with the number plate ending QZ. The witness said that after the day of the murder, they never saw the white car again. Asked about seeing the car prior to the murder, the witness said that they had spotted it for around two weeks, and had remarked with their partner that the white car made them suspicious. Asked about how often the witness saw the car in that two week period, the witness said that it was spotted at least four times.

9.51am: The witness testified that they were home at the time the bomb went off. It was said that when the witness went outside their home at around noon on the day of the murder they saw a white car without a passenger. The witness said that at around 3pm they heard a sound comparable to a door being slammed shut. The witness was on the phone at the time and they went outside to see what happened. The white car was no longer there.

9.50am: The first witness has taken the stand, who cannot be named under request by the prosecution. The witness lives in the vicinity of where the crime took place.

9.48am: Lawyer Josette Sultana, representing George Degiorgio, is still not present in the courtroom. Stafrace Zammit said that no testimony will begin to be heard until she arrives. As soon as the magistrate says this, Sultana walks into the courtroom.

9.47am: Parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family Jason Azzopardi asked that he together with other parte civile lawyers be notified of any and all court applications.

9.46am: Galea Farrugia asked the defence to cite the legal code they are referring to in their application.

9.45am: Defence lawyer Martin Fenech cautioned the court that he would be reserving the right to request the removal of every deposition made before the court in the presence of the AG.

Stafrace Zammit asked the defence to decide which direction it wants to go as it had raised no objections up until the court declared there was Prima Facie evidence.

Cuschieri told the court its issue is testimony heard from today onwards before AG representatives.

9.42am: A court application was issued by the defence to have the deputy AG removed from assisting, to which the court will reply in writing in two days time.

9.40am: Cuschieri argued that the AG has a semi-judicial role and that his representatives should not be assisting the prosecution when the AG must ultimately issue a bill of indictment against the accused.

Galea Farrugia called the argument pathetic, while Magistrate Stafrace Zammit seemed visibly irritated.

9.38am: Defence lawyer Cuschieri is objecting to the presence of the Deputy AG in the courtroom.

9.35am: The accused have been brought into the courtroom.

9.32am: Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit entered the court room.

Peter Caruana Galizia, husband of the slain journalist, together with her parents and one sister are present in the courtroom.

Prosecuting inspectors Keith Arnaud Kurt Zahra and Philip Galea Farrugia have entered the courtroom.

 

Background:

On 21 December, Stafrace Zammit concluded that there is enough prima facie evidence to issue a bill of indictment against the accused, however evidence will continue to be heard before reaching this stage. 

Vince Muscat, il-Kohhu, 55, Alfred Degiorgio, il-Fulu, 53 and George Degiorgio, ic-iniz, aged 55, are accused of the murder.

Martin Fenech is appearing for Vince Muscat, William Cuschieri and Martha Muscat are appearing for Alfred Degiorgio, and Josette Sultana is appearing for George Degiorgio,

Philip Galea Farrugia is representing the attorney general's office, with Keith Arnaud and Kurt Zahra as prosecuting officers.

Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are appearing parte civile.

Caruana Galizia was brutally murdered in a car bomb metres away from her Bidnija residence. Following police investigations assisted by the FBI and the Dutch police, Muscat and the Degiorgio brothers were arrested and arraigned in court. Police previously described how phone data records and other forensic evidence surrounding the scene of the crime led them to bring the three men to trial.

  • don't miss