The Malta Independent 15 August 2018, Wednesday

Journalist’s murder: Seven arrested in Marsa raid no longer on police bail

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 22 April 2018, 10:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

Seven men who were arrested along with the three main suspects in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia are no longer on police bail, The Malta Independent on Sunday can confirm, but this does not mean that they are no longer under investigation or that they cannot be arrested again in future.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb in Bidnija on 16 October 2016.

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On 4 December, members of the army’s special operations unit and the police force’s SWAT unit raided three sites – one in Marsa, one in Zebbug and another in Bugibba – and arrested 10 men.

Addressing a press conference while the raids were still underway, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had said that all 10 were Maltese, and that many of them were known to the police. The arrests were made on the grounds of “reasonable suspicion” that they were involved in the murder.

The following day, three men were arraigned in court, under heavily armed police escort, and were charged with the murder. Brothers Alfred Degiorgio (known as Il-Fulu) and George Degiorgio (Iċ-Ċiniz) as well as Vince Muscat, (known as il-Koħħu), pleaded not guilty to the car bomb murder.

It was later reported that the other seven men had been released without charge on police bail.

They were named as brothers Adrian and Robert Agius, whose father Raymond Agius ‘tal-Maskar’ was shot dead in Birkirkara’s Butterfly Bar in 2008, as well as Miguel Caruana, Sandro Cilia, Jamie Vella, Anton Cachia and Rudy Camilleri.

 

Police bail explained

The concept of police bail was introduced in Malta some seven years ago. The conditional release is intended for the early stages of the investigation, a seasoned criminal lawyer explained.

“People are usually placed under police bail because, while being suspects in an investigation, the police would not have had enough time to arraign them within the 48-hour period, especially in complex investigations like this one.”

Police bail carries two requirements: the obligation to sign a bail book at a specified police station on a set number of days, and to seek permission from the court to travel abroad.

Suspects are also warned that non-observance of these conditions is a crime and failure to comply could lead to prosecution.

While not as restricting as the conditions usually set out by normal bail, police bail conditions are intended to help the police retain some form of ‘control’ over a suspect.

 

Valid for three months

The lawyer, who wished not to be named, explained that police bail is valid for three months, after which the police can request the magistrate to extend it for another three-month period. When the police bail expires, the conditions are automatically dropped.

Yet this does not mean that the people involved are no longer under investigation, or that they can be further investigated in future. It also does not mean that there would be no chance that they are prosecuted in future. “The police cannot hold you on police bail indefinitely, and if police bail is not extended it could likely mean that the investigators have nothing on you, but this does not mean that the people involved are no longer considered as suspects.”

The only real way they could escape prosecution, the lawyer said, was through time barring, which in criminal cases like this one was 20 years.

A source close to the murder investigation confirmed that the seven men are no longer on police bail, which means that the police did not ask for police bail to be extended.

The compilation of evidence continued on Friday morning, with the court being told that the DNA found on a cigarette butt collected from Bidnija and cigarette butts taken from the potato shed matched with Alfred Degiorgio’s DNA.

On Wednesday, the magistrate and the accused were taken to the site overlooking the road Caruana Galizia’s car was travelling on when it exploded.

The court also heard that the footage captured by Armed Forces of Malta divers in Marsa, where a number of mobile phones were retrieved from the seabed, could not be recovered because the camera’s memory card was corrupted.

The court, presided over by Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit had previously heard how the men were arrested after the police, aided by foreign investigative agencies that had looked into their mobile phone data and triangulated their positions.

Experts had said that a ‘suspicious device’ had been switched on in Bidnija 13 hours before the explosion and remained active until the time of explosion. The court had previously heard how the SMS that triggered the bomb had been sent from aboard Alfred Degiorgio’s yacht, which at the time was out at sea. Footage had captured the boat leaving Grand Harbour twice on 16 October.

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