The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

Lawrence Cutajar dismissed Vince Muscat's pardon over ‘hearsay’ evidence - former defence lawyer

Friday, 3 July 2020, 09:36 Last update: about 1 month ago

Vince Muscat's former defence lawyer has told the inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder that a request for a presidential pardon by his client (Muscat), had been dismissed by Lawrence Cutajar on the grounds that the testimony was "hearsay" evidence.

Arthur Azzopardi, the former defence lawyer to Muscat - one of the three hitmen accused with executing the Caruana Galizia murder - was giving testimony before the Caruana Galizia murder public inquiry on Friday. The inquiry is tasked, among other things, with determining whether the State did all it could to prevent the murder from happening. 

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Asked by inquiry board member Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro why Muscat's presidential pardon hadn't been granted, Azzopardi said former police chief Cutajar had told him that the word from "the top" was that Muscat's testimony was hearsay.

In October, 2019, Cutajar had, during a meeting, asked all others to leave and remained solo with Azzopardi.

It was at this point that Cutajar had told Azzopardi that it was "coming from the top that [Vince Muscat's] testimony is hearsay."

Azzopardi also told the inquiry that brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio - the other two men accused of executing the murder with Muscat - had gotten to know of Muscat's willingness to spill the beans.

Azzopardi said that he had been informed of rumours in the criminal underworld that there had been plans to harm Muscat's daughters, by throwing acid at them. This he said, had caused both Muscat and himself to panic.

Former police chief Silvio Valletta had said he would investigate how the information was leaked to the Degiorgios. At around this time, Muscat had stopped eating food shared with other inmates.

The lawyer said he had met with inspector Keith Arnaud and Lawrence Cutajar, and had insisted for police protection for both himself (Azzopardi) and Vince Muscat.

But Cutajar had argued that offering such protection would make it evident that Muscat was cooperating with police. He had subsequently decided not to grant the requested protection.

Due to the "phenomenal stress" he and his law firm had been experiencing at the time, Azzopardi said he had decided in October 2019 to drop Muscat as his client. Lawyer Marc Sant has since taken up the brief.

Azzopardi told the inquiry of a conversation he had had with Owen Bonnici, when the then justice minister had approached him to speak during a funeral - something the lawyer had found odd.

Bonnici, Azzopardi said, had told him that a presidential pardon could only be given to one individual, and that there would be an issue if a pardon was granted to Vince Muscat, if subsequently the middleman in the murder, Melvin Theuma, also decided to give the police information.

Azzopardi was also asked about the infamous Girgenti party held by former prime minister Joseph Muscat, however the media were asked to leave the courtroom at this point.

The rest of the lawyer's testimony continued behind closed doors.

The next sitting of the public inquiry will be held on Wednesday.

Live blog:

10:11 The press are now ordered out of the courtroom and the case continued behind closed doors.

10:10 Arthur Azzopardi says that the request for a pardon for Vince Muscat had been made by the police. This, he says, gave it more weight

10:09 Judge Abigail Lofaro asks Arthur Azzopardi why Vince Muscat didn't get the presidential pardon he had asked for. Arthur Azzopardi says that, on 7 October, 2019, Lawrence Cutajar had, during a meeting, asked all others to leave and remained solo with Arthur Azzopardi. "It is coming from the top that [Vince Muscat's] testimony would be hearsay," Cutajar had told Arthur Azzopardi

10:06 "I was always of the opinion that Caruana Galizia was murdered over something that she was yet to write, but this is just a hypothesis," Arthur Azzopardi goes on to tell the inquiry

10:05 The link between Melvin Theuma and Yorgen Fenech was well known at the time, Arthur Azzopardi says. "All Malta knew that he has a taxi at Portomaso, which was very expensive. He had a taxi with an advert of Portomaso on it, and was involved in the horse racing industry in which Fenech's family had a strong interest," Azzopardi says

10:04 Arthur Azzopardi says that he subsequently did not hear of any further threats against Muscat, but that "revenge is a dish best served cold." He tells the inquiry that he had dropped Vince Muscat as a client because his law firm was under "phenomenal stress." He tells the inquiry that he had suffered a heart problem and had been hospitalised for several days before dropping Muscat as his client

10:02 Arthur Azzopardi refuses to reveal his sources which gave him information on the threats to his and Vince Muscat's life, but says that as the investigatipn into Daphne's murder continues, that information was being proved right in every way

10:01 Arthur Azzopardi says Keith Arnaud had met with him and Lawrence Cutajar, and had insisted on police protection for Azzopardi and Vince Muscat. Cutajar argued that offering such protection would reveal the fact that Vince Muscat was cooperating with police. The former police chief decided not to grant protection to Arthur Azzopardi and Vince Muscat, Arthur Azzopardi tells the inquiry

09:59 "In July 2018 - before the funeral (where Owen Bonnici spoke to Arthur Azzopardi) - there had been a meeting between myself, Arnaud and Lawrence Cutajar, when there were already threats to Vince Muscat's life," Arthur Azzopardi says. The source of the threats was not known and remains unknown to this day

 09:58 "There were rumblings in the underworld that there were plans to harm Vince's daughters, by throwing acid," Arthur Azzopardi says. He tells the inquiry that this caused him, as well as Vince Muscat, to panic

 09:57 Arthur Azzopardi continues with his testimony. He says that, in 2018, he had been at a funeral when then justice minister Owen Bonnici had called out to him from the crowd, saying he wanted to speak with him. "I thought it was odd, but went anyway," Azzopardi says. Azzopardi says that Owen Bonnici told him he was only going to give a pardon to one man, and asked what would happen if he gave the pardon to Vince Muscat, only for the middleman, Melvin Theuma,, to then also start to give the police information

 09:55 Arthur Azzopardi says that, when he got to know that the Degiorgio brothers knew about this, he had gone straight to inspector Keith Arnaud, who was flabbergasted. Former deputy police chief Silvio Valletta had said at the time that he'd investigate the leaks. From that point on, Vince Muscat refused to share his food with other inmates

 09:53 Arthur Azzopardi continues giving an account of what had happened. He says that brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio - the two other hitmen in the case - had been aware that Vince Muscat wanted to spill the beans on them

 09:52 Arthur Azzopardi says he was told by inspector Keith Arnaud that the prime minister (at the time, Joseph Muscat), had congratulated Arnaud on the work he had done. Joseph Muscat's compliment to Arnaud came during a meeting between Arnaud and former police chief Lawrence Cutajar, former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, and Joseph Muscat

 09:50 Jason Azzopadi asks whether Melvin Theuma - the self-confessed middleman in Daphne's murder - was mentioned in the meeting between Keith Arnaud and Vince Muscat. Arthur Azzopardi replies that, at the time, they had only been aware of a person whose name started with an "M". "Persons with common sense could make a connection between Melvin Theuma and who sent him, but maybe the police didn't," says Arthur Azzopardi

 09:48 Arthur Azzopardi says that the first meeting between inspector Keith Arnaud and Vince Muscat took place at the police depot on 23 April, 2018. Muscat was collaborating well, Azzopardi says. In the meantime, a jury against Vince Muscat was appointed in another case (not related to Daphne's murder) and he (Muscat) had insisted that if the jury went ahead, he wouldn't collaborate on Daphne's case

 09:46 Arthur Azzopardi tells inquiry that he had explained to Vince Muscat how the mechanism and procedure - which involved the AG, justice minister and Cabinet - worked. "This took some time - till the end of April. On 10 April I had informed [inspector] Keith Arnaud [about Vince Muscat's intentions to request a presidential pardon]. Over a three week period, I had intensive talks with Muscat at prison almost every day."

 09:45 Jason Azzopardi begins questioning Arthur Azzopardi. Arthur Azzopardi says that it was around March 2018 when his former client, Vince Muscat, had asked him what a "proklama" (presidential pardon) was.

 09:44 Arthur Azzopardi tells the court that he had a good professional relationship with Daphne Caruana Galizia

 09:43 Lawyer Marc Sant, who is now representing Vince Muscat, confirms that his client has exempted Arthur Azzopardi from professional secrecy

09:41 The sitting has started. Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, who was previously defence counsel to Vince Muscat, one of the three hitmen accused of executing Daphne's murder, takes the stand and is administered the oath. Azzopardi had requested to testify himself, says Caruana Galizia family lawyer Jason Azzopardi


 

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