The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
View E-Paper

Cardona, Gatt, Valletta, and the sniper rifle plot: Six major points from Koħħu’s first testimony

Albert Galea Thursday, 11 March 2021, 17:06 Last update: about 4 years ago

There was significant anticipation ahead of the first time that Vincent Muscat – known as il-Koħħu – took the stand as a state witness in the case against Alfred and George Degiorgio on the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The anticipation was well-founded: in what was considered as a major step forward towards full justice in the case, Muscat pleaded guilty to his involvement in the murder as one of the hitmen in return for a reduced sentence of 15 years in prison.

On Thursday, kitted out in a bulletproof vest, he stepped onto the witness stand for the first time in order to testify against his two alleged conspirators Alfred and George Degiorgio.

What followed was a five or so hour long testimony where Muscat detailed exactly how the hit on Caruana Galizia was carried out, and name-dropped some prominent Maltese figures in the process.

The Cardona Connection

The biggest bombshell from the testimony was Muscat’s mention of former government minister Chris Cardona.

Muscat testified that Alfred Degiorgio had, one time, gone to him and told him that they should go and meet Cardona in the hope that the minister will be able to give them information about Caruana Galizia’s whereabouts.

“Alfred came to me one time. He told me, ‘Ċens, let me go and meet (minister) Chris Cardona, maybe he’ll give us information. I never met Cardona. But this is what Degiorgio told me. He would go to Castille and speak to him. I would drop him off and go. He would then call me about her whereabouts. One time, Alfred told me ‘Cardona sent me a message. He mentioned the €150,000 [the price the trio were paid for the murder]. He said there are two groups… they quoted the same price”, Muscat told the courts.

"I saw him going into Castille from the side-door for his appointment with Chris Cardona," Muscat told the court.

Muscat said that the information he has on the meetings between Degiorgio and Cardona are based purely on what Degiorgio told him.

"Degiorgio called me and told me once that I don't need to meet him because Toni 'l-iblaħ' (driver to Chris Cardona who was also questioned by police in connection with the claims made by Yorgen Fenech in 2019 to police) was going to give him a lift."

"Cardona came in to help us," Muscat told Keith Arnaud when asked why Degiorgio had turned to the minister. "Toni would act as a go-between."

Muscat also claimed that it was Cardona who was passing Alfred Degiorgio information about impending police raids following Caruana Galizia’s murder.

Contacted by this newsroom about the claims – which imply that Cardona knew about the plot to kill Caruana Galizia and that he had leaked information to them in order to help them evade police – Cardona described them as “pure evil fiction.”

You can read his full reaction and comments here.

‘How long is going to take you to get rid of her? The Bidnija witch’

A second surprise mention came in the form of controversial lawyer David Gatt.

Muscat told the court that he was following all the news being reported about the Caruana Galizia assassination. "(Lawyer and Cardona associate) David Gatt would come down to the Marsa den and one time we were taking a coffee, and he started making a thumbs-up sign to me. George asked me, 'what is he doing?', and I said, 'how would I know?', and then I told him, 'Does he know about it'? And he told me, 'do you know who told him? Keith il-Kasco [referring to former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri]'. We had thought it was Chris Cardona but it was Keith il-Kasco."

"One time, David had told me 'how long is it going to take you to get rid of her? The Bidnija witch'. I hadn't spoken to him before... Gatt would make explosion noises to me, but he didn't talk to me. I understood that the thumbs-up meant that Keith was the 'number one' in Malta. Gatt told me nothing but George Degiorgio told me 'he is Kasco's man."

Gatt is a known associate of Chris Cardona and he was mentioned in a note allegedly penned by former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri as a 'script' for what murder accused Yorgen Fenech should tell police under investigation. He has denied any involvement in the killing and said that he is prepared to appear in court to back that up.

He is the same David Gatt who was implicated in the failed 2010 HSBC heist – which Muscat and the Degiorgio brothers have also been mentioned in connection with – and charged over the €1 million haul from the HSBC branch in Balzan in 2007, and a hold-up on an Attard jewellery. 

He was eventually cleared in 2017 after the testimony police’s star witness – PC 99 Mario Portelli – was not found to be credible.

Attempts to get through to Gatt have proven futile so far.

‘We were aware they were coming for us some two to three weeks before the 4th December’

Muscat also corroborated something which has already come to light: that he and the two other alleged hitmen knew of the police raid where they were going to be arrested.

"There was Alfred Degiogio preparing his other boat to go fishing. I went [to the Marsa shed] in the morning as usual and saw the boat parked near the tea shop. As I walked a few more cars down, he called me from between the iron bars of the potato shed gate. I told him, 'Haven't you gone fishing yet?' He said: 'What fishing? They told me there's going to be a raid. They're coming for us."

“We were aware they were coming for us some two to three weeks before the 4th December. 100%”, Muscat said.

"A week before the arrest, Melvin Theuma told us that we would be arrested on the 4 December. Degiorgio had the same information. 'It's correct', he said, Muscat continued.

And then the pin dropped yet again.

"Alfred Degiorgio told me that Chris Cardona was sending messages with information on the raids", Muscat told the courts.

Silvio Valletta features again

Muscat also name-dropped former Assistant Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta, saying that Alfred Degiorgio had told him that he was obtaining information from him.

It’s not the first time that Valletta has been mentioned in this case. 

He was one of the lead investigators when Caruana Galizia was murdered, and pictured below, right, addressing a press conference following the murder with then Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, before being forcibly removed off the case by court order.

Last year, it was revealed that he had a friendship with the alleged mastermind behind the murder Yorgen Fenech – having holidayed with him – a connection which led to his wife Justyne Caruana being stripped of her ministerial portfolio in Cabinet.

Valletta has also been mentioned in the recordings handed over to the prosecution by middleman Melvin Theuma, where he is referred to as “Valletta l-ohxon”, where Fenech claims to Theuma that Valletta was giving him information on the investigation.

Valletta has consistently denied this.

The original murder plot, cancelled at the last minute

Something which was already known was that the initial plot to kill Caruana Galizia was not by blowing her car up, but by shooting her with a sniper rifle.

Indeed, Muscat testified that they had watched Daphne working on her laptop while sitting on her sofa right up until 2am one night – one of the many days that they had spent watching her and following her movements, which one time even included following her to a Naxxar café.

Muscat’s testimony further revealed said that the sniper rifle option was all set to take place before it was aborted at the very last minute by George Degiorgio – who, according to Muscat, had preferred to use a car bomb from the beginning.

“We had everything ready, the sandbags... at one point the owner of the site we were in came back, and it gave us a fright but we hid. We checked to see that the light in Daphne's window was on", Muscat told the court.

"The plan was to have Alfred shoot from under the tree; I would take him away from the scene with a stolen car. As soon as he shot, I would have to raise the gate so that we escape. George started coming up with excuses. The rifle was too noisy. At a point, Alfred was ready to go and called George to start planning the escape. George came back with a stolen Toyota Vitz, stored tin the Naxxar garage. But he made excuses, saying it was too late - it was 11pm - and that there was a roadblock.

Muscat’s testimony also indicated that the trio were ready to fight their way out of any roadblocks if they had to.

"We had weapons in the car. There was a 9mm automatic that took a 16-round magazine, and an AK47 in the car in case we encountered a roadblock", he said.

‘We’ll go ahead, whoever is with her in the car, even if she’s with others’

Muscat revealed during his testimony that they bomb was already in their possession by October 2017 when the Notte Bianca festival came around.

"We went to look for her in Valletta and thought we might see her car there. We would have placed the bomb there, under the seat, setting it as she drove back home."

Concerns were raised that she might not be returning home alone – but Muscat said that the Degiorgios had insisted that they would go ahead with the murder; even if she was not alone in the vehicle.

“They said – we’ll go ahead, whoever is with her in the car, even if she’s with others,” Muscat said – with the callous thought drawing an audible response from the Caruana Galizia family members in the courtroom.

Notte Bianca took place on 7 October that year. 

The bombing eventually took place nine days later – on 16 October.

  • don't miss