The Malta Independent 8 December 2021, Wednesday

Il-Kohhu tells court about 2015 plan to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia with assault rifle

Tuesday, 16 March 2021, 09:36 Last update: about 10 months ago

A plan to murder  "a police officer" was being concocted at the same time that Daphne Caruana Galizia's assassins were plotting her execution, Vince Muscat has testified.

Without mentioning the name, under cross-examination by parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi, Muscat confirmed that the gang he formed part of had parallel plans to execute a police officer.

Muscat's testimony in the compilation of evidence against brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio lifted the lid on the workings of a criminal gang that was based at the potato shed in Marsa with deep connections to Robert and Adrian Agius, known as Tal-Maksar, from Żebbuġ.

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The Degiorgio brothers are accused of planting and triggering the bomb that killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. The Agius brothers and their associate Jamie Vella are facing separate proceedings for involvement in the murders of Caruana Galizia and lawyer Carmel Chircop.

Vella and Robert Agius supplied the bomb that was used by the Degiorgios and Muscat to blow up Caruana Galizia.

Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, pleaded guilty to the Caruana Galizia murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a plea bargain agreement.

Testifying today, Muscat reiterated that the price tag for the Daphne murder was agreed with Melvin Theuma at €150,000. He also testified how the three got to know of their impending arrest in December 2017, some three weeks before.

Muscat said it was Alfred Degiorgio who told him about the upcoming arrest. Muscat explained that Degiorgio told him he had received the information from former minister Chris Cardona, who at the time was part of Cabinet.

Muscat also spoke of a seperate plot to kill Caruana Galizia in 2015, which was initiated by lawyer David Gatt, a former legal associate of Cardona. Muscat testified that he once took George Degiorgio to Portomaso to meet Cardona "because of Daphne".

The plan was eventually aborted because no payment was ever made.

Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit is presiding.

Superintendent Keith Arnaud and Inspector Kurt Zahra, aided by the office of the Attorney General are prosecuting.

Lawyer Marc Sant is appearing for Vince Muscat. Lawyer William Cuschieri is appearing for the Degiorgio brothers.

 

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are appearing parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family.


Follow our live blog below - refresh the page for updates:

12:37 Case continues tomorrow at 9:30am.

12:37 The lawyers are discussing the use of Melvvin Theuma's recordings. AG lawyer Philip Galea Farrugia says he has no objection to hearing specific parts of it, but not 10 hours of recordings.

12:36 The questioning is over. Cuschieri asks for a transcript of the proceedings.

12:35 Muscat: "Arthur Azzopardi had told me that he wouldn't speak to me about Caruana Galizia's murder but he'd continue to represent me in other cases."

12:34 Arnaud asks why he would meet someone who is not his lawyer. Muscat says William Cuschieri had asked to meet with him too. There were several meetings with Cuschieri, the witness says, adding that seldom was his lawyer present for these meetings.

12:32 Muscat: "Martin Fenech, legal aid."

12:31 Superintendent Keith Arnaud re-examines the witness. "During these proceedings who was your lawyer?"

12:31 Cuschieri suspends his cross-examination.

12:31 Muscat: "No, 100%."

12:30 Cuschieri: "Had you ever made this conversation with Azzopardi?"

12:30 Muscat: "Absolutely not true. I don't even know who Darren Debono is."

12:29 The defence lawyer presses the point that Muscat may have been involved in another plot to murder Caruana Galizia. "If I say that Arthur Azzopardi and Darren Debono had offered you €300,000 for the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia?"

12:28 Cuschieri: "Have you heard the recordings of Melvin Theuma?"

12:28 Muscat: "No."

12:27 Cuschieri: "Did you receive any other money to murder Caruana Galzia?"

12:27 Muscat: "Absolutely not."

12:27 Cuschieri: "Wasn't it strange that he comes at the time when you're arrested? Were you involved in another plot for the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia Mr Muscat, besides the two mentioned?"

12:26 Muscat: "Since January."

12:25 Cuschieri: "How long had it been due?"

12:24 Muscat: "Arthur Azzopardi... He called one of my children asking for €6,000 I owed him. It had been for a jury trial."

12:23 Cuschieri asks about a lawyer being denied a visit in prison. "Had someone else come?"

12:23 Muscat: "No. I thought differently at the time. I didn't feel that I would be making them mad."

12:22 Cuschieri: "You had been instructed to name David Gatt as a lawyer and to cooperate with DNA and fingerprints. Had you cooperated?"

12:22 Muscat: "As far as it concerns me, he was getting the information from Chris Cardona. That's what Alfred told me."

12:21 Cuschieri: "In these three weeks didn't you ask any questions? Didn't anyone else speak to you? Melvin Theuma? Hadn't you asked where Alfred was getting the information from?"

12:20 Muscat: "Alfred started to tell me that they were probably going to arrest us three but that only George would be charged."

12:19 Cuschieri: "Around three weeks before the arrests you were informed of them. What did you do?"

12:16 Muscat says his testimony on the first plot is based on what he was told. "It is many years ago," he adds.

12:15 Cushcieri: "So you are basing your entire testimony on the 2014/15 plot on what you were told."

12:15 Muscat: "It was what Alfred Degiorgio told me."

12:15 Cuschieri: "So you cannot testify as if it was your direct knowledge."

12:14 Muscat: "George Degiorgio told me this. In 2014, 2015 and in 2017."

12:14 Cuschieri: "So you are saying what George Degiorgio told you. You also said that 'we had help', in the form of material help from Chris Cardona and a minister. Is this an impression of yours or something you knew as a fact? Was there someone giving you reassurance and so you knew it as a fact?"

12:03 Muscat: "I would speak to nobody."

12:03 Cuschieri: "You mentioned Cardona and Gatt. You wouldn't speak with them directly right?"

12:02 Muscat: "I spoke to Jamie Vella."

12:02 He asks Muscat if he would speak to George Degiorgio about the plot. "Am I correct in saying that you hadn't spoken to anyone else about this?"

12:01 The cross-examination is suspended. Defence lawyer William Cuschieri begins his cross-examination now.

12:01 Muscat says that after the murder he had been told to keep his head up high in court.

12:00 Muscat: "Ooooh... 'we want a million not €150,000'."

11:59 Azzopardi: "Had you known the murder would raise such chaos? Had a Degriogio told you that it would have impacted the price?"

11:58 Azzopardi asks whether after the murder there been any talk between him and Alfred Degiorgio about the public outcry. "Yes, of course," Muscat says.

11:57 Muscat: "No, I don't know."

11:57 Azzopardi: "Do you know that this date was found in Yorgen Fenech's mobile together with the names and dates of birth of the Degiorgios and the 'Maksar' brothers?"

11:56 Azzopardi asks him his birthdate. "9 March, 1962," the witness replies.

11:55 Muscat says that they were informed that the raid would take place at the potato shed not at home. Alfred Degiorgio wanted him to be there. He told him there was no point in staying at home.

11:53 Muscat says he later discovered that George Degiorgio had used the burner phone to ask for a top up for the mobile phone. Alfred Degiorgio had also used it when he went to a Russian woman.

11:52 Muscat: "Yes. I had gone to the potato shed. There was George and he had told me that he was going fishing. I saw Alfred's boat. I wondered why he did not go fishing too. After I parked, I saw Alfred and asked him why he didn't go. I told him: 'Fred didn't you go to fish?' and he replied: as if!' They want to arrest someone,'."

11:50 Azzopardi asks whether George Degiorgio had plans to leave the island before the arrests.

11:49 Koħħu tells the court that they were in disbelief when they were placed in prison. "How could they have mentioned us?"

11:47 Muscat says that Alfred Degiorgio had told him that the police were coming for his brother George. "They need someone to blame," he recounts the words told to him by Alfred. Muscat says that he asked whether George had done something wrong - a mistake.

11:45 Muscat: "We [Alfred and Vince] had agreed that I would drive him to Marsaskala. I waited for about 30-45 minutes until he went for the money. I had started waiting for him with a ħobża biż-żejt. When I went to get into the passenger seat he told me 'Vince you can't run, why don't you drive in case something happens'. He could escape with the money. He was given €40,000 in a brown paper bag."

11:44 Azzopardi: "How did the payment after the murder happen?"

11:43 Muscat: "A week later perhaps."

11:43 Azzopardi: "How many days passed before he paid you?"

11:43 Azzopardi suggests the meal was intended to be a celebration.

11:42 Muscat: "Yes, I won't say every day, but he would be there often. About a week or two after the murder. He had invited us to go for a meal at the Waterfront but we had thought it was too early to do so... he would come to pay us for the murder."

11:40 Azzopardi asks whether the witness had seen Melvin Theuma at the potato shed after the murder.

11:39 Muscat says it was in their possession for a few hours. "Robert tal-Maksar had told us about it," he says.

11:38 Azzopardi asks about the test car used to understand how best to break-in the vehicle.

11:37 He says that Melvin Theuma had been aware of the initial plot to shoot Daphne. He says that one time they had seen Daphne Caruana Galizia but hadn't planted the bomb because there were police around.

11:35 Muscat says that when they were at the potato shed, Alfred Degiorgio had told him, that he'd speak to Chris Cardona.

11:34 Parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi asks Vince Muscat about the help they had received. "You know who you mentioned as having helped you," Azzopardi says. "How weren't you afraid of going to a minister asking for help or information?"

11:31 The magistrate emerges from her chambers and the sitting resumes.

11:07 We resume at around 11:15am.

11:06 Azzopardi asks for a 10 minute break.

11:05 Azzopardi asks why Romeo Bone's bomb hadn't worked well. "It was stuck near the wheel well. Near the tyre... it makes a difference if it is under the seat," he replies.

11:04 Muscat: "No."

11:03 Azzopardi: "Was it the first time that Vella and Agius had given explosives to the Degiorgios?"

11:00 Muscat says that the 'Maksar' brothers had explained how to operate the bomb. "It was clear that it came from abroad. They said it was gelatine," he testifies.

10:59 Muscat speaks of a stolen car, which Robert Agius had left in Mosta to be taken to a garage in Qormi. He adds that after some time the car was then moved to Naxxar.

10:56 Muscat says that in September 2017 they had taken possession of the bomb. Jamie Vella and Robert Agius had brought it with them on the catamaran from Sicily. He specifies that they received the bomb between August and September. The exchange took place at the potato shed. George Degiorgio had told Muscat that the bomb will be placed under a boat. In the afternoon, he went with Degiorigo and picked it up. "It was me and Alfred and we took it to Naxxar in a garage."

10:51 He says this was close to Independence Day. They had parked near the taxi stands and Mr Caruana Galizia and his wife were spotted going inside the hotel.

10:50 Muscat is now talking about the time they had followed Caruana Galizia to the Phoenicia hotel in Floriana.

10:50 Muscat says that the Degiorgios and himself would buy mobile phones and these were dumped in the sea.

10:49 Muscat says that an issue like this would be dealt with by Jamie Vella and Robert Agius.

10:48 Muscat says the other murder being planned at the time concerned a person who worked in the police force.

10:47 Azzopardi: "Without mentioning the person, what was his job?"

10:47 Muscat: "Yes, of course. Yes."

10:47 Azzopardi: "Had there been a plan for the murder of someone else in a top position?"

10:46 Muscat: "Maksar was paying Degiorgio some money every month at the time - €20,000."

10:45 "We were afraid because of the €30,000 deposit and we couldn't establish her routine. Melvin said that Daphne had information, which if she published they would have to call it off. It was our idea to bring Melvin Theuma to the hide. I was somewhere else keeping watch," Muscat says.

10:43 Muscat says that at a point Melvin Theuma had been pressing them "a lot". This was in the summer of 2017.

10:43 Muscat: "Nobody told us, we just know it was someone there regularly and decided it was a maid. She would come in the morning and spend till the afternoon there."

10:42 Azzopardi: "How did you know it was the maid?"

10:42 Il-Koħħu says that despite their observations, they could not establish a pattern for Daphne Caruana Galzia's movements, other than that her maid had a Vitz.

10:41 Muscat: "They were friends."

10:41 Azzopardi: "Would they be repaid with work?"

10:40 Muscat says that Theuma later came to Busybee with the €30,000 deposit. Muscat is asked about the weapon that was initially going to be used in the murder. He explains that the weapon took a large round. "Maksar had placed them in a garage in Naxxar. I know it as Maksar's garage. At the time the keys were in Robert and Jamie's hands. We had to bring in the car we were going to use in the shooting, a Vitz, inside the garage. There were no prices for the rifles," he says.

10:38 Caruana Galizia murder postponed because of election. Muscat speaks of long hours of observation. "We would take it in turns, me and the Degiorgios. We used different vantage points. The passing of time meant we had to change positions several times as it would draw attention to us otherwise... The plan was halted because of the election, Theuma had told them. I surmised at the time that the hit would not happen."

10:35 Azzopardi asks what preparations were made in the run-up to the murder.

10:35 Muscat says that after the Busybee meeting it was established that sum of money to be paid for the hit was €150,000. He says they waited for three days and the deposit had not been paid. Muscat says that Theuma was told that if the hit did not take place, he would lose the deposit.

10:33 Muscat says that Alfred Degiorgio had told him that Daphne Caruana Galizia was going to publish some details...

10:32 Muscat's response is drowned out by the rain that is pelting the courtroom. The magistrate doesn't hear him either, it seems and she orders the windows to be closed.

10:31 Azzopardi: "Why did they want to kill her?"

10:30 Muscat: "To kill her, hux."

10:30 Azzopardi: "Why?"

10:30 Muscat: "I remember exactly that when I took Alfred Degiorgio to Marsa we were in Hamrun, looking for Melvin Theuma. Alfred made contact with him and agreed to meet him near the Busybee in Msida... I took him to the door of Busybee. I agreed to pick him up from near the church. Alfred told me that Theuma wanted them on 'Daphne Galizia'."

10:27 Azzopardi says that in February 2017 there was the bomb that maimed Romeo Bone. "Did Melvin come after February?"

10:26 Muscat: "What I remember is that when I went to the potato shed there was Alfred Degiorgio who told me that Melvin Theuma came and found Darren it-Topo and told us that he has some work for us."

10:26 Questioning moves on from 2015 to Melvin Theuma. "In 2016, he had no part in it until he appeared in 2017," says Azzopardi. The lawyer adds: "On 1st May 2017 an election was called. Between January and April, when do you remember Melvin Theuma coming?"

10:25 The 2015 hit on Galiza explained. Muscat explains how the hit in 2015 was supposed to take place. "I was at the top, there were some alleys for farmers next to her house. George And Jamie were going to block the road with a van. They had an AK47 from abroad. I saw it with my own eyes. Jamie had likely brought the AK from abroad. We had bought a Nokia mobile from someone who sold them to the blacks near the Marsa church. I remember that George had got the number of Galizia from David Gatt and would send her messages. We would invent stuff. She never replied. One day, George said that he got a reply from the mobile. Galizia had said 'mhux imbilli qed tibgħatli l-messaġġi, I don't know who you are'."

10:20 Muscat explains that they had checked out an antique BMW with leather seats. "It was dirty. David Gatt told us that the Paceville tunnels, on the left where you find the lights, there is a block where The Independent (newspaper) is situated. We went inside and checked the garages. We learned that the BMW was hers."

10:19 Koħħu is explaining the directions to the Vella farmhouse. It's in the villa area of Bidnija. "At the beginning, they had changed the vantage points because of the stink of manure... The price agreed was €150,000 with a €50,000 deposit which was never received," he says.

10:17 Lawyers Charles Mercieca, who represents Yorgen Fenech in separate proceedings, and Alfred Abela, the lawyer for the Agius brothers, walk in just now.

10:16 Muscat: "Between 2014 and 2015, (lawyer) David Gatt had come to the Marsa potato shed and George said he was going to meet with Chris Cardona because of Daphne. He said 'drop me off at the Portomaso roundabout and afterwards my [girlfriend?] will pick me up'. Jamie Vella had a farm in Bidnija and had shown the men where Caruana Galizia lived."

10:15 Azzopardi: "In your testimony, you had said, 'I knew where Mrs Galizia lived'. Did you know she lived in Bidnija?"

10:14 Muscat says he never had any reason to doubt Theuma. He says that as far as he knows, Theuma knew Alfred Degiorgio very well, because when he was in prison and working for the council, he would meet with him and would always pass on about €200.

10:13 Muscat is asked about his relationship with Melvin Theuma. "I've known Melvin Theuma for about 20 years but not as well as the others. We would bet on horses in (illegal) betting. He was a taxi driver, working around Portomaso," he says.

10:11 Muscat says that Gatt hadn't appeared for him.

10:11 One of the Degiorgio brothers had told him that when they were arrested following the Daphne murder, they had to ask for David Gatt, confirms the witness. Arnaud had asked him who his lawyer was and he had replied David Gatt.

10:10 Muscat says that when he was in trouble because of the HSBC heist, Cardona had told him that David Gatt would be handling his case. Muscat says Gatt never visited him in prison. Azzopardi asks whether Gatt had ever been stopped from visiting him in prison. "It's like I remember something but not clearly," he replies.

10:07 He is asked when he got to know David Gatt.

10:07 He is asked whether he had ever gone to Cardona's ministry asking for favours. "No ,never, Ms magistrate."

10:06 Muscat: “I know about Alfred. There are some things I don't know if I can mention… he was a friend of his, and with his brother.”

10:05 Azzopardi: “What about Cardona and Degiorgio?”

10:05 Muscat: “I know that they had an office together in Birkrikara.”

10:04 Azzopardi: “What type of relationship did Cardona and David Gatt have?”

10:04 Muscat: “I was drinking in a bar in Siggiewi… I know it as Ta’ Polly (Ferdinand)… There was Chris Cardona and he told me ‘x’għamilli Ċens. Ġew ifittxuli. Ħbiehom fl-uffiċċju tiegħi’. Gatt hid the drugs in the soffit.”

10:01 Muscat says that Cardona had mentioned an instance when Gatt hid some “300g coke” in his office. This was before Cardona became a minister, but he was an MP. It was in the HSBC hold up period.

10:00 Azzopardi: “Was there an occasion when Chris Cardona and he had spoken about David Gatt?”

09:59 Muscat says that a certain David Gatt had taken him there. He was a lawyer in Cardona’s office.

09:58 Muscat: “Yes, I spoke to him once or twice at a shop in Valletta… a bar… Stables, which to get inside you need to press buttons.”

09:57 Azzopardi asks whether Muscat had met him after that time.

09:57 Azzopardi suggests that Cardona was his lawyer in the HSBC case. “Yes sir,” Muscat replies.

09:56 Muscat: “I first met him in 2010.”

09:55 Azzopardi: “When did you first meet Chris Cardona?”

09:55 Muscat: “Jamie Vella and Robert Agius would visit, if I’m not mistaken, from 2015/16 at the potato shed. Alfred Degiorgio was in prison up till 2016.”

09:53 Azzopardi: “Had words about Carmel Chircop's murder been exchanged there?”

09:52 Muscat: “When Robert came, there were other people with him. He had come and told me, Robert and Adrian...”

09:52 Azzopardi asks what would they talk about.

09:51 Muscat: “There were several…”

09:50 Azzopardi: “From the public and departments right?”

09:50 “Marsa people would come often,” suggests Azzopardi. “Yes,” he replies.

09:50 Muscat: “Often, it was like my route every morning. We'd go and talk.”

09:49 Azzopardi: “How regularly would you go there?”

09:49 Muscat: “I was present when it was being built... sometimes George and sometime me.”

09:48 Azzopardi: “Who had the keys?”

09:48 Which part of it was “yours,” asks Azzopardi. “The end bit on the inside… over the years it was built up as a room,” Muscat replies.

09:48 Muscat explains that the potato shed used to be the regatta club. He says that Alfred, George and himself, and some other people would be there. He confirms the potato shed is government property. It is right next to the regatta club.

09:46 Azzopardi: “Who would be at potato shed?

09:46 Azzopardi asks whether there was ever any attempt to two-time each other. “As far as I know, never,” Muscat says.

09:45 Muscat says the Libya visit was around 30 years ago. He says that between 2012 and 2013 Alfred Degiorgio had been in prison and he would visit him. They trusted each other, Muscat says.

09:43 Muscat: “Yes.”

09:43 Azzopardi asks about Libya. “Was it work?”

09:42 Muscat: “I was born and raised in Marsa. I worked as a carpenter. I went to Libya for three months straight with Alfred Degiorgio… I have known the Degiorgio brothers for between 35 and 40 years.”

09:41 Parte Civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi begins his cross-examination. He asks: “Who is Vince Muscat. Where are you from, age, where have you worked?”

09:40 Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit emerges from chambers. Vince Muscat takes the witness stand and is administered the oath.

09:35 Vince Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, has taken a seat in front of the witness stand. He will continue testifying against the Degiorgio brothers.

09:31 Security personnel conduct a sweep of the courtroom. Security is the usual high level we've become accustomed to in these cases.

09:27 The accused are speaking with their lawyer William Cuschieri.

09:26 The courtroom has opened. The Degiorgio brothers are led inside.

09:11 Today marks 41 months to the day that Caruana Galizia was assassinated.

09:10 This is the compilation of evidence against brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, accused of murdering Daphne Caruana Galizia on 16 October 2017.

 

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