The Malta Independent 17 May 2021, Monday

Alleged Daphne hitmen sought Chris Cardona’s help on murder, court hears

Friday, 16 April 2021, 10:26 Last update: about 1 month ago

Former minister Chris Cardona would be called upon to help the hitmen planning Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder, Vince Muscat has testified under cross-examination.

Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, said that Alfred Degiorgio was a close friend of Cardona and would meet him for information on the journalist.

He was testifying in the compilation of evidence against brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, accused of executing the assassination. Muscat had pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a plea bargain agreement. Muscat is now testifying against the co-accused.

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Muscat was today grilled by defence lawyer William Cuschieri, who suggested that the witness was trying to pin everything on Alfred Degiorgio and was being very selective in his testimony.

An aborted plot to murder Caruana Galizia sometime in 2014 and 2015 was again mentioned.

Muscat said that when Alfred Degiorgio told him about the 2017 murder plot, he had informed him that he knew where Caruana Galizia lived.

"What I told him was I knew where she lived because when he [Alfred] was in prison we would go and observe. We kept the prices the same in fact," Muscat said of the aborted murder plot some two or three years earlier.

The defence lawyer asked who was supposed to shoot Caruana Galizia in the first plot when Alfred Degiorgio was in prison. Muscat said there was going to be another person, to which the lawyer asked whether this person was in his "imagination".

"The person spoke to us," Muscat insisted, adding that there were three occasions at the time when George Degiorgio went up to Bidnija to observe Daphne's movements. He also mentioned lawyer David Gatt - who once shared a Birkirkara office with Cardona - as having been the link person in the first murder plot.

Cardona has previously denied any involvement in Caruana Galizia's murder, describing the testimony as "pure evil fiction".

Muscat said he was not surprised when Alfred Degiorgio sought information on Caruana Galizia from Chris Cardona.

"Let us not forget that in 2014 or 2015, when I took George Degiorgio to Portomaso to speak to Chris Cardona... so, I wouldn't be surprised," he added.

The cross-examination of Muscat by the defence was suspended and will continue next week.

George Degiorgio 55, from St Paul's Bay, known as Iċ-Ċiniż and Alfred Degiorgio, 53, also of St Paul's Bay, known as il-Fulu are charged with Caruana Galizia's murder.

Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit is presiding.

Superintendent Keith Arnaud and Inspector Kurt Zahra, aided by the Attorney General's office, 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.

 

11:48 That is all for today. Thank you for following.

11:48 On Monday, all the parties will have copies. The next sitting will be on Wednesday 21 April at 9:30am for cross-examination. The sitting is over.

11:45 Marc Sant, Koħħu's lawyer, asks to be given a copy of the file but the defence objects as Muscat is just a witness.

11:43 There are two persons who are mentioned and Arnaud asks that their names not be published in the media.

11:42 The court is now thrashing out some redactions to the file with the parties. It is not clear what but pages 4 to 14 will be struck out.

11:41 Cuschieri suspends his cross-examination. The witness is led out of the hall. The accused ask to go to the toilet.

11:40 Muscat: "I couldn't object as they would blame me."

11:40 Cuschieri: "You 've known them for 40 years and you're very scared of them? So, it's just them talking and you just listening?"

11:39 Cuschieri: "Are you scared? Were you threatened?"

11:39 Muscat: "I couldn't tell them that it wasn't a good idea."

11:38 Cuschieri: "You just sat there silent!"

11:35 Muscat: "On Notte Bianca the bomb was ready in Santa Venera. George and Alfred had said that it didn't matter if her husband or parents were there..."

11:34 Cuschieri confronts him with his previous testimony where he had said that on the occasion it didn't matter if her husband and parents were in the car too.

11:33 Muscat: "We didn't have a lot of time..."

11:33 Muscat: "I would think that if Alfred had the bomb, he would have planted it that day." The lawyer repeats the question.

11:32 He asks about the occasion when the witness and Alfred followed Daphne Caruana Galizia to the Phoenicia Hotel parking. "Did they have a bomb at the time?"

11:29 Cuschieri says that he has around 10 minutes of cross-examination left.

11:28 Cuschieri asks who had put the message in the mobile [that would have to be sent to trigger the bomb]. Muscat says he doesn't know but assumes it was the Maksar brothers, who supplied the bomb.

11:27 Muscat doesn't recall clearly but he says that it was probably under the potato tent. "I had been told that it had a very long message ‘like a serial number'," he says. He hadn't bought the mobile phone himself.

11:26 Cuschieri asks him whether Robert Agius, Tal-Maksar, and Jamie Vella had told him it was there. Muscat answers in the negative. Cuschieri asks: "Where did you see the mobile the first time?"

11:24 Muscat insists the bomb was under the boat but is unsure if the mobile phone was with it.

11:24 Cuschieri presses the witness, asking whether the bomb was in a box or a cloth. Muscat says he hadn't seen it. The lawyer asks him what brand of shoe was the box but the witness cannot recall. The lawyer points out that when the witness wants his memory can be very precise but in other it becomes very cloudy.

11:21 Muscat: "In some cloth or something..."

11:21 Cuschieri: "What was it in?"

11:20 Muscat: "Nobody can contradict my truth. Alfred Degiorgio put it under the boat."

11:20 Cuschieri: "I tell you again. There was never a bomb there."

11:18 Muscat: "The access to the place was secured with a padlock. It was hidden and not many people would come in."

11:18 Cuschieri: "What if I tell you that the bomb was not left under the upturned boat?"

11:17 Muscat replies in the negative.

11:16 Muscat: "Because I know that a game like that... Jamie and Maksar are going to get three bombs. Jamie would tell George that they were taking long to arrive and one day he told him that the bombs had arrived."

11:15 Cuschieri asks about the delivery of the "bombs". "Why in plural?"

11:13 The magistrate tells him not to be afraid to answer every question.

11:12 Muscat says it was very late but he cannot recall the exact time. "It could be around those times," he says.

11:11 Cuschieri warns him of perjury. "Was it 11:30pm or 2am?" the lawyer asks.

11:10 Cuschieri points out that Muscat had contradicted himself on the time when George Degiorgio didn't want to come next to him and Alfred in Bidnija. "Can I choose not to answer?" the witness asks.

11:09 Muscat now refuses to answer any of the questions about giving the money back as they could incriminate him.

11:09 Cuschieri: "What did you do with the €50,000?"

11:08 Cuschieri points out that the witness is taking advice from his lawyer during his testimony. Arnaud says the questions are not related to the examination in chief. "I have every right to show the untrustworthiness of his character," Cuschieri insists.

11:06 Superintendent Keith Arnaud asks the court to caution the witness as these questions could incriminate him. Muscat says he chooses not to answer about the car theft.

11:06 Muscat: "I had stolen it with someone else who is today dead."

11:05 Cuschieri: "You tested the weapons at a friend in Żebbuġ. A stolen Vitz is mentioned..."

11:05 Muscat: "No, because I was referring to two pistols."

11:05 Cuschieri: "So, when the last time you said that you weren't aware if they were hidden or not you were confusing things."

11:04 Muscat: "Yes."

11:04 Cuschieri: "You exclude that the rusty weapons were hidden?"

11:03 Cuschieri reminds the witness that he is under oath but Muscat insists he is telling the truth.

11:02 Muscat: "Yes, I deny that."

11:02 Cuschieri: "Do you deny that you know someone, a friend, from Mġarr from whom you would go and get weapons?"

11:02 Muscat: "I am not assuming anything. George and Alfred had to tell them. I can say that with great certainty."

11:01 Cuschieri: "You assume they took them."

11:01 Muscat: "I don't know if Jamie or Robert took them from the garage."

11:01 Cuschieri: "What happend to the weapons?"

11:00 Cuschieri suggests that the garages were underground and had no light. The witness says they used car headlights for light.

11:00 Muscat: "Of course it's true."

11:00 Cuschieri: "What if I tell you that none of this is true. These rusty weapons were never there."

10:59 The witness recalls how one of the three rifles wasn't new but was a lot better than the others which were rusty.

10:59 Cuschieri asks when the witness had seen the rifles the first time. Muscat says he remembers seeing them and two of them weren't good. He recalls George Degiorgio saying: 'What did you bring us here? These are rubbish.'

10:57 Cuschieri: "Where were the rifles placed?"

Muscat: "In a garage in Naxxar."

Cuschieri: "Did you have the keys?"

Muscat: "No, but about twice I was given the keys and had gone there alone."

10:56 Muscat: "Once I was present. We had wanted the telescope and Alfred or his brother had told Robert to bring us one."

10:56 Cuschieri: "So why blame them?"

10:55 Muscat: "Jamie Vella and Robert il-Maksar always. I was never present when they brought them either."

10:55 Questions turn to the rifles that had to be used in the murder. The lawyer asks who supplied the rifles.

10:54 Cuschieri: "You say Melvin Theuma was pressing Alfred Degiorgio. Were you ever present for this?"

Muscat: "One time we were sitting beneath a wall and Alfred Degiorgio got a phone call. He later said it was Melvine Theuma and had said he was pressing him too hard. But I never heard or saw Theuma pressuring Alfred."

10:53 Questioning turns to the mobile phones used by the men. The four mobiles were bought by Alfred Degiorgio. "I took him to Marsa, to the blacks," Muscat says. He doesn't recall any of the numbers.

10:52 The witness says that David Gatt would come in 2015 because of the deposit of €50,000.

10:52 Muscat: "Let us not forget that in 2014 or 2015, when I took George Degiorgio to Portomaso to speak to Chris Cardona... so, I wouldn't be surprised."

10:51 Cuschieri: "This means that Chris Cardona was going to provide information so that a person gets killed..."

10:50 Muscat: "If you don't tell Cardona, who do you tell? I knew that Alfred was a close friend of the minister (biċċa waħda mal-ministru). In 2014/2015 Dr David Gatt would come too."

10:48 Cuschieri asks who gave them the information on the journalist when the Bidnija plan didn't work. The reference here is to the first hit job that never went ahead sometimes in 2014 and 2015. The lawyer says that Alfred was going to speak to Chris Cardona.

10:47 Muscat doesn't deny this. "The fact that we spent so long looking and observing her, we wanted to see if we could find another opportunity."

10:46 Cuschieri: "You had said: 'We should not give up on her!' Did you not say this?"

10:45 Cuschieri: "So, you just went there for company? And then Alfred asked for the deposit back."

Muscat: "Yes."

Cuschieri: "So, it seems that Alfred wanted to stop the whole thing?"

"Muscat: "No, not stop it."

10:41 Cuschieri: "So, you just went there for company?"

10:40 Muscat says that he has only one eye, suggesting that he wouldn't be a good shot.

10:35 Muscat breaks the tempo by asking for water.

10:35 Muscat: "Naturally. Months for sure. Melvin Theuma was taken to the Bidnija hide at one point to show that we were doing our job."

10:34 Cuschieri interrupts. "That was much later." he says. "You had been observing her for some time."

10:33 Muscat: "The idea of shooting her... she had the light on in a window..."

10:31 Muscat says that in 2014/2015, George Degiorgio had gone around three times to observe Daphne's movement in Bidnija.

10:28 Muscat: "The person spoke to us."

10:27 Cuschieri: "Was the person there or in your imagination?"

10:27 Muscat: "Can I say this, Madam Magistrate? In 2014, there was going to be another person not Alfred Degiorgio."

10:26 Cuschieri quotes from his previous testimony. The witness says he hadn't been provided with a copy of it. The lawyer accuses Muscat of trying to shift all the blame on Alfred Degiorgio. Cuschieri asks: "In 2014/2015 Alfred was in prison. Who was supposed to shoot her then?"

10:25 Muscat: "I never said I wouldn't shoot her. You shoot her with an AK47 not a pistol."

10:24 Cuschieri asks what the witness had been paid for. Muscat starts to say something about observation but is cut off.

10:24 Cuschieri: “So, you say from the time you took the deposit you immediately knew what weapon would be used? You are under oath!”

10:23 Muscat: “Who doesn't know how to pull a trigger, but a weapon of that type, I never fired.”

10:23 Cuschieri: “Do you know how to shoot?”

10:22 Cuschieri asks why Degiorgio had to shoot. “What were you? A stepney?”

10:21 The witness is being asked about the times he had given lifts to Degiorgio to take him to the Busybee café. Muscat lists the occasions with markers that remind him of the occasions.

He says the first time, he waited near the Msida church. The second time, Alfred Degiorgio told him about the price negotiations.

On the third occasion, the election was mentioned and €1,500 were handed over to ‘go and have a drink’. “I took, I don't know, €300 or €500 of these,” Muscat says.

The fourth and fifth time were after the election had passed. “I had given him a lift and he told me ‘Fred the money is in my possession the 150 so you can start’.

10:17 Muscat: “Definitely not. Alfred would tell me that he wasn't told who commissioned the murder.”

10:16 Cuschieri: “So you can't say who Melvin Theuma said he was sent by?”

10:16 Muscat: “I was never present with them when they met Melvin Theuma.”

10:16 The price of the murder was to be divided at €50,000 each. Asked about the costs, Muscat says that Alfred Degiorgio had told him he would ask for €5,000 for the expenses. He adds that they had asked for a €30,000 deposit just in case Theuma changed his mind.

10:14 Muscat: “Yes. I told him I knew where she lived...What I told him was I knew where she lived because when he [Alfred] was in prison we would go and observe. We kept the prices the same in fact.”

10:13 Cuschieri: “You had already been involved in a plot to murder her. Did you mention it?”

10:12 Muscat: “I had suggested to go and agree on a price.”

10:11 Cuschieri asks Muscat what he had told Alfred Degiorgio when he was told about the murder plot.

10:10 Lawyer Charles Mercieca, who represents Yorgen Fenech in separate proceedings linked to the Caruana Galizia murder, enters the courtroom.

10:10 Muscat: “Yes, once in Hamrun in a tea shop.”

10:10 Alfred Degiorgio and Melvin Theuma had each other's numbers, suggests the lawyer. He asks the witness whether he saw Degiorgio and Theuma talk before.

10:09 Muscat: “Me and Alfred Degiorgio had agreed not to tell Debono because Theuma found him first. We decided to tell him nothing.”

10:08 Cuschieri: “You would speak to Darren Debono, yes?”

Muscat: “Yes.”

10:07 Cuschieri: “You knew Alfred for 40 years. You are going to take part in something as macabre as this… is this Vincent Muscat, going in for something like this as if he's going for a coffee. Don't you ask what the election has to do with it? Didn't you ask?”

Muscat: “Nothing. Nothing. Always what Alfred told me.”

10:06 Cuschieri: “Wouldn't you ask questions?”

Muscat: “As little as possible.”

10:05 Cuschieri: “What did the election and the homicide have to do with each other?”

Muscat: “We were agreeing on a price. Then he said after the election we'll get the go ahead.”

Cuschieri: “Precisely, what did the election have to do with it?”

Muscat: “I don’t know what it had to do with the homicide. I am repeating what Alfred Degiorgio told me.”

10:03 Muscat: “They had gone to look for him. We went to look for him for sure, because I used to accompany him [Alfred Degiorgio].”

10:02 Cuschieri: “What if I tell you that it is not true that you had gone to look for him, but that it is all an invention of yours. Why didn't you call him? You had Melvin Theuma's number?”

10:01 Cuschieri: “Theuma said he spoke to Alfred Degiorgio directly.”

Muscat: “Melvin Theuma said Debono, according to Alfred Degiorgio, had a ‘big job’.”

Cuschieri: “You told us that Melvin Theuma came to the potato shed and he found Darren Debono, known as it-Topo. How do you know that Theuma found Debono, if you were not there?”

Muscat: “Alfred Degiorgio told me.”

09:56 Muscat is confronted with discrepancies in testimony given by pardoned middleman Melvin Theuma and himself concerning Darren Debono [presumably a reference to it-Topo, who is unrelated to Darren Debono who is charged with fuel smuggling in totally distinct procedures].

09:54 Muscat replies that he meant George Degiorgio had engaged people to carry out the work.

09:53 Cuschieri asks about the room at the potato shed in Marsa. “You said it was ‘built by them’. What do you mean by them?”

09:51 Muscat is called in. He sits down in the chair provided and is administered the oath. Defence lawyer William Cuschieri stands up to ask questions.

09:50 The lawyers are thrashing out preliminaries with the court. A representative of the Registrar of the Criminal Court presents a copy of an application and decree from 13 April. She is also presenting a transcript of the testimony of Vincent Muscat.

09:44 Vince Muscat's lawyer, Marc Sant is present in the courtroom.

09:44 Defence lawyer William Cuschieri confirms that he will be cross-examining Vince Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, today.

09:42 George and Alfred Degiorgio are accused of procuring, planting and detonating the bomb that killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on 16 October 2017.

09:41 Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit enters the hall and the sitting begins.

09:41 The two accused are in the courtroom talking to their lawyer William Cuschieri.

09:39 Good morning.

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