The Malta Independent 12 May 2021, Wednesday

After Chircop murder, wife settled for €165,000 payment from Agius over €600,000 debt

Tuesday, 4 May 2021, 09:04 Last update: about 7 days ago

Murdered lawyer, Carmel Chircop’s widow, overheard her husband pressing Adrian Agius to repay a €600,000 debt to him - part of the fallout of the More Supermarkets debacle - sometime before he was shot dead, a court has heard.

She testified in the case against Robert Agius, Adrian Agius, George Degiorgio and Jamie Vella - the compilation of evidence over the murders of Carmel Chircop and Daphne Caruana Galizia.

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Mary Rose Chircop told magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo about a chance meeting with Agius at a coffee shop in Naxxar. Agius had been sitting at a different table, and her husband had gone to sit with him. “I heard my husband say, ‘So Adrian, are you going to start passing on the payments?’" On another occasion, the Chircops were on holiday in Italy, and she heard her husband on the phone with Agius, saying, “Adrian, you have already skipped some payments…’” she said.

Adrian Agius had signed a constitution of debt with Chircop, over a €750,000 loan to Agius’ company. It was suggested in court that Agius was insisting that the private contractors had been null as the woman had not been present during the signing of the constitution of a debt.

Carmel Chircop had not been arguing, and his tone was calm, she said. “He wasn’t fighting with him. My husband’s voice is was not loud. He didn’t shout much.”

Chircop, who was shot twice in the chest in a Birkirkara garage complex, had not been paid the money he was owed, she said. His heirs eventually settled the case out of court for €165,000. “We wanted the matter to be settled at all costs once and for all,” the widow said.

A female police constable told the court that after being arrested, Agius had explained that the money was part of a promise-of-sale for a warehouse. His villa was security on the loan. He said that payments had been made, but there were €600,000 pending. Chircop was chasing him with phone calls and messages. At a point, Chircop had told him: “You didn’t pay again, now the Villa at Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq is mine.”

Agius said that he had been in Italy at the time of the murder. This was confirmed by his call profiles, said the officer.

Agius also told the police that the money was part of a promise-of-sale that Chircop had entered into, connected to More Supermarket directors Ryan Schembri and Etienne Cassar. Agius had denied any connection with the murder. He had told the police that he “felt he was a victim of what had happened after Schembri fled Malta” and that neither Cassar nor Agius himself owed any money.

Inspector Kurt Zahra also testified, giving his, now familiar, account of the investigation into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia who was killed in 2017 with a bomb allegedly supplied by the Agius brothers.Four men accused of involvement in the murders of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and lawyer Carmel Chircop are back in court as the case against them continues.

Brothers Adrian and Robert Agius, known as Tal-Maksar, and Jamie Vella are charged with supplying the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia in October 2016.

They are also charged with masterminding and carrying out the murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop in 2015. George Degiorgio is also accused of involvement in the Chircop murder.

Degiorgio is currently facing separate murder proceedings for executing the murder of Caruana Galizia.

The court has been hearing the testimony of Vince Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, who was granted a presidential pardon to tell all he knows on the Chircop murder and has returned State’s evidence on the Caruana Galizia case following a plea bargain agreement.

Muscat was sentenced to 15 years in jail last February for admitting guilt in the Caruana Galizia murder.

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13.25: The case continues tomorrow at 8:30am. The sitting is over.

13:24 Police had heard the recordings and said it was quite clear that they were between Yorgen Fenech and Theuma, and were about the murder of Caruana Galizia. Theuma felt pressured and wanted the executors to get bail. He had information that Koħħu wanted to talk about other things with the police and so wanted to do was requested. Fenech was arrested in Nov 19. Police had not planned to arrest him at that point but it appeared that he was trying to flee the country. Fenech asked for a pardon, but this was refused in favour of one given to Theuma. Muscat had also requested a pardon at a later stage, he said. Zahra finishes testifying. 

13:14 That night, Theuma told his lawyer that he wanted to talk about the murder of Caruana Galizia in return for a pardon.

13:14 Zahra says the police concocted a plan to arrest assassination middleman Melvin Theuma on money laundering charges, in view of the information they had that Theuma would record Fenech and had these recordings in his possession. Theuma was taken into custody on 14 November, 2019. A small box was found in his possession, these included pen drives which were passed on to Europol for extraction.

13:07 A cigarette stub was found in the area which the police had taken into evidence. In the days after that, Arnaud and Zahra visited the victim’s residence in Bidnija to speak to her family. In late 2017 the FBI sent a team to assist in cell data analysis. In the days following the murder, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had announced a million euro reward for information on the case, Zahra said. A separate task force was set up to handle the telephone lines in question. Many people had called the hotline, he said. A number of suspects were identified: among them Jamie Vella, Robert and Adrian Agius. He is now describing the raid on the Marsa ‘potato shed’ and the recovery of the men’s mobiles from the sea in the Marsa bay. The men had been arrested and arraigned in court when the second phase of the investigation started.

12:54 He had checked the car’s numberplate with the control room. It was confirmed that it was registered to Percius and had been leased to Caruana Galizia. The inspector had spoken to Matthew Caruana Galizia, who explained what had happened and that from 7pm the day before when he had parked it, to 3pm the car had not been moved. Police spoke to neighbours and one had noted a small white car, reg. QQZ, in the area. It had a sticker on it, said the neighbour. He saw the same vehicle on 16 October but it was empty. It had moved away when he checked again in the evening. It was decided on the scene that the NFI (Netherlands Forensic Institute) would assist. They advised that nothing be done other than preserve the scene till they arrived.

12:53 The court is back in session. Zahra takes the stand. Zahra is stationed at the homicide squad of the Major Crimes unit. He is testifying about the Caruana Galizia murder, how the call came in and what he did at the scene. First responders and EOD personnel were already there when he arrived. The area was cordoned off and there were police and army personnel doing their jobs. He described the hellish scene of the bombing, with burning tracks, a smouldering car and body parts strewn around.

12:16 The witness says she was transferred to the police HQ at this point and that she had no more part in the investigation. The court suspends the hearings for 15 minutes. Inspector Kurt Zahra will testify next.  

12:15 Agius had explained that the money was part of a promise-of-sale for a warehouse. His villa was security on the loan. He said that payments had been made but there were €600,000 pending. Chircop was chasing him with phone calls and messages. At a point Chircop had told him: “You didn’t pay again, now the Villa at Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq is mine.” Agius said that he had been in Italy at the time of the murder. This was confirmed by his call profiles, she said. Agius said the money was part of a promise-of-sale that Chircop had with a company to pass on to More Supermarket directors Ryan Schembri and Etienne Cassar. Agius had denied any connection with the murder. He felt he was a victim of what had happened after Schembri fled Malta, and neither Cassar nor Agius himself had any money to give. In October 2015, they spoke to Notary Malcolm Mangion who took care of the sale of the warehouse. 

12:06 An arrest warrant was issued. In January 2016 Adrian Agius had been interrogated, rejecting offer of a lawyer being present. 

12:03 A certain Maj. Noel Scicluna had told her that before the murder he had noticed Chircop at Tigné Point looking agitated on the phone, saying that he wanted a payment. The call was traced to Adrian Agius. She had spoken to Insp. Keith Arnaud and told him about her strong suspicions about Agius. 

12:02 The PC says that later that day, at the Birkirkara police station, she had spoken to Maria Rosaria Chircop and the couple's son Kendrick. The widow had said that she had noticed her husband had been arguing with Adrian Agius after he had invested in More Supermarkets.

11:56 A CTU police constable who had been stationed at the RIU at the time testified. His role was to keep people away from the scene, he said. He steps off the stand. Now a police constable from the international relations unit testifies about the Chircop murder, who says that the victim had been shot twice in the chest.

11:51 The getaway vehicle had left a burning trail in the field where it was found. He is shown a number of photographs which he confirmed he had taken at the scene. No more questions for the witness.

11:47 Fenech says the scene had been sealed off to preserve the evidence; the garage, which is in a cul de sac, was closed off completely for three hours. 

11:46 Spiteri described the scene. Chircop’s feet were out of the garage, his body inside. His jacket was folded on his briefcase. She had spoken to the owner of a nearby garage, who had discovered the body and called the police. The witness steps off the stand. Next to testify is RIU police officer Mario Fenech.

11:41 We’re back in session where Inspector Oriana Spiteri takes the stand, having been on duty the day of the Chircop murder.

10:56 Cilia presents Datatrak data from the RIU cars which went to the scene. The sitting is once again suspended for 20 minutes while defence lawyer William Cuschieri attends another sitting. 

10:52 The court hears his account of the events at Bidnija that day.

10:47 Cilia exhibits a report about the murder involving Daphne Caruana Galizia. He tells the court about how he was involved in the call-out on 16 October 2017.

10:46 The prosecution now calls Inspector Anton Cilia.

10:41 He gives a number of documents to the court.

10:41 In 2018, testifying in the compilation of evidence against the Degiorgios, Ivan Formosa from Siggiewi confirmed he had sold the pleasure boat to Degiorgio, and presented a contract. The boat had been purchased in 2008 by Formosa. He received a €10,000 deposit by Degiorgio, and then another €20,00 was transferred in cash. The transfer was made on 16 February 2017. He received the money in Marsa.

10:39 The boat Maya, from where the bomb that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia was purportedly detonated, had been transferred from Ivan Formosa to accused Alfred Degiorgio, in February 2017.

10:37 A Transport Malta representative from the Merchant Shipping Directorate is administered the oath. 

10:36 Chircop says she doesn’t know what a constitution of debt is. “If it’s a loan, it’s a loan…”. She says her husband had explained it to her but she forgot the specifics. She also agrees with Abela that she had ‘left on good terms’ with Agius after the settlement. Abela reserves further cross-examination. The witness steps off the stand.

10:32 The day of the murder, only Chircop’s wife and son Kendrick testified before Magistrate Marseanne Farrugia. Lawyer Alfred Abela suggests that Adrian Agius was insisting that the private contract between him and Chircop had been null, as she had not been present during the signing of the constitution of debt. He suggests that Chircop loaned €750,000 to Agius’s company.

10:27 He asks about the constitution of debt between Chircop and Adrian Agius. She hadn’t been there in the morning. She had gone in the afternoon to notary Malcolm Mangion’s office, where she signed before a female employee and not the notary himself. She didn’t know if the employee was a lawyer. 

10:23 Accused are being led back in to the courtroom. Accused Jamie Vella and Vincent Muscat ‘il-Koħħu’ speak intently. The magistrate emerges from Chambers and we are back in session. Alfred Abela cross-examines the witness.

10:00 “We wanted the matter to be settled at all costs once and for all,” the wife replies. The court takes a 15-minute break before further cross-examination.

09:59 Galea asks about the out of court settlement. It was €165,000 says the woman.

09:58 Galea asks about the lawsuit filed by Agius, which the witness says that it was to declare the contract with Chircop for the debt null and void. Arthur Azzopardi was the lawyer for Agius at the time.

09:57 Arnaud finishes his questioning. Defence counsel Vincent Galea leads. 

09:56 The court stops further questioning on this line. “So there are no further pending civil procedures with Agius?” asked the court. None, replies the witness.

09:56 Arnaud asks her about the €600,000. Had they been paid? “My husband hadn’t received the cash. Five months after his murder, Adrian Agius filed a case to cancel the contract and the hypothec... in the meantime, we made an out of court settlement with Adrian Agius. He had dropped the case and we had cancelled the hypothec.” 

09:55 She doesn’t recall whether she had subsequently asked Chircop about the meeting with Agius.

09:52 On another occasion, the Chircops were in Italy on holiday, and she heard her husband on the phone with Agius saying ‘Adrian, you have already skipped some payments…’; Chircop later fixed an appointment with Agius at Chircop’s office for December. The call had been a calm one. “He wasn’t fighting with him. My husband’s voice wasn’t loud. He didn’t shout much.” 

09:51 Three weeks later, having a coffee at Yorkdale in Naxxar, Agius met with Chircop there. Agius sat at a table and her husband had gone to sit with him. I heard my husband say, ‘So Adrian, are you going to start passing on the payments?’

09:47 Carmel Chircop had called her to sign some papers at Notary Charles Mangion. When she had gone to see the villa, she says, there were two women and some children playing too. “He took us near the pool. Before we left we had arranged that my husband was to speak to Agius later,” she says.

09:46 Asked whether she knew why it was Adrian Agius who had paid her husband and no other directors, the witness says that Adrian Agius had made a hypothec on this villa. 

09:44 She says that she didn't know what a constitution of debt was since she wasn't a legal person. She didn't know what the money was owed for either. 

09:43 Arnaud asks about the money. The witness says her husband was owed €750,000. He had been paid some in chunks and the remaining balance was €600,000. 

09:43 MaryRose Chircop: “My husband had made a constitution of debt with Erom Ltd and Adrian Agius was a director. After Ryan Schembri fled, my husband was owed some €600,000. We had agreed with Agius to pay in monthly instalments for a year. Agius had offered a villa at Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq as guarantee and my husband had taken me to see it. Agius hadn't shown up. We had knocked on the door but there was no answer. Agius turned up late, citing traffic. To be honest I didn't like the villa much, I told my husband and he had agreed.”

09:41 The witness is asked who she recognises. She only knows Adrian Agius. 

09:40 The witness describes her late husband's routine. She was certain of the time he left the house as the TV was on and she remembered what was playing at the time.

09:35 The court tells off the accused Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio for talking. They have been whispering in each other’s’ ears for some time now. 

09:34 Arnaud takes over questioning. He asks if she recalled her husband's mobile number. She tells him the number and says he had another mobile for work purposes. “Most of the time his car would be outside, but the night before he hadn't found parking and had put it in the garage at Rampol Buildings, some five or six minutes away on foot from their home,” she recounts.

09:33 She later testified before Magistrate Marseanne Farrugia and Superintendent Keith Arnaud. The session lasted until 9pm. She was ordered not to go home until the police left. 

09:32 Her only son, a law student at the time, had been at home as his lectures were cancelled. At the police station MaryRose commented: “My calvary began.” 

09:30 She opened Facebook and saw the headline: ‘Birkirkara lawyer shot dead’. The woman's voice breaks. She recounts how she ran to the police station and when officers there realised who she was they told her to sit down.

09:28 MaryRose Chircop says that she then received a call from Carmel’s sister, a nun, who asked for him. The witness says that it couldn’t be that he hadn't called her by then.

09:27 She tells the court that on 8 October 2015, the date of her late husband’s murder, he had left at around 6:45am or 7am. “I had to pick up his mail. He would tell me to open it in case it was court-related as he was always at court,” she says. The woman says she had tried calling him several times but he wasn't picking up. 

09:25 Chircop: “We had an agreement between us not to talk about work.”

09:25 Carmel Chircop was a lawyer. He had an office in Birkirara, which he didn't use much as he was a partner with Dingli and Dingli. “He had masters in maritime law but had lately started working in financial services. He didn't do criminal cases,” she says. 

09:23 AG lawyer George Camilleri is questioning the woman. He is asking about her murdered husband’s work. 

09:22 Journalists have been allowed inside the courtroom. MaryRose Chircop takes the stand. She is Carmel Chircop's widow.

09:04 Proceedings have started behind closed doors. The court is hearing the testimony of a witness but journalists have been asked to stay outside for the time being.

08:57 The accused face various charges linked to the murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Carmel Chircop. Caruana Galizia was murdered on 16 October 2017, while Chircop, a lawyer, was murdered in 2015. 

08:48 We are waiting for proceedings to start. 

08:45 Good morning. 

 

 

 

 

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