Vince Muscat, the man who has pleaded guilty for his role in the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, took to the stand yesterday in a sensational sitting that revealed chilling details of the murder plot and its links to Malta’s highest institutions.
Muscat’s stunning testimony came more than three years after his initial arrest and charge in connection with the murder in December 2017. Since then, investigations have twisted and turned with Melvin Theuma and Yorgen Fenech’s arrests in November 2019, ripping the entire case wide open.
It’s been years of contradictory testimonies, vociferous denials, and most crucially incessant references to the top echelons in Malta’s government.
Still, besides Theuma, Muscat is the first person with confirmed in-depth knowledge of the murder plot and its many players to take the stand and an oath to say nothing but the truth.
Here’s everything we learned from Muscat’s court testimony and how it tallies up to information we’ve already heard.
1. Chris Cardona knew of the murder plot and leaked information about Daphne’s movements.
Muscat’s testimony was littered with bombshells, but none more so than his claims that former minister Chris Cardona allegedly met with suspected triggerman Alfred Degiorgio and provided him with information on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s whereabouts.
Muscat explained that sometime in 2017, the three hitmen were growing frustrated with the lack of information on Caruana Galizia to help them carry out the murder.
One day, Degiorgio asked Muscat to give him a lift to Castille. Later, Degiorgio allegedly told Muscat that Cardona would reach out to a high-profile lawyer, who cannot be named because of a court order, who would, in turn, reach out to then-Assitant Commissioner Silvio Valletta for information.
Muscat told the court that Degiorgio was insistent that Cardona allegedly knew of the murder plot and that the men had been paid €150,000 to kill her.
What did we know?
This is not the first time Cardona has been featured in the case. He was first thrown in the spotlight after Fenech’s arrest when it emerged that a letter detailing his involvement in the killing was revealed as having been sent to Fenech by Schembri via their mutual doctor.
Meanwwhile, Theuma has already detailed an alleged financial relationship between Cardona and Degiorgio, suggesting he used middleman Tony ‘Il-Biglee’ Chetcuti to pass on payment.
He claimed that the relationship with the Degiorgios stretched back a year and included burner phones, family jobs, and a potential cannabis procurement license.
More sensationally, Theuma said that Fenech claimed Cardona was so worried about the murder that he ended up hospitalised after an overdose on pills.
However, it should be made clear that Theuma was referencing claims made to him by Mario Degiorgio, Alfred and George’s brother.
Cardona has confirmed that he was at one point the lawyer of the Degiorgio brothers. However, he has dismissed the claims as hearsay and a part of a plot to frame him.
“These are blatant lies and form part of a frame-up plot that was built much before 2017,” Cardona said.
2. Chris Cardona tipped off alleged killers about imminent arrests.
Cardona’s name would crop several times in Muscat’s testimony, most crucially on claims that allegedly tipped off the suspected killers of their imminent arrests.
Muscat explained that roughly two to three weeks before their arrests on 4th December 2017, Alfred Degiorgio informed him of the planned raid.
Degiorgio told Muscat that he got the information directly from Cardona, explaining that he was fearful that he would be arrested and interrogated over his relationship with the two brothers.
This information allegedly came through Cardona’s regular source, Silvio Valletta.
The men put the time to good use, clearing out crucial evidence from the infamous potato shed. They even planned to be “arrested together”, with Degiorgio picking up Muscat the morning of the raids and taking him to the potato shed.
What did we already know?
Theuma had already revealed to the courts that the three men knew in advance of the raid and arrests. Still, there is a clear discrepancy in the timelines of the two men.
Theuma told the court that Fenech informed of the raid roughly a week before it took place – and that he was the one to inform the Degiorgios and Muscat about it. However, Muscat did explain that Degiorgio simply corroborated his information with Theuma’s.
Three possible theories emerge. The men were possibly tipped off twice, meaning that there were at least two strands of the murder plot that were miscommunicating with one other. This suggestion does hold some water, with Valletta and the unnamed high-profile lawyer having strong links to the hitmen, Theuma, and Fench.
Degiorgio could also have been lying to Muscat with the intention of potentially paving the way for the eventual frame-up of Cardona. Still, if this scenario were true, questions must be raised as to why Degiorgio never used the information to lobby for his own pardon or reduced sentence.
A third could be that Theuma lied in an attempt to place the attention entirely on Fenech. However, that then raises questions as to why Schembri allegedly tried to frame Cardona. It could just be Theuma was never informed or was reluctant to share details he was unsure of with his pardon on the line.
What is absolutely clear is that the killers did have foreknowledge of the raid, which put the lives of the officers and armed forces in serious danger and gave the men the opportunity to dispose of what could have been vital evidence.
3. Silvio Valletta’s name crops up yet again.
Whether the government mole was Schembri, Cardona, or neither is still up for debate. However, sitting by sitting, it is becoming more clear that Silvio Valletta could have had a hand in leaking a wealth of information on the investigation.
As explained above, Valletta was named as the source of information on crucial details like Caruana Galizia’s whereabouts in the lead-up to her murder and the imminent arrests of the three hitmen.
Muscat said that Cardona would use a high-profile lawyer, who already has major links to this case, to reach out to Valletta for information. It seems that Valletta, who is the estranged husband of Education Minister Justyne Caruana, obliged.
What did we already know?
Media reports and court sittings have revealed that have had an intimate relationship with Fenech. He held dinners with Fenech and went abroad with him on at least two occasions. Meanwhile, there exists a video of Valletta “fooling around” in Fenech’s Rolls Royce.
It has also been revealed that Valletta features heavily in Theuma’s secret recordings, in particular with relation to leaks from the police investigation.
These details included the arrest of the three men charged with carrying out the murder, Muscat’s potential pardon, information that Theuma’s and Yorgen Fenech’s phones were wiretapped, and that Cardona’s number was discovered on the phone of one of Daphne’s killers.
Valletta, who is referred to as “Valletta l-oħxon” in Theuma’s secret recordings of Fenech, was leading the case into the assassination until he was forcibly removed by court order.
He was the one who set up unprecedented briefings with former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Schembri on the case. The briefings started soon after the murder and continued up until a month before Theuma’s arrest.
Valletta’s leaks have now been corroborated by a second individual, Vincent Muscat, who, like Theuma, has a presidential pardon hinging on him giving true testimony.
The only questions that remain are whether Valletta leaked with the intention to obstruct justice – and whether the police will finally arrest, interrogate, and potentially charge the former Deputy Police Commissioner.
A magisterial inquiry is currently underway to ascertain the source of the leaks, but we are yet to hear an update on those developments.
4. Criminal lawyer David Gatt’s regular meetings with the alleged killers.
Criminal lawyer David Gatt made regular visits to the infamous Marsa potato shed for meetings with the alleged killers before and after the murder, Muscat revealed to the court.
On one occasion, Gatt visited out of the blue and gave them a thumbs up. Muscat explained he had asked Alfred Degiorgio what that meant.
“You know who told him. It’s Keith (Schembri) il-Kasco. The thumbs-up is a reference to the ‘number one ta’ Malta‘, Keith Schembri,” Degiorgio allegedly told Muscat.
Another time, before the murder, Gatt even allegedly asked Muscat how long it would be until they “got rid of the witch of Bidnija”. On another, Gatt allegedly made an explosion-like gesture with his hands and mouth.
Muscat’s claims against Gatt hold far more water. Unlike his claims regarding Cardona, Muscat was retelling first-hand accounts of his dealings with Gatt – and the allegations cannot be dismissed as simple hearsay.
Beyond that, Muscat also claimed that Degiorgio pressured him to tell inspectors that Gatt was his lawyer upon his arrest.
What did we already know?
Most notably, Gatt was referenced in the alleged frame-up letters published by Lovin Malta detailing Cardona’s involvement in the murder, which were later revealed as having been sent to Fenech by Schembri via their mutual doctor.
Meanwhile, Theuma told a court that Gatt had passed on the message to the Degiorgio brothers, threatening them that they could be killed if they revealed Cardona’s role in the plot.
Gatt has vehemently denied all links to the case whenever these allegations are published. However, he has admitted to being a lawyer for George Degiorgio and told the Times of Malta in January 2020 that he only went to the potato shed in Marsa a few times to meet with his client.
Gatt has links to Muscat beyond the murder. In 2017, a court had cleared Gatt of any involvement in a string of armed robberies, which included a failed heist on HSBC’s Qormi operations centre, where Muscat was also a suspect.
5. The decision to proceed with the assassination was taken two weeks after the general election.
Muscat confirmed to the courts that the decision to proceed with the murder happened around one to two weeks after the general election in 2017.
He explained that towards the end of April, he arrived at the infamous potato shed, and Degiorgio approached him to tell him that Theuma had a “good proposal” for the men… murdering Caruana Galizia.
A few days after, the price of €150,000 and deposit of €30,000 was arranged. However, the plan was put on hold since the general election was called.
Muscat was never told who was behind the hit, despite asking on occasion.
Theuma gave them the order to proceed soon after the election.
What did we already know?
Muscat’s testimony corroborated most of what Theuma has already told the courts. However, Theuma’s testimony gave insight into the operations of Fenech, who was not known as the alleged mastermind of the hitmen.
He described how he was first approached with the plan in April 2017, with Fenech explaining that it was because Caruana Galizia was writing about his uncle, Ray Fenech. Theuma explained that he discovered later it was actually Fenech she was writing about.
Theuma said that Fenech had gone quiet after pushing him to reach out to the Degiorgios about the assassination. However, Fenech drunkenly told Theuma to proceed on the day the Labour Party won the election. He said he did not take it seriously until Fenech passed on the money a week or so later.
6. Murder plans and the involvement of Robert Agius and Jamie Vella.
Muscat explained that the initial plan was to shoot Caruana Galizia with a rifle. Alfred Degiorgio was initially earmarked to be the shooter since he had the best shot out of the three men.
He said that the rifles were acquired from Robert Agius and Jamie Vella. He recounted how he had met the men in a garage on the limits of Naxxar and Mosta to collect the rifles.
However, it seems that the weapons themselves were unreliable, except for one. When they returned the weapon, they were given three bombs instead.
“George Degiorgio was always in favour of using a bomb,” Muscat said.
The bomb, Muscat said, was made of stainless steel, sophisticated, and was clearly foreign made. It had a casing, some 6 inches by 5 inches and some 1.5 inches thick. It also had a slot for a SIM card.
“It had a particular message which would activate it. We were told that there was some seven seconds interval until it went off,” he said.
Either Agius or Vella told the men that the bomb contained some 500 g of explosive jelly. On their suggestion, the men attached a bottle filled with petrol to make the impact more devastating.
Muscat revealed that the men had rented an exact model of the Peugeot Caruana Galizia was driving at the time to make breaking into her car and placing the bomb far easier.
Notably, the name Romeo Bone was mentioned. Muscat said that Degiorgio had told Agius and Vella that he hoped the blast was stronger than the one placed in Bone’s car. Bone had survived a car bomb in February 2017, losing both of his legs.
Vella recommended that the bomb be placed near the wheel and not under the seat.
What did we already know?
Some of these details had already been shared in a report by Reuters into the matter. However, this was the first time that we heard most of the details in open court.
The evidence corroborated police’s information on the bomb suppliers, Vella and Agius, who have since been charged for their role in the murder.
Meanwhile, the concerns about the explosion’s effectiveness due to the Bone incident have been raised before, with Theuma revealing such conversations to the courts.
7. Stalking Caruana Galizia and botched murder plans.
One thing was clear in the sitting; the hitmen vociferously stalked Caruana Galizia in the months leading up to her murder. With a lack of information from Theuma, the men took it into their own hands to understand her movements.
The suspects used binoculars to keep an eye on her and to familiarise themselves with the area. Vantage points along Targa Battery were a common spot for the men.
Theuma did inform the men that Caruana Galizia frequently went to a Naxxar coffee shop. They spent about a week going to that area to watch her moves, and one day, they spotted her car.
One night, the men decided to get a closer look at Caruana Galizia’s home. Muscat said the men ended up only a few metres away from one of her windows and watched the journalist for up to two hours up until 2am as she sat on her sofa with a laptop.
That evening, they had fixed a rubble wall to steady the rifle while shooting. The men were so confident of their spot that they even planned to execute the hit soon after, following pressure by Theuma that Caruana Galizia was planning to publish an article concerning the alleged mastermind.
Muscat said that the men even loaded their cars full of weapons just in case they were confronted by police. After a short conversation between George and Alfred Degiorgio, the men decided that they would use a bomb.
On another occasion, the men followed Caruana Galizia to the Phoenicia in Floriana and considered placing the bomb in her car that evening, even if other people returned to the car with her.
“They said, we’ll go ahead, whoever is with her in the car, even if she’s with others,” Muscat said.
“We looked for her and her husband’s cars. Had we spotted their cars, we would have planted the bomb. Then we would have sent the message to detonate the bomb. However, not in Valletta since there were too many people around, but once she got to Bidnija,” he continued.
What did we already know?
Much like before, some of the details of the murder plot and the botched plans were unveiled in a report by Reuters. However, Theuma did give indications of how the hitmen stalked Caruana Galizia and had gone back on several planned attempts to carry out the assassination.
Theuma did say that he remembered that Caruana Galizia was actually meant to be murdered a day or so before 16th October 2017 but was called off due to police presence in the area. Muscat is yet to make reference to this incident.
8. The day of the bomb.
Muscat told the courts that on the eve before the murder, he received a phone call from Alfred Degiorgio alerting him that her car was parked outside her residence. It had only been parked outside once before.
He went to go collect the bomb himself, meeting the Degiorgio brothers nearby her home in Bidnija.
Alfred Degiorgio picked the lock the same way he had done with the practice model and placed the bomb. Muscat then spent the night at Degiorgio’s apartment in St Paul’s Bay. The two men made their way to their vantage point in Mosta at 6am the next day.
At some point, they spotted her.
“She’s coming out”, Alfred alerted his brother, George. However, he told him to halt the plan because she was returning back inside.
Once Caruana Galizia went back into her car, Alfred gave the order.
“We heard nothing. That loud explosion that was mentioned, I swear we never heard that, your honour!” Muscat said, relaying fears that the men thought they failed.
Then they looked back and saw a plume of smoke.
After disposing of their phones, the men switched on the radio and awaited the news. The men then met at the Marsa potato shed and admitted they were shocked at the reaction that the bombing had provoked.
A few days later, the men collected the rest of their money, disposing of any burner phones they used.
What did we already know?
Most of the nitty-gritty details of the murder had been unknown till now, with Muscat remaining silent for the last three years. Theuma has recounted how the day of the murder “ruined his life”. However, we finally know the movements of the three hitmen.
One detail Muscat was not aware of was that George Degiorgio had used his personal mobile phone while detonating the bomb on board his boat out at sea. It proved to be crucial in linking the FBI’s information from cell towers to the killers themselves.
Meanwhile, Muscat’s incessant smoking by the vantage point, providing the police with DNA evidence linking him to the site.
Muscat will face cross-examination by the defence and parte civile lawyers on Tuesday 16th March at 9.30am. Lovin Malta will follow that sitting live and it could prove a crucial sitting where Muscat will clarify any murky details on his initial testimony.
It will not be the last we see of him, with Muscat set to also testify in the case against Agius and Vella. Meanwhile, those sittings may call more witnesses to further connect them with the plot.
The day after Muscat’s cross-examination, Theuma will take the stand in the case against the Degiorgios and will also face his own intense cross-examination from the defence and parte civile lawyers.
With Muscat’s evidence now in hand, Theuma could face an intense grilling on what he has already told the courts.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether police will prosecute any other figures mentioned in the testimony.
Whatever the case, Muscat’s testimony places more pressure on the Degiorgios and Fenech to reveal everything they know with regards to players who either took part in or facilitated the murder of Caruana Galizia.
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