Phone Numbers Used To Carry Out Caruana Galizia Murder Set Up In November 2016

Police inspector Keith Arnaud testifies in court on his evidence against the three murder suspects

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Police inspector Keith Arnaud is presenting the police's evidence against George Degiorgio (Ic-Ciniz), his brother Alfred Degiorgio (Il-Fulu) and Vince Muscat (Il-Kohhu), the three men charged with assassinating journalist Daphne Galizia.

Keith Arnaud starts by describing how he had been called to Bidnija at 3pm on 16th October where he saw a Peugeot 108 - that was rented to Daphne Caruana Galizia ablaze. Caruana Galizia’s eldest son Matthew ran out of the family house and confirmed his mother had been inside the car.

After speaking to Matthew, his brother Andrew and the late journalist’s husband Peter, Arnaud confirmed that Daphne Caruana Galizia had started renting that car for four months. Both she and Matthew used to use that car. Indeed, it was Matthew who had used the car most recently - on 15th October at around 6pm.

On 16th October, Daphne and Matthew Caruana Galizia were alone at home when Daphne left the house at around 3pm. She walked out of the house, re-entered for a few minutes because she had forgotten her chequebook, and entered the car where the bomb had been placed. 

The crime scene was cordoned off for four days. An expert team arrived from the Netherlands the day after the assassination and the car was towed off to the police compound a day later. The car was kept under 24/7 police surveillance. 

The Dutch investigators sent tests back to a lab in the Netherlands, where it was later ruled that the bomb used to kill Caruana Galizia was an organic explosive. 

Police gathered and analysed all CCTV footage possible from Bidnija. 

Investigators quickly ruled that at least one of the murderers must have been on site, particularly since Caruana Galizia didn’t have a fixed pattern of movement. They found a perfect vantage point from which people could see the whole of Bidnija, and noted that a part of the rubble wall surrounded with chicken fence was broken down. A resident told the police that he had seen a small white car, with the number plate ending in ‘QZ’ a few days before the murder, with a driver inside. On the day of the murder, he saw that same car - this time without a driver, parked and facing Mosta.

Arnaud and another police officer visited the rubble wall and noticed that there were two large rocks next to a tree by the wall. They also noticed that there was as a recently put-out cigarette by one of the rocks. The cigarette was cordoned off and taken in for forensic examination.

Analysis of Caruana Galizia’s mobile phone found out that her last activity was at 2pm. Vodafone was carrying out maintenance on the cell tower in Bidnija at the time, so all calls from the village were picked up from other nearby cell towers - Mgarr, Mosta, Mdina or Burmarrad. 

Police requested data from local service providers and passed this on to the FBI. They found out that there was a particular Vodafone number had been cut off from the grid at exactly 14:58:55. It was the same time that another Vodafone number had received an SMS from that same phone. The signal of the first phone had been picked up by the Mosta cell tower and the second one had been picked up by a cell tower close to Valletta, looking out to sea - an indication that the person who had sent the fatal SMS was out at sea. 

The phones were bought in Haz-Zebbug in November 2016 and activated in January 2017. The two phones only ever communicated with each other. Both were topped up with some credit and exchanged four text messages. More text messages were delivered between the two numbers in August. The numbers were again topped up with phone credit. 

 One of the two SIM cards was then placed in a second device, from where it received four SMSs from the second phone. The next and last time the mobile phones were used were on the day of the assassination, when one of the phones sent a SMS to the other at 3pm.

With the help of the FBI, the police discovered that one of the two mobile phones was not actually a phone but rather a circuit board that accepts sim cards which is typically used in household devices. 

The SIM card was static in Bidnija until it received a SMS. The other mobile phone was switched on the day of the assassination until it sent that fateful SMS, after which it was switched off. The phone started broadcasting from a cell ID in Floriana and then moved from Paceville to Senglea to Zabbar to Xghajra. It was only ever picked up by cell towers facing the sea, lending weight to police suspicions that its user was on a boat.

On the crime scene, police also found pieces of green plastic with the word ‘Card’, which forensic experts said could have been part of a board where the SIM card had been attached. 

The media was kicked out for a few minutes as Arnaud spoke of particularly sensitive information. When they were called back in, Arnaud said that police had used Transport Malta’s CCTV cameras to analyse the movements around the Grand Harbour on the day and had linked the phone that delivered the SMS to George Degiorgio. 

The secret services had intercepted a call from George Degiorgio’s registered phone asking a second person to send him €5 in credit. After this person was unable to do so, Degiorgio called a third person who complied.

Police found out that George Degiorgio owns a leisure boat called Ducu and his brother Alfred owns a leisure boat called Maya. After analysing Transport Malta’s CCTV cameras, the police could see ‘Maya’ leaving the Grand Harbour’s at 8:00am and heading north. At 2:55pm, when the fatal SMS was sent, the boat made a pitstop at the Siege Bell for a few minutes and then made its way back to Marsa. 

Police then tracked the boat to the ‘potato shed’ in Marsa, where the Degiorgios and Vince Muscat used to hang out. On 23 November, police had filmed George Degiorgio on his boat - travelling from the Grand Harbour to Marsa - again. 

The case will continue tomorrow morning. 

Written By

Tim Diacono

Tim Diacono tends to clam up when asked to describe himself. You can contact him on [email protected]

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