The police have failed to adequately respond to serious suspicions that the three men suspected of assassinating journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had been tipped off about their arrest beforehand.
Transcripts from the police interrogation of suspect George Degiorgio, published on Manuel Delia’s blog and independently verified by Lovin Malta, show a clear concern by investigators that the three men had known exactly what was coming.
There were three aspects of the case that made the interrogators believe that something funny was going on from the get-go. Firstly, the police could not initially find the suspects’ phones and the keys to a room within the Marsa potato shed where a TV and oven were switched on. The phones were later retrieved from the seabed and the shed. Footage of the retrieval of the phones from the sea by divers from the Armed Forces has gone missing, after the GoPro camera SD card was corrupted and its backup on the AFM computer was somehow lost.
Secondly, George Degiorgio had his partner’s mobile number written on his hand – which would have proven handy if he was allowed a phone call after his arrest. Finally, Degiorgio’s dog Maya was not tied to her usual spot, an absence the police would have found striking if they had been tracking the suspects and monitoring the potato shed for a while.
“George, we did not come there by some coincidence yesterday and you must have known we were coming,” the interrogation transcript reads. “It’s been some time since you realised you had made mistakes George. You’re the one who had made the most mistakes in this case and perhaps were it not for your mistakes it would have been a bit more difficult for us. Had you known yesterday that we were coming, George? Tell us! Because even Koħħu’s phone ended up in the sea.”
On 30th April, PN MP Jason Azzopardi stood up in Parliament to claim that police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar had found out who had tipped the suspects of the impending raid but had transferred him to the Rapid Intervention Unit instead of sacking him from the force.
Azzopardi named the alleged mole as police sergeant Aldo Cassar, a former immigration officer who hit the news in 2012 when he escorted a Libyan national off a plane that had just landed in Malta and, against all protocol, boarded him onto a private jet that then Opposition leader Joseph Muscat had used to travel to Libya. Cassar was transferred to the Economic Crimes Unit following Labour’s election victory in 2013, to the Criminal Investigations Department in 2016 and recently to the RIU.
Cassar’s Facebook page, with a cover photo of Castille, claims that he used to work at the police force but is currently employed with the government. Contacted by Lovin Malta, Cassar confirmed he is still a policeman, but said he would need permission from the commissioner before speaking any further.
In its police statement, the police insisted that they hadn’t received any allegation of a possible leak into the murder investigation and said they had already told Azzopardi so in his capacity as lawyer in parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family. They denied that Cassar’s transfer to the RIU had anything to do with suspicions he was a mole and indeed said the police sergeant wasn’t privy to the Caruana Galizia investigation.
Police inspector Keith Arnaud, who is leading the murder investigations, then took to Facebook to warn Azzopardi that his allegations seriously risk hindering the case against the three men and to urge him to leave politics out of the case. However, Arnaud’s posts appear to be targeted less at Azzopardi’s claim of a tip-off within the police force and more at his claim that the Malta Security Services, which was tapping George Degiorgio’s phone, had purposely ignored the suspect’s plan to assassinate Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Police sergeant Aldo Cassar
Degiorgio is a career criminal and it is certainly not inconceivable to suggest that he would have been very careful not to say anything incriminating over the phone out of fear it could have been tapped. However, if this is the case, it begs the question as to why he felt comfortable enough using his regular phone to call up a friend to top up with credit the burner phone he used to send a SMS to the device that had ben planted under Caruana Galizia’s car. Was that Degiorgio’s big slip-up police that officers referred to during his interrogation?
The police’s statement contradicts heavily with the transcripts of the interrogation and questions sent by Lovin Malta to the police remain unanswered some 48 hours later. Specifically, we asked to confirm whether the interrogating officers had asked the suspects whether they were tipped off, whether an internal investigation had been launched into the leak, and why Aldo Cassar had been transferred in the first place.
If the three suspects were indeed informed of their impending arrest, the obvious question becomes: Why did they stay in the potato shed and wait for the police like sitting ducks?
In this context, a claim by Paul Caruana Galizia that the Prime Minister’s spokesperson had, the evening before the arrest, informed a foreign journalist that something big was going to happen in Malta the following day, becomes more significant as it would suggest that more people than the police team had been informed about the impending arrest. The Prime Minister’s spokesperson has denounced this claim as a complete lie.
Make no mistake about it, this whole confusion is only benefitting the three murder suspects, and their lawyers must be licking their lips at the unexpected amount of leeway they have now been given to defend their clients. The time has well and truly come for the police commissioner to deliver a press conference about this case and put to rest some of these very pressing questions.
Clarification: In an earlier version of the article, it was claimed that government officials had circulating the police statement on social media before it was published by the police. We have now clarified that this was not the case.