The assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and its revealed links to the Maltese government will undoubtedly be remembered as the darkest chapter in Malta’s history.
Both because of the nature of the crime – the contract killing of one of the country’s most prominent journalists – but also because of alleged efforts by corrupt members of the police force and the country’s executive to sabotage the investigation.
Progress made so far, it’s fair to say, has occurred despite, and not because of, the authorities.
This has been made abundantly clear by the various witnesses to have taken the stand in the various criminal court cases linked to the assassination, who have described leaks and efforts to subvert the course of justice by those tasked with doing the exact opposite of that.
It would in fact appear that investigations have arrived at their present stage as a result of self-confessed assassin Vince Muscat’s decision to cooperate with the police.
A decision that set off a chain of events culminating in the arrest of four people linked to the assassination, as well as his pleading guilty to his role in the crime and testifying against his two other co-conspirators.
Since then, Muscat has requested – and been denied – a second presidential pardon, and while there is no doubt that Muscat deserves to spend his life in jail for the crimes he has already committed, serious questions have been raised about how Cabinet has handled pardon requests linked to the murder.
Vince Muscat looks to make a deal with the police
Muscat started speaking to the police in April 2018, requesting a presidential pardon for his role in the Caruana Galizia murder shortly after.
Just days later, word that Muscat was looking to strike a deal with the police had already been leaked to his co-conspirators and others in their criminal network.
In fact, Muscat’s meeting with the police is what caused Melvin Theuma, the self-confessed middleman in the case, to start recording his conversations with suspected mastermind Yorgen Fenech as he grew concerned that he might be killed to guarantee his silence.
Muscat’s information also allowed the police to corroborate some of the information they already possessed and to move to arrest Theuma, who ultimately led them to Fenech.
Earlier this month, Superintendent Keith Arnuad, the lead investigator in the murder case, testified in court about how the police were hoping that Muscat would be granted a pardon.
“We were hoping that Vince Muscat would be granted a presidential pardon in order to go ahead with the arrests,” he told the court.
Theuma was eventually arrested in November 2019 and immediately granted a pardon, leading to Fenech’s arrest shortly after.
Theuma’s testimony, and more importantly, his recorded conversations, have so far proved to be central to the police’s case against Fenech.
Muscat’s pardon request was eventually refused in January 2021, however, it was revealed a month later that he had nonetheless struck a deal with the police. He admitted to his role in the assassination in return for a reduced sentence. He also admitted to his role in the 2015 murder of Carmel Chircop, being granted immunity from prosecution in that case.
Muscat has turned state’s witness in both cases and his information to the police has seen Tal-Maksar brothers Adrian and Robert Agius, as well as Jamie Vella – understood to be very prominent figures in Malta’s criminal underworld – arrested and charged in court for their roles in the two crimes.
Muscat has since requested a second pardon in order to reveal information on other cases, including the 2010 HSBC heist, for which is to face trial. Muscat’s information includes the identity of a sitting and former minister, who he says are linked to the botched heist.
This second pardon request has seen Alfred and George Degiorgio also submit a pardon request of their own. In addition to effectively being an admission of guilt, the Degiorgio’s have essentially confirmed Muscat’s claims, at least as regards the HSBC heist.
In fact, in their pardon request, they claimed to be able to provide tangible evidence and not, simply hearsay evidence.
Doubts raised about Cabinet’s consider pardon requests
The Cabinet has denied all three men’s latest pardon requests, and while the thought of either of them walking free should disgust anyone with an interest in justice being served, the manner in which pardon requests have been handled does raise a number of questions.
As does the fact that with these three latest requests, Cabinet was essentially being asked whether or not to grant a pardon to people who have pledged to implicate their past and present colleagues in a very serious crime.
Suspicions are also raised by the fact that while it would appear that the police believed that granting Muscat a pardon would have seen progress made in the case, then Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar did not have the same point of view.
Testifying before the public inquiry into the journalist’s murder, Muscat’s former lawyer Arthur Azzopardi had said that the Cutajar had informed him during one particular meeting that “the word from above was that Muscat’s information is only hearsay”.
Concerns have been raised that he might have bribed Cutajar to obtain his pardon.
The office of the Prime Minister, as well as the police and attorney general both sat on Muscat’s request for well over two years. This contrasts sharply with the manner in which Theuma was granted a pardon days after requesting one.
While it is true that most of Muscat’s evidence is based on what he had been told, and that Theuma had recordings of Fenech in his possession, one could also argue that Muscat would have had more knowledge about other crimes and might have possibly been more of an asset to the police.
This is especially true when considering that the recordings were already in the police’s possession when the pardon was granted.
It is also worth noting that Theuma’s pardon was accepted by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, acting alone, while all other pardon requests have been decided upon by Cabinet as a whole.
In the aftermath of Muscat striking a deal with the police, comparisons were drawn between him and Italy’s pentiti – mobsters who turned on their brethren and whose testimony proved essential in the state’s efforts to rein in the mafia.
While Muscat has to a certain extent already helped the police make progress in this most heinous of crimes, it would appear that there is little interest in having Muscat expose more people further up the organised crime food chain.
Do you think the police should make another deal with Vince Muscat?