We decided to take him up on the task. We’ll start with Zeppi l-Hafi, and in a later instalment we’ll revisit Egrant.
So here’s the full story (as far as we know) behind the assassination attempt of the Nationalist government’s ex-Chief of Staff Richard Cachia Caruana and the pardon that was granted to Zeppi l-Hafi to solve the case.
1. Just before Christmas in 1994, a man was stabbed as he was getting out of his car in the dark streets of Mdina, where he lives. It was Richard Cachia Caruana, the right-hand man of then Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami.
Spoiler alert: He miraculously survived the attempt on his life and was retained by the Prime Minister until Fenech Adami stepped down in 2004, shortly after the final court case was decided and he completed their project to take Malta into the European Union. Fenech Adami later served as President of Malta.
2. The case was ‘solved’ within two years but only after Zeppi l-Hafi reached out to Eddie Fenech Adami’s driver and said he wanted to confess to the crime in return for a pardon on several crimes he committed, a move which drew widespread criticism until today.
Zeppi l-Hafi (his real name is Joseph Fenech) used to be a bodyguard of Fenech Adami in the 1980s. They agreed to meet under a bridge in the dead of night, a move which haunted Fenech Adami drew widespread criticism until today.
The Nationalist Cabinet granted Zeppi l-Hafi a wide-ranging pardon and the issue was immediately poisoned with political bickering, with Labour’s propaganda machines implying the Prime Minister was blackmailed into granting a pardon to his old friend Zeppi l-Hafi.
3. Zeppi l-Hafi ran a Labour Party bar in St Julian’s at the time he got involved in the attempt to assassinate Cachia Caruana. He was also part of a drug trafficking ring.
The person he accused of masterminding Cachia Caruana’s assassination was Meinrad Calleja, a drug trafficker who also happened to be the son of the ex-Armed Forces of Malta Commander Maurice Calleja.
4. A year before the assassination attempt, Maurice Calleja had to resign after it emerged that his son Meinrad was using the family home to transfer large amounts of drugs to his sister who would then pass them on to Zeppi l-Hafi.
Maurice Calleja was responsible for external borders at the time his son was caught drug trafficking. He had originally been appointed Commander of Dom Mintoff’s army’s Task Force and was later placed by the Nationalist administration as Commander of Armed Forces of Malta when the two army units were re-merged.
5. When Zeppi l-Hafi confessed to being the middleman in the stabbing, two of the hired hitmen Ian Farrugia and Carmel Attard confessed their involvement to the police.
Carmel Attard, iz-Zambi, eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 years.
6. The other alleged hitman, Ian Farrugia, ended up pleading not guilty in court and was acquitted, even as an accessory to the crime, despite his original police confession and the fact that he left his palm print on Cachia Caruana’s car.
This happened because an eye-witness in the case had belatedly identified Zeppi l-Hafi at the scene of the crime and it sparked doubts in the majority of juror’s minds because it dented the credibility of Zeppi l-Hafi who said he was not in Mdina that night.
The decision to acquit Farrugia also sparked a national discussion about jury selections and Labour accused the government of sour grapes.
Farrugia’s lawyers at the time were now Speaker Anglu Farrugia and lawyer Edward Gatt, who today represents Keith Schembri. Farrugia’s first lawyers were now minister Jose Herrera and PN candidate Joe Giglio but they had to renounce their brief when he told them he had lied.
Farrugia later served jail time for the theft of paintings from Judge Giovanni Bonello’s house.
7. Zeppi l-Hafi’s pardon also led to the prosecution of Meinrad Calleja on both drug trafficking charges and masterminding the murder.
After Zeppi l-Hafi’s credibility was dented by Farrugia’s acquittal, the case against Calleja also weakened and resulted in an acquittal.
But the jury in charge of the drug case found Calleja guilty and the judge imprisoned him for 15 years, meaning the pardon was at least partly successful – not only with hitman Carmel Attard but even with Calleja’s drug charges.
8. The lawyers defending Meinrad Calleja at the time were Manuel Mallia, who was in 2013 made Home Affairs Minister only for him to resign when his driver was involved in a shootout, and Ramona Frendo who appeared on billboards of the Labour Party in 2013 promoting meritocracy and was appointed by the government as a judge on the EU general court.
9. One of the first decisions of Joseph Muscat and Manuel Mallia in June 2013 was to place Maurice Calleja on the board of the AFM’s commission on “injustices” in 2013, sending the signal that he considered what happened to the Calleja family an injustice.
Bonus. The Daphne Connection
Assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia also played a significant role in this story. She was then a reporter at Times of Malta and had written an article in 1993 that Maurice Calleja was being expected to resign. Even though the article was unsigned, people knew she had written it and she soon began fearing for her life. Read this article from her testimony in the Meinrad Calleja trial. Her words are even more chilling today given she was killed 13 years later in a car bomb.
In a nutshell: The only other victim of a political assassination attempt in Malta, besides Caruana Galizia, was Richard Cachia Caruana, the chief-of-staff of former Nationalist Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami.
Labour has always implied that Fenech Adami gave a Presidential pardon to an old friend abusively but the argument sounds a lot like when they try to blame Matthew Caruana Galizia for his mother’s murder.
In truth, the case highlights the complexity of ensuring convictions in highly-politicised murder cases, even with the use of presidential pardons and even when there’s someone like Fenech Adami actually leaving no stone unturned to solve the crime – even at his own political detriment.
Then again, the people accused of being involved in the plot all ended up jailed. One because he confessed. The other got sentenced on drug trafficking charges despite being acquitted of the murder. And the other was spared jail on this case only to end up there after getting caught for stealing paintings from a judge’s house.
Justice works in mysterious ways.
Join us next time when we revisit Egrant, or E-Grant as Keith Schembri called it.