Supplying a bomb the size of two cigarette packets, providing training on how to detonate it, and borrowing a car similar to that of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia to practice unlocking the door – these were some of the roles taken on by the two accused, according to Police Inspector Keith Arnaud’s testimony on Tuesday.
The compilation of evidence against Robert Agius (Tal-Maksar) and Jamie Vella, among others, began on Tuesday, in which the two are charged with supplying the car bomb which killed Caruana Galizia. Agius’ brother, Adrian Agius, and suspected hitman George Degiorgio also form part of the accused charged for a separate murder: that of lawyer Carmel Chircop in 2015.
Vella and Degiorgio have been charged with executing Chircop’s murder, while both Maksar brothers have been charged with commissioning the murder.
Speaking about new findings in the Daphne Caruana Galizia case, Arnaud’s testimony before Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo made many references to information obtained from hitman Vince Muscat, who pled guilty to his involvement in the murder in February, corroborated with evidence that had been previously gathered by the police.
Arnaud said that according to Vince Muscat, Agius and Vella had supplied the bomb and shown alleged hitman Alfred Degiorgio how to go about detonating it with a mobile phone. The pair had also provided Degiorgio with rifles to potentially shoot Caruana Galizia, Arnaud said. George Degiorgio, Arnaud added, “always wished to use a bomb, so they concentrated on the bomb”.
The bomb contained 500g of explosives for it to be “successful”, especially since a previous bomb with 50g of explosives used on car bomb victim Romeo Bone did not kill him and was deemed a “failure”, the Court heard. Bone was the victim of a car bomb explosion a few months prior to that of Caruana Galizia. He survived the attack but lost his legs.
Arnaud also told the Court that Agius and Vella had borrowed a similar car to that of Caruana Galizia for a couple of hours so that the hitmen could practice opening the lock, and Degiorgio was allegedly given some petrol which would help the device work more smoothly, packaged within a small water bottle.
In recent weeks, Muscat has taken Arnaud around different locations to explain how and where the plan for the assassination was put together. Arnaud said that separate findings by the police matched Muscat’s explanation.
The Naxxar garage was one of the locations Arnaud was shown by Muscat. The police found that, at the time, the garage had been lent to Agius by a third party, John Bugeja, who owed Agius money and therefore lent him the garage and payed for the rent.
The Maksar brothers – Robert Agius and Adrian Agius – as well as Vella, were part of the group of persons that the police had originally arrested in connection with the murder in 2017, but they were quickly discharged. Arnaud said that as time passed the investigators knew that Agius and Vella were the ones who supplied the bomb, but it was “only a fact” and they had no evidence to proceed against the individuals.
Throughout the sitting, much of the information relayed by Arnaud, given by Vince Muscat, corroborated with what self-confessed middleman Melvin Theuma has said under oath.
Muscat said he would get to know information from Melvin Theuma through Alfred Degiorgio, who would meet up with Theuma in Msida. They did not know who had commissioned the murder, Muscat said, as Theuma had previously mentioned.
Arnaud told the magistrate what Muscat said to him about the day of the assassination: 16 October 2017. On that day, Alfred Degiorgio had informed them during the night prior to the murder that the car was parked outside Caruana Galizia’s home. Arnaud said that they picked up the bomb from the Naxxar garage, and George Degiorgio dropped off Muscat and Alfred Degiorgio at Caruana Galizia’s residence, where they unlocked the car and placed the bomb under the seat.
Muscat slept at Degiorgio’s house in St Paul’s Bay and they went back the next morning, Arnaud said. Following the murder, they immediately went to pick up the money from Melvin Theuma.
“They had already gotten €30,000 from Melvin Theuma – €10,000 each – and the rest (€120,000) was given after the murder. Vince Muscat received €50,000 for the murder,” Arnaud said.
In questioning by parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi, Arnaud said that Vince Muscat told him that they knew about the arrest in the potato shed of George Degiorgio at least three weeks before.
During the questioning, Arnaud also revealed that Muscat told him that the alleged hitmen were also planning on murdering the journalist with a bomb in Valletta. They had once followed her to the Phoenicia Hotel and another time to Notte Bianca.
Tal-Maksar brothers also provided gun for 2015 murder
Arnaud said that Muscat informed the police that it was him, together with Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio, who carried out the killing of Chircop. From a stolen car, Vella had fired the shots as Chircop approached his garage. Degiorgio had driven the car after the hit was done, he said.
The gun was also given to them by the Maksar brothers, according to Arnaud’s testimony. Arnaud also told the Court that Vince Muscat had received €20,000 for that murder, half of which was given by Robert Agius. The police believe that the motive of the killing was tied to money – some €700,000 that Chircop was owed by Adrian Agius over the sale of property.
Arnaud said Chircop was found with eight bullet wounds. Inspector Arnaud also presented documents showing a route taken by a car following the murder, drawn from CCTV footage.
Farrugia Frendo is the third magistrate to be assigned to this case. On Friday, Magistrate Nadine Lia recused herself on the request of the Caruana Galizia family’s lawyer. Previously, Magistrate Marse-Anne Farrugia had recused herself because she had been involved in the magisterial inquiry into Chircop’s assassination. Magistrates are assigned by blind ballot.