The testimony last week of a convicted hitman involved in the brutal assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017, in which he named members of government in the plot, has raised concern and questions about the police commissioner’s statement only a few days earlier.
Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa’ is facing pressure to explain his declaration last month that “all those involved in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia have been caught” and that “investigators had no evidence so far that a politician was involved”.
The hitman, Vince Muscat (known as ‘il-Kohhu’), was given a pardon in connection with another murder to also reveal details on the Caruana Galizia case. This was on the recommendation of the police investigators. Public reaction has questioned why the police may now have doubts about his testimony and whether this is the reason for their failure to move in on the politicians the hitman named? Or will the police let them get away with murder?
Commissioner Gafa’s statement was in line with the stand taken by Prime Minister Robert Abela a day earlier when announcing a presidential pardon to Vince Muscat.
The hitman was not the only one to name the politicians: Former Economy Minister and Labour Deputy Leader Chris Cardona, and Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri. Their names have repeatedly been mentioned in court in the ongoing cases against those accused as well as the public inquiry. Disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat (“ix-xiħ“) is also mentioned in the recordings of middleman turned State witness Melvin Theuma.
Below is a brief on those being mentioned so far. Although the police have called all of them in for questioning, there is no information about the outcome or whether the police have any intention of pressing charges.
The Shift has consulted lawyers to understand procedures and assess whether the police may need more time to do their job. They said the police would be justified in proceeding with charges against at least some of the individuals being listed for crimes such as derailing investigations, obstruction of justice and knowledge of a crime prior to its execution.
Chris Cardona, a former criminal lawyer and one of Joseph Muscat’s most prominent Ministers, was a suspect from day one – he was immediately called to court by the inquiring magistrate a few hours after the murder.
According to Vince Muscat’s testimony in court last week, Cardona was involved in a first plot to kill the journalist, which was aborted. A second attempt led to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder by a car bomb.
Vince Muscat described how he would drive Alfred Degiorgio (one of the three alleged hitmen) to meet Chris Cardona at his Ministry and Castille. He also said that after the murder, Cardona used to give the Degiorgios information on police investigations.
Muscat also explained how Cardona’s driver, Toni Sammut (known as ‘l-Iblah’), used to pass on information about the murder investigations to the Degiorgios.
Cardona was similarly implicated by Melvin Theuma, who was also given a pardon to give evidence about what he knew about the assassination.
Under oath, Theuma said that Cardona used to send messages through lawyer David Gatt to the Degiorgios, including a threat not to implicate the former minister in the murder or he will have them killed.
He also said that through another close associate, whose nickname starts with a ‘B’ (later revealed as ‘Il-Bigly’), Cardona passed money to the Degiorgios to kill Caruana Galizia.
While giving evidence in court about interrogations held with Yorgen Fenech, the police said that the man accused of commissioning the murder had implicated Cardona in the assassination and also presented a letter, allegedly written by Keith Schembri, on Cardona’s involvement in the murder.
Cardona was at odds with the journalist, following a story she published a few months before her assassination in which she claimed that Cardona was seen at a German brothel together with his consultant while on government business. He sued Caruana Galizia, even obtaining a €46,000 garnishee order, freezing the journalist’s funds.
The Minister dropped the case as he was due to testify on evidence, including the mobile data obtained by the court on the whereabouts of the Minister on the night of the brothel allegations. Caruana Galizia had already been brutally murdered at this point.
Cardona admits knowing the Degiorgios but denies all claims.
The ‘power behind the throne’ at Castille under Joseph Muscat’s premiership, Keith Schembri is involved in all of Labour’s major scandals.
He has been implicated in the journalist’s assassination from the start since his name has been raised repeatedly in accounts of the infamous early morning Cabinet meeting in November 2019, which led to Joseph Muscat’s unplanned resignation.
The main reason was an alleged plot uncovered by the police that showed Schembri was encouraging murder suspect Yorgen Fenech to place the blame for the assassination on Chris Cardona. This was done through written notes by Schembri that were passed on to Fenech through third parties, doctor Adrian Vella said under oath.
According to the latest court declarations by Vince Muscat, the former chief of staff at Castille was aware of the assassination plot to kill the journalist.
Muscat said that the other hitmen, the Degiorgio brothers, had told him that lawyer David Gatt was told by ‘Kasco’ about the murder and was pressuring them to get it done.
According to Muscat, George Degiorgio had also told him that Gatt was “Kasco’s man”.
The disgraced former chief of staff has been repeatedly implicated in the assassination by both Melvin Theuma and Yorgen Fenech.
Theuma had said that Fenech and Schembri were behind the plot and that he feared for his life after the journalist’s assassination.
Theuma was given a government job by Schembri soon after a decision was made to kill the journalist, while his right-hand man at Castille, Kenneth Camilleri, visited Theuma with messages a number of times.
Schembri’s name is also repeatedly mentioned during the ‘secret recordings’ of conversations that Theuma recorded with Fenech over the assassination plot, the payments to the hitmen and leaks on police investigations following the murder.
Schembri also spent some 30 minutes on the phone with Fenech before he was arrested for trying to flee the country on his boat.
He denies all claims while telling police he lost his mobile phone.
He was arrested and interrogated several times, and his assets were frozen, but he was never arraigned, not even on charges of obstruction of justice.
Keith Schembri had declined to give his e-mail and iCloud passport to the police, who searched Schembri’s office only 10 days after his arrest.
Vince Muscat testified that most of the information about the police investigations on the Caruana Galiza murder, including precise information on when they were going to be arrested, came from Silvio Valletta – at the time married to Minister Justyne Caruana.
Valletta admitted in court that he felt obliged to pass information about police investigations to Keith Schembri.
In recordings played in court, continuous reference is made by Melvin Theuma and Yorgen Fenech to information they were receiving from ‘Valletta l-ohxon’, the way the two used to refer to Silvio Valletta.
In his role as Head of the Criminal Investigations Department, Valletta was part of the investigations into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination. During that time, he travelled with the murder suspect to watch a football match in London.
Both Theuma and Yorgen Fenech also mention Valletta as their informer inside the police force.
Valletta denies all claims. The police interrogated him, but no further action was taken.
The former police inspector turned lawyer working in the legal office of Chris Cardona was also named by Vince Muscat in his testimony last week.
According to Muscat, Gatt visited the infamous potato shed in Marsa where the hitmen hung out to plan Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder. He passed on messages from Chris Cardona and Keith Schembri to the assassins.
Muscat said the Degiorgios used to refer to Gatt as “Kasco’s man”.
Gatt was also mentioned in a note allegedly penned by Keith Schembri in a script for what Fenech was to tell the police under interrogation. He is described in the letter as the coordinator of the car bomb with the assassins on behalf of former Minister Chris Cardona.
According to one of the notes, which the doctor Adrian Vella said under oath was given to him by Schembri to pass to Fenech:
“David Gatt was the person who would coordinate everything at the potato shed in Marsa, and sometimes he would also be with Chris Cardona at Stables and Ferdinand’s (two bars)”.
For some time, David Gatt had George Degiorgio as his client.
The former police inspector who was booted out of the force was also implicated in a hold up on the HSBC bank branch in Balzan years earlier. He was later cleared of his involvement based on the discrediting of Mario Portelli as the main witness by Gatt’s lawyer on “mental health grounds”.
In February 2019, Portelli took to social media to declare he knew of Gatt and Cardona’s involvement in the assassination. He was locked up in a mental health institution…twice.
Gatt denies the accusations and any involvement in the Caruana Galizia murder.
Toni Sammut (l-Iblah)
Toni Sammut (known as ‘Toni l-Iblah’) used to work at Chris Cardona’s Ministry as a messenger and sometimes as his driver. Vince Muscat named him as the one passing messages to the murderers on behalf of the former Minister.
According to Muscat, the messages were over an aborted assassination attempt on the journalist and later with information on ongoing police investigations after the actual murder.
Muscat told the court that ‘Toni l-Iblah’ was the go-between the assassins and Minister Cardona.
Sammut was also mentioned in the infamous note that Keith Schembri passed on to Yorgen Fenech.
According to the note, Chris Cardona, Toni Sammut and Alfred Degiorgio used to meet frequently at Ferdinand’s bar in Siggiewi, in which discussions about the assassination were held.
Sammut was arrested and interrogated by the police during the 2019 government meltdown following the arrest of Melvin Theuma.
He denies any involvement, and no charges have been ever brought against him.
Adrian Vella was the personal doctor of both Keith Schembri and Yorgen Fenech. He was also the doctor contracted by the Tumas Group to serve their hotels.
Under oath, Vella admitted that while Yorgen Fenech was in police custody, he gave him notes from Keith Schembri attempting to pin the assassination on Chris Cardona.
Vella was interrogated by the police but never charged.
Questions to Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa
1 Is the Police Commissioner planning to hold a press conference to explain to the public why political persons and others repeatedly implicated in the assassination plot / obstruction of justice have not yet been arraigned over a series of possible crimes?
2 What is the police doing on the serious and repeated claims against former Minister Chris Cardona, former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta, Dr Adrian Vella, Dr David Gatt and Toni Sammut k/a ‘l-Iblah’?
3 Are the police selecting what and who to investigate, focusing on the few and leaving out the rest? Why is this being done?
4 What led to the Police Commissioner’s declaration that no politicians were involved? Is he still of the same opinion following the latest court revelations?
5 Is the public expected to think that the Daphne Caruana Galizia investigation is closed, or are more arraignments on the way?
6 Are the police dedicating the same resources, including foreign assistance, to make sure that all those involved, and repeatedly mentioned in court, including politicians, face justice?
The police replied:
“With reference to your questions, the Commissioner held an extensive press conference on the 24th of February 2021 where all questions asked, including those related to the investigations related to Ms Caruana Galizia’s murder, were answered accordingly.
During the same press conference, the Commissioner had also explained among others that a number of investigations are still ongoing in coordination with Europol.”