A separate, 2015 plot to assassinate journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia taught the alleged hitmen involved, the same men who have been charged in connection with the 2017 murder, to go about things differently the second time around, hitman Vince Muscat told the court.
Muscat, who pleaded guilty to his involvement in the murder in February, provided details to Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit on Tuesday on a different murder plot that was planned to kill the journalist. Muscat’s testimony once again implicated former minister Chris Cardona.
During cross-examination by parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi, Muscat was asked how he knew where Caruana Galizia lived – a piece of information that had emerged during Muscat’s testimony last week.
He could not remember the exact date, but “sometime in 2015” when alleged hitman Alfred Degiorgio was in jail, there was another murder plot in the works, involving himself, George Degiorgio and Jamie Vella. Both Degiorgio and Vella have been charged in the case and are currently undergoing court proceedings – the former as a suspected hitman, the second as a suspected bomb supplier.
Muscat said that between 2014 and 2015, lawyer David Gatt, a former police inspector turned lawyer after he was booted out of the force and who had worked in the same firm as Cardona, had turned up at the government-owned Marsa potato shed – the suspected hitmen’s hangout – and said that he was going to meet Cardona because of Daphne Caruana Galizia and had asked Muscat to take him to Portomaso.
He said that they would have also received €150,000 for that murder, but the money was never given. He explained how they watched her house and identified her car close to the building of The Malta Independent (Caruana Galizia was a columnist for the newspaper).
“But we never did anything, George Degiorgio kept asking David Gatt for a €50,000 deposit, but the money never came,” he said.
The plot for how to go about the hit was already planned out, Muscat told Azzopardi. The plan was to kill the journalist by shooting her with an AK47 rifle close to her home. Degiorgio would block the path and Vella would shoot, Muscat said.
It was the lack of payment that made the plan fall through. This led the suspected hitmen to do things differently the second time around when self-confessed middleman Melvin Theuma approached Alfred Degiorgio about a new plot, an assassination which was needed urgently, prior to “details emerging”.
Muscat said that this time they asked Theuma for a deposit of €30,000 in advance in case the plans fail as they did the first time.
Azzopardi tried to pin the approximate timeline of when the first request by Theuma came about. “Was it close to February 2017, following the Romeo Bone car bomb?” asked Azzopardi. Bone had survived the attack but lost both his legs.
Muscat could not remember the exact timeframe but recalled that it was postponed because of the election. “Theuma had said there was an election, so let’s wait till the election happens,” Muscat recalled.
Azzopardi also asked Muscat about yet another murder plot, to kill a policeman. In his questioning, Azzopardi indicated this plot coincided with plans to murder Caruana Galizia. Muscat said that Vella and Robert Agius Tal-Maksar were linked to this. Agius is also a suspected bomb supplier in the Caruana Galizia case.
The bomb, the court heard on Tuesday, was brought down to Malta by Vella and Agius some time in August or September, by catamaran from Sicily.
With friends like these
On Tuesday, Muscat spoke of the closeness between former Economy Minister Chris Cardona and the Degiorgio brothers.
Muscat already hinted at the relationship last week, when he said that Cardona and former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri knew about the assassination plot prior to it being executed and that he had given Degiorgio lifts to Castille to meet the former Minister. Degiorgio would then come back and relay the information to Muscat. Cardona has denied the claims, calling Muscat’s testimony “pure evil fiction”.
When asked specifically about his own relationship with Cardona, Muscat said that he got to know him in 2010 when Cardona represented him legally for his involvement in the HSBC heist .
Asked whether he ever met Cardona when he was Minister, Muscat revealed that he met him once or twice in a bar in Valletta, which Azzopardi identified as Stables bar. Muscat said that when he was granted bail, Cardona wanted to organise a meal for him.
His testimony portrayed a close-knit relationship between Cardona and the Degiorgio brothers. He said the Degiorgios “were his friends”. Later on in the testimony, he reiterated that Cardona “was close” with the Degiorgios.
Azzopardi questioned Muscat as to why he would have felt comfortable confiding in a Minister about matters related to the murder. Azzopardi was referring to Muscat’s previous testimony where he said that Alfred Degiorgio would speak to Cardona for information.
“Was it because of a previous big hit involving Cardona?”
Muscat agreed, saying that they were not worried because Cardona was involved in another crime which they had carried out, along with another sitting minister.
“Did you have help from a current minister?” asked Azzopardi. “Yes,” replied Muscat.
He reminded the court that all that he knew was from conversations he had had with the Degiorgio brothers.
In November, media reports revealed that, when revealing information about past crimes to the police, Muscat had said that he could name a former Labour politician who he believes aided in planning a heist on HSBC in 2010. Azzopardi had then revealed that a current politician was also involved – which Muscat confirmed today.