Current Affairs
Il-Koħħu says he feels he was betrayed by the Degiorgio brothers

The cross-examination of Vince Muscat, il-Koħħu, continues in courtroom 22, during the compilation of evidence against brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio. They are charged with the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Yesterday, George and Alfred Degiorgio filed a protest in the First Hall of the Civil Court, in which they are holding the Cabinet responsible for the decision not to grant their request for a Presidential pardon. They have asked the President of the Republic not to adhere to this Cabinet decision and warned that if this decision is not changed, they are ready to open a court case.

9.40 Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit enters the courtroom. Shortly afterwards, Vince Muscat enters. Also present are the Degiorgio brothers.

9.45 The defence lawyer for the Degiorgio brothers, Dr William Cuschieri begins his cross-examination. He asks about the plot to shoot Daphne Caruana Galizia. Muscat says that that was their first plan, to shoot her, and then to go to a garage in Naxxar and afterwards, everyone would go home. Asked how he would leave from Naxxar,  Muscat said that he would leave with his car which would have been parked near the garage. Asked about the garage in Santa Venera, Muscat said that Degiorgio had told him to rent a garage and had found someone to lease the garage in his name. Asked about the rent book, il-Koħħu explained that sometimes he would keep it and at other times he used to dispose of it. He said there was a fake name on the book.

9.50 The lawyer asked whether the garage was being used for other criminal activities. Muscat asked what this question has to do with this case and chose not to answer after the Magistrate told him he has the right not to answer if he feels he will incriminate himself. When the lawyer told him that he received the pardon to tell the whole truth, Vince Muscat replied that the pardon was for the murder of Dr Chircop and not for the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

9.55  Dr Cuschieri asked him about the car they had leased which was exactly the same model as that rented by Daphne Caruana Galizia, in order for them to practice on it. He mentioned that Robert tal-Maksar had told them where they could lease one. Asked whether he had heard Robert saying this, il-Koħħu replied in the negative, saying that he only used to speak to George and Alfred Degiorgio. He added that he knew that when they went, they would find the car ready.

10.00 Muscat confirmed that prior to the murder he had given a lift to Degiorgio to meet Chris Cardona who was a Minister at the time. Dr Cuschieri asked the witness whether he was ever in the company of Alfred Degiorgio and Dr Cardona. At this point, Muscat asks whether he can choose not to reply, with the Magistrate intervening and asking whether they were ever together at the same time. Muscat replies that yes, with the lawyer asking whether they were at a bar having a drink. Muscat once again replies in the affirmative.  When asked whether this was after the murder, Muscat says no and that after the murder he never met with him.

10.15 Muscat confirms that Alfred Degiorgio never told him that he had his name taken down at the Castille register. He said that they did not like having their names taken down anywhere or where there were any cameras.

10.20 Dr Cuschieri asked whether it is true that according to him, Alfred told him that Cardona knew about the murder and the payment. Muscat confirms this and says that is what Alfred told him. He said during a meeting Cardona had sent him a WhatsApp message and told him that there is another group in the plan and that he would be paid €150,000. He said that Alfred told Cardona that they were the group. However, Cardona told him that there were two groups.

10.25 In his testimony, Muscat mentions a person, however, the court orders the name not to be published.  Dr Cuschieri asks whether they had met with Cardona before the murder. Muscat says yes, years ago. Asked about 2017 and if under oath he had said that in the weeks and months prior to the murder they were in the same bar, he said no. Here, the lawyer presses him to say whether he is certain, and once again he replies no. Questioned whether this person whose name cannot be published used to frequent the same bar, he said yes, but years ago.

10.30 Now Muscat is asked about the former Assistant Commissioner Silvio Valletta and a lawyer.  Cuschieri asked whether it was Cardona who was giving them the information about the raids following the murder. Muscat says he does not know but he had the impression that the information was coming from the Minister.  Muscat said that Alfred Degiorgio had told him that the information about the raids was coming from Asst. Comm. Valletta who passed it onto a lawyer. He said someone was sent by Cardona to pass on the information to them.

10.35 Muscat is asked about a person whose name cannot be published. He says this person used to work with Cardona before the 2017 election and that once had gone to the potato shed and begun talking against Minister Cardona for removing him from the Ministry.  Muscat says he believes this person then began working at Castille because he became a Minister’s driver. Muscat added that Alfred was close to Cardona and that Cardona had arranged for Alfred’s daughter to work at the Ministry.

10.40 Questioned whether he was close to the Degiorgio brothers he says yes and that they had always told him the truth, except for once. He referred to a message which Degiorgio had sent on the day of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia to top up the mobile which was used to set off the car bomb. Muscat said, “Supt Keith Arnaud told me that if it had not been for that top-up  … and they never told me and instead, they told me that George was more likely to be arrested and not me”. Asked whether he ever felt betrayed,  il-Koħħu said yes because they knew about the arrests, but they did not tell him the truth and they told him to go to the potato shed so he would be arrested along with them.

10.45 At one pointGeorge Degiorgio is heard telling the lawyer to stop everything, and Dr Cuschieri tries to calm him down. George Degiorgio is asked to be excused, and the Magistrate suspends the sitting for a short time.

10.50 The accused are brought back in. The sitting continues.

10.52 Cuschieri refers to another person whose name cannot be published. He tells Muscat that this person was also close to the Minister and knew about the plan. Muscat confirms this and says that as far as he knows this person knew about it from Keith Schembri. He reiterates that he knew this from the Degiorgio brothers. Muscat adds that this person was always full of praise for Schembri and once told him that he only speaks to Schembri in English. Asked whether he told him that he was involved in the murder, Muscat says no.

11.00 Dr Cuschieri asks about Caruana Galizia’s car at Bidnija. Muscat says that they were observing the car which was never left outside of the gate except for once. Speaking about placing the bomb, Muscat said that George had called him and Alfred and they took the bomb to the fields so that it would be close by and to avoid traffic. He said that Degiorgio told him to take the bomb from Santa Venera. He sent he went to Bidnija for the garage keys.  Asked whether he saw Alfred opening the car and placing the bomb, Muscat said yes. Cuschieri points out that last time he had testified that he had not seen him place the bomb. Muscat said that he had not seen the message which activated the bomb.

Asked about his personal mobile, Muscat said that it was in his car with the battery removed. He did not know where the mobiles belonging to Degiorgio were.

Referring to the fact that George was out at sea, Muscat said that was the plan however he could not say whether he was alone. All he knew was that George had to take his boat out to sea.

11.10 Cuschieri begins asking about how the bomb was activated. The lawyer asks him how he came to the conclusion when he said George pressed the button when he did, and when the bomb went off. Muscat said he was next to Alfred and did not even hear him say, press it. He said that when Mrs Caruana Galizia came out they got up from where they were. He explained that the bomb went off shortly after the button was pressed.

Asked who was watching her with the binoculars when she came out of her home, Muscat said it was Alfred who saw her. He said he was on the mobile with his brother, and Alfred seemed to be angry with his brother. He said from where they were, a bit further down, they could not see anything because of the wall.  He explained that he saw the smoke but did not hear anything.

11.15 The lawyer asks about the mobiles. Muscat says that they had bought four, three for them and another one for Melvin Theuma. They said they had to change them after one of Theuma’s children used his mobile. He said that after the murder they did not need them anywhere. Speaking about the payment for the murder, Muscat said that he did not see Theuma give the money to Alfred Degiorgio.

11.20 Dr Cuschieri once again mentions how the Degiorgio brothers ‘betrayed’ il-Koħħu, Vince Muscat. The lawyer asks him whether he had asked him anything about how he passed on the message. Muscat said he did not ask him anything. He said that they had to arrest George and ask them a few questions. He said the Police had nothing on him and they had no reason to come for him. He said that Alfred had reassured him that they had the power and backing from the outside. The lawyer asks Muscat whether he ever asked Alfred about why these people (with reference to Ministers) are involving themselves in these things, Muscat said no, and said that Alfred probably used to trust him because he never asked questions.  He said that Alfred told him that the Police had nothing on him and that they probably only had something on George. He said he had no reason not to believe Alfred.

11.25 The lawyer says that il-Koħħu had said that they had to interrogate Cardona and another lawyer. Asked whether he had asked what this lawyer had to do with it, Muscat said he does not remember. Dr Cuschieri added that other people were also arrested. He asks if Alfred had told him about these arrests, and Muscat says no and added that some of these people used to be at the potato shed too.

Turning to Cardona’s arrest and the other people who were interrogated, Dr Cuschieri asks when the conversation with Alfred Degiorgio took place. Muscat says that when he was in prison, Alfred told him all about this in 2018. Asked whether he knew about this matter, Muscat said no. Asked whether he had ever confronted Cardona about this, Muscat says no.

11.35 The Court is suspended for a few minutes.

12.30 The sitting resumes. Dr Cuschieri continues with cross-examination of Vince Muscat. He refers again to the person whose name cannot be mentioned and asks whether this person had gone to the potato shed after the murder. Muscat replies in the affirmative and says he had made a thumbs-up sign and a gesture showing an explosion both before and after the crime. To a question by the lawyer, Muscat states this person was a hundred per cent aware of the bomb before the crime.

12.40 Muscat is asked about when he had taken George Degiorgio to Portomaso to meet with Cardona in 2015. He replied that the person whose name cannot be mentioned was aware of the 2014/5 plan for the crime, which had never been carried out. He added he had been present when George Degiorgio started putting pressure on this person for the money when they were in the potato shed.

12.46 Cuschieri refers to another episode when Muscat and the Degiorgio brothers were close to the Mile End shortly before the arrests of December 2017. Muscat explained that they were near the Mile End a few days before 4 December 2017. He said Alfred Degiorgio had told them to hold their heads high, mainly himself. He added they had told him they would be meeting with Cardona. He further stated that after the arrests, Degiorgio had told him to engage David Gatt as a lawyer, and that is why he had told the Police about this. He said he had always refused legal aid.
12.50 The lawyer remarks that during his lifetime Muscat had been involved in crime. At this point, Muscat asks the Magistrate what this has to do with it. When asked what his work involved, Muscat replied he was disabled and did not work. When Muscat was asked how he was able to gamble, the Magistrate said she would not allow Dr Cuschieri to put these types of questions. Dr Cuschieri ends the cross-examination.

12.55 Dr Jason Azzopardi, appearing on behalf of the Caruana Galizia family, starts putting questions. He goes back to April 2018, when Muscat had spoken with the Police. Asked whether he recalled George Degiorgio telling him he had not slept because of something he had said and done, Muscat replied in the affirmative. Asked why they were worried, Muscat replied this was because when Dr Cuschieri came to speak with them, before he arrived they told him they had not slept because he had gone to speak at Police Headquarters. Asked when this had been said, Muscat replied it was about two days later. He added they knew about which case he had spoken to the Police.

Asked about whether they knew what he had told the Police, Muscat said they knew. Dr Azzopardi asked him what he had told the Magistrate about his conversation with Degiorgio on bail. Muscat replied that on one occasion George and Alfred told him they had arranged for bail and would pay 100,000 euro, and were waiting for Judge Mizzi to be on duty so he would grant them bail. Muscat further stated that before the sitting George Degiorgio was happy, but when they were not granted bail they were upset. (On this the Court had denied the request, and Judge Mizzi had stated he had not been approached on this issue).

1pm Azzopardi asks about a mobile phone that had been concealed in prison. Muscat said that in 2018 they had been placed in different divisions. He added that Alfred had told him there were two mobiles in the prison, and the brothers had one of them and had called Theuma.

1.05pm Muscat added that on one occasion the Degiorgio brothers and the lawyers had discussed sending a letter to former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. He said Dr William Cuschieri had asked how he would get this letter to the Prime Minister, and they had told him to leave it in their hands. He added that all three had to sign it, although he was not too happy about it.

Muscat further stated that this letter had not been written. He said he did not know exactly what was to be written, but he remembers the phrase “jaf x’inhu jagħmel” which refers to the murder. At this point, Dr Cuschieri asks whether they agreed he had never written this letter and had never taken it with him to prison. Muscat replied that this was true, but told him he had been there and knew what had been discussed. When the lawyer told him that what he was saying was not true, Muscat replied no one could challenge his eyes and ears.

Cuschieri continued to ask him whether he could confirm he was not aware of this. Muscat confirms this and says the brothers told him this when they were waiting for him. At this point, the Magistrate stated that had the lawyer listened carefully to the witness, he would have known that certain things were said before Dr Cuschieri turned up when he used to go to speak with them in prison.

1.10pm Dr Azzopardi has no further questions, and the cross-examination ends.