UPDATED: Magistrate Lia recuses herself from compilation against the Agius brothers, George Degiorgio and Jamie Vella
Three of the four men arrested in connection with the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia as well as the murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop were expected this morning to start undergoing proceedings in court. However, the sitting took an expected turn when Magistrate Nadine Lia was requested to recuse herself.
Robert Agius and Jamie Vella are being charged with providing the bomb which killed Caruana Galiza in October 2017. Vella today did not appear in Court with Col. Alex Dalli presenting a medical certificate on his behalf because Vella is under mandatory quarantine until 11 March.
Adrian Agius is being charged with the murder of Dr Chircop. He was killed by four gunshots in a garage complex in Birkirkara in 2015. Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio are being charged with carrying out the murder of Dr Chircop.
Dr Jason Azzopardi who is appearing parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family asked Magistrate Nadine Lia to recuse herself from hearing this compilation of evidence. He referred to another case, dating back to 3 December 2019, the Police vs. Yorgen Fenech, when he said that the same Magistrate had recused herself.
While declaring absolute confidence in Magistrate Lia, the Office of the Attorney General also supported the request for Magistrate Lia to recuse herself in the light of the decree issued in December 2019.
George Degiorgio’s defence attorney objected to this request, saying that Degiorgio is being accused of the murder of Dr Chircop and therefore the request for recusal has nothing to do with these charges.
He added that he does not feel it is right for the parte civile to get to choose the sitting Magistrate on the case for reasons which have absolutely nothing to do with the charges Degiorgio is being charged with.
The sitting was suspended for four hours until the Magistrate withdrew from the courtroom in order to decide on the issue. Shortly after 12.30 p.m. George Degiorgio was brought back into the courtroom under tight security and was seen to speak with his lawyer. The Agius brothers, known as Ta’ Maksar, were also brought in. The three accused were accompanied by eight officers from the Corradino Correctional Facility, all armed. Prisons Director Colonel Alex Dalli was overseeing the security and the operation.
Magistrate Nadine Lia returned to the courtroom and in reference to the request to recuse herself, explained that the name of the Magistrate is drawn by lot, and those who had objected today had not objected so that the name of the same Magistrate or some other name would not be part of this draw. The Magistrate added that after the first arraignment the parte civile had not raised any objection about who should hear this case. The Magistrate further stated it did not make sense that the parte civile raised this objection today when the Prosecution was prepared to start presenting witnesses.
The Magistrate pointed out that the reasons for recusal include that the same Magistrate is related to the person, will have spoken publicly about this person, or has a direct or indirect interest in the case. The Magistrate added that not every suspicion of impartiality should call for recusal.
Although she did not feel the need to recuse herself, and after stating that the Court of Malta is able to rise above any partisanship, the Magistrate felt it would be better if she recused herself from this case, even to be consistent with decisions taken in the recent past. The Magistrate then left the Courtroom immediately, after stating that the case will now be heard by another Magistrate.
Who are brothers Adrian and Robert Agius?
The names of Adrian and Robert Agius and Jamie Vella were already on file with the Police in the investigation of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Two months after the murder they were among the ten people who were arrested at the same time in different areas, however they were released.
They were arrested again eight days ago. Two of them are being investigated for the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galiza in 2017 while the three of them are helping in the investigations into the murder of Dr Carmel Chircop in 2015.
One of the brothers, Adrian Agius, was mentioned in the saga of More Supermarkets. It was reported that he had put his property as a guarantee against a loan of €750,000 which Dr Chircop had given to Ryan Schembri in 2014 for this supermarket chain. Agius was also the director of a company linked to Schembri – Interaa Holdings. In September of the same year, Schembri fled from Malta and a year later Dr Chircop was murdered.
Adrian’s brother, Robert, was arraigned in court on drug trafficking in 2012, however the case was dropped because the Court said the Prosecution had not provided enough evidence to prove he had carried out the crime.
The father of the two men was killed in 2008, but the case has not yet been solved. On 24 April 2008, Raymond Agius was shot and killed while he was at a bar in Birkirkara. He died on the spot.