Isn’t it time for another police press conference?

Maybe the time has come for another police press conference; this time, to explain to us the specific basis for their conclusion that: “no politician was involved in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder”.

OK, let’s try and work this one out for ourselves. On February 24, Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà addressed a press conference about the latest developments in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation.

In that conference, he claimed that: a) “With the evidence we have, we are in a position to say that every person involved, be it mastermind or accomplice, is under arrest or facing charges”, and; b) “investigators had no evidence so far that a politician was involved in the journalist’s 2017 murder.”

Meanwhile, in a separate press conference – held, curiously enough, one day before – Prime Minister Robert Abela assured us all that: “No past or present politicians have been found to have been involved in the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia thus far.”

Both those declarations, as far as we know, were based on the confession of one of the hitmen – Vincent Muscat – who is now the prime witness in the case against two of his former accomplices (Alfred and George Degiorgio).

And yet, when the same Vincent Muscat took the witness stand last Wednesday… he went on to name-drop ‘past and present politicians’ (not to mention high-ranking police officers) left, right and centre.

Among other things, he told the court that: “Alfred came to me one time [note: before the murder]. He told me, ‘Ċens, let me go and meet (minister) Chris Cardona, maybe he’ll give us information. I never met Cardona. But this is what Degiorgio told me. He would go to Castille and speak to him. I would drop him off and go. He would then call me about [Caruana Galizia’s] whereabouts. One time, Alfred told me ‘Cardona sent me a message. He mentioned the €150,000. He said there are two groups… they quoted the same price’.”

Muscat also insinuated that – after the murder, but before any arrests were made – lawyer David Gatt knew about their involvement; and that Degiorgio surmised that the source of his information could be none other than Keith Schembri.

And – much more importantly, in the overall chronology of events – it was also suggested that Gatt was aware of the plot even before the murder had taken place: “One time, David had told me ‘how long is it going to take you to get rid of her? The Bidnija witch’. I hadn’t spoken to him before… Gatt would make explosion noises to me, but he didn’t talk to me. I understood that the thumbs-up meant that Keith was the ‘number one’ in Malta. Gatt told me nothing but George Degiorgio told me ‘he is Kasco’s man…’”

If there is any truth to these allegations, it would suggest that – contrary to Gafà’s (and Abela’s) claims – not everyone who was involved in the plot to murder Daphne Carauana Galizia has, to date, been arrested. It would also imply that at least two ‘politicians’ (note: I use the word loosely with regard to Keith Schembri) could have been involved to some degree, at least going by what Muscat claims… with one of them even doubling up as a possible ‘mandante’, alongside prime suspect Yorgen Fenech.

Either way, Muscat’s testimony certainly paints a very different picture from the one we were given by the Police Commissioner last month.

So if nothing else, we are owed an explanation for how, exactly, Angelo Gafà could have been so confident in asserting that ‘every person involved’ has been apprehended (when the source of his own certainty seems to be suggesting otherwise in open court).

Admittedly, there are a few answers already staring us in the face. The most obvious was pointed out by Chris Cardona himself: i.e., that Muscat’s entire testimony (or at least, insofar as it concerns both himself and Keith Schembri) has so far been nothing but hearsay… and as such, it is inadmissible in a court of law.

Or is it? Because this is another thing that baffles me about this particular case. As we all saw last Wednesday, Vincent Muscat’s evidence – hearsay though it undeniably was – was clearly ‘admitted’ by the courts. At no point did the judge intervene to silence him as he was making those supposedly ‘inadmissible’ claims; nor (even more suspiciously) did the Degiorgio’s defence team object to this part of his testimony.

This brings us to another small problem with the ‘hearsay’ aspect of Muscat’s testimony. Whether or not the evidence itself was allowed to stand… from a court procedure point of view, it remains insufficient basis for the prosecution – still less, conviction – of either Cardona or Schembri. To that end, the police would have to rely on more than just ‘he told me’, or ‘I heard that’, etc. etc. On this, at least, I think that any level-headed person would agree.

But that’s looking at it from a strictly ‘court procedure’ point of view. From the perspective of a police investigation, on the other hand, it doesn’t quite work the same way. At interrogation stage, even hearsay evidence has to be considered as – at minimum – a possible lead. And while it still remains insufficient, for charges to be pressed… that would change considerably, if the same hearsay evidence can also be corroborated by other evidence of a more tangible, convincing nature.

Take, for instance, the claim that Chris Cardona ‘messaged’ Alfred Degiorgio, with a mention of the €150,000 bounty. If true – and depending on the precise format of the ‘message’ itself (was it an SMS? A Whatsapp chat? Smoke-signals? Etc., etc.) – that is precisely the sort of evidence than can be properly corroborated in the course of a police investigation.

As far as I am aware, Chris Cardona has not – like Keith Schembri before – claimed to have ‘lost his mobile phone’. And in any case, the Secret Service is surely empowered to retrieve such information from service providers, as part of a murder investigation.

This raises the question of whether the information provided by Muscat at interrogation stage – where the ‘hearsay rule’ doesn’t really count – was properly followed up by the investigators.

Meanwhile, the Police Commissioner has publicly confirmed that – ‘with the evidence we have’ (important proviso, that) – the investigation has decided to rule out the possibility of any truth to Muscat’s allegations about both Cardona and Schembri… so… um… how are we supposed to interpret that, exactly?

Reason I ask is that there are a number of possibilities; and all of them raise problems of their own. Let us, for argument’s sake, assume that the police did follow up on those allegations… and found no plausible evidence, of any kind, to back them up.

This is, indeed, what I would like to believe really happened (even if only because the alternative – i.e., that the police deliberately chose to ignore possible evidence pointing towards the involvement of politicians in Daphne’s murder – would be unthinkable).

But if this is really the case… what does it tell us about the credibility of the rest of Vincent Muscat’s evidence: upon which so much now depends? If this part of his testimony can be safely dismissed as – to quote Chris Cardona – ‘an evil fiction’… how much else of the case against Daphne Carauana Galizia’s murderers is also – at minimum – ‘unreliable’?

Not to be too alarmist, or anything… but we could, in fact, be staring at the grounds for a possible future acquittal of both Alfred and George Degiorgio, and possibly the other arrested suspects too.

But even that prospect pales into insignificance, compared to some of the other possibilities. I shall have to be cautious in wording the next sentence: but let’s just say that there is already a widespread perception out there, that the police have not exactly ‘left no stone unturned’ in their investigation of this particular murder; and – to make matters worse – Muscat’s own testimony seems at a glance to only buttress that perception (he claimed former assistant commissioner Silvio Valletta as a possible source of information leaked to the murderers, but Valletta has denied this).

From this perspective, the Police Commissioner’s assurances – on their own – are hardly going to be enough to allay popular suspicions that this case is in fact very far from being ‘solved’. And this will not just damage the reputation of the Malta Police Force – which has, let’s face it, already been dragged through the muck in this particular case – but, for reasons already outlined, it may even impinge on a future successful conviction of the suspects already on trial.

All things considered then… maybe the time has come for another police press conference; this time, to explain to us the specific basis for their conclusion that: “every person involved, be it mastermind or accomplice, is under arrest or facing charges”… and, more specifically still, that “no politician was involved in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder”.