Police suspected Carmel Chircop was killed over More Supermarkets loan

Police had already investigated and questioned Adrian Agius as a chief suspect on the murder of Chircop, after the lawyer’s widow confirmed an outstanding matter of business between the two men on the defunct More Supermarkets chain

Police have long suspected that Birkirkara lawyer Carmel Chircop had been murdered over monies he was owed on a credit he extended to More Supermarkets: their chief suspect had been Adrian Agius ‘tal-Maksar’, whose brother Robert is also charged with having supplied the bomb that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Suspect Adrian Agius appeared in court today charged with co-conspirator Jamie Vella and Caruana Galizia murder suspect George Degiorgio of the murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop in Birkirkara in 2015. Agius’s brother Robert Agius and Jamie Vella are charged with supplying the bomb that killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017.

The Agius brothers, known by their family nickname ‘tal-Maksar’, pleaded not guilty to the amended charges, which now also implicate Robert Agius as part of the Chircop murder. Jamie Vella, unemployed, pleaded not guilty. George Degiorgio’s lawyer informed the court that his client will not reply to any questions.

Police had already investigated and questioned Adrian Agius as a chief suspect on the murder of Chircop, after the lawyer’s widow confirmed an outstanding matter of business between the two men on the defunct More Supermarkets chain.

Prosecuting inspector Keith Arnaud said Agius had confirmed meeting Chircop at a Naxxar café to discuss outstanding money issues, after Chircop loaned the supermarket chain €750,000 interest-free.

“Chircop would persistently chase him for money but that there were no arguments… The intention was to develop the warehouse into offices. But it was on a promise of sale which Chircop was due to earn €700,000 from. The sale was for €3 million. Adrian Agius complained that he had made it appear as a loan to avoid tax and insisted he had no reason to kill the lawyer. Agius had told police that he was going to challenge the validity of the agreement which was made before a notary,” Arnaud told the court.

Agius had denied any involvement in the murder of Chircop and had given details on the business he had with Chircop to the police.

The Qormi warehouse had to be transferred to Chircop and then sold to More Supermarkets, but the promise of sale was never signed. Chircop had engaged Agius to gather €600,000 he was due from Ryan Schembri, who was the owner of More Supermarket.

Chircop’s widow had also told police that she would hear her husband complain to Agius about the money. “The widow explained to the police that there was a particular problem with Adrian Agius. She said that there were some payments due to Chircop from Agius and to pay this, he had taken her with him to Agius’ villa in Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq, which was supposed to be given as payment. They ended up not taking the villa and the amount remained pending.”

A garnishee over his business was mentioned and the villa was put up as collateral. The lawyer had not accepted to be paid by instalments. Agius had not explained to the police why he suddenly started hanging out with George Degiorgio.

€20,000 for Vince Muscat

Arnaud said the investigation showed that the murder was commissioned by the Agius brothers but the police didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute. “This changed with the Vince Muscat pardon request,” Arnaud said of the suspect who earned a pardon on the 2015 Chircop murder.

“At the potato shed in Marsa, George Degiorgio had told Vince Muscat that ‘Maksar’ had a job involving the murder of a lawyer. They had followed Chircop’s movements but were later given an address. Muscat was offered €20,000 to participate in the assassination. Chircop was to be shot from inside a vehicle. Jamie Vella was to fire the shots,” Arnaud said.

Arnaud says that part of the money, €10,000, was given by George Degiorgio, “sent from Robert”, and another two instalments of €5,000 were collected personally from Robert Agius.

Murder and getaway

Arnaud said the murderers had conducted reconnaissance on the garage complex in Birkirkara. They would keep a look-out from a small window in the complex seeing the approaches. They drove from Santa Venera to Rampol Buildings and up to the door of the garage with Jamie ready to fire.

When Chircop was killed, he had been making his way into the Rampol Buildings garage complex in Birkirkara. As soon as Carmel Chircop opened the garage door, Jamie Vella fired five shots at the lawyer from inside the getaway vehicle.

 His dead body was found face up, three quarters inside his garage with his lower leg protruding into the entrance. There was damage from gunshot to the lock. The victim had suffered gunshot wounds to his abdomen and was lying in a pool of blood. His briefcase and mobile phone were next to him.

A neighbour found the body and called the police. Arnaud says that no spent cartridges were found at the scene. This led to the police thinking it could have been a revolver and that the murderer had gathered the spent cartridges. The victim had eight wounds. All were bullet wounds – some entry and some exit wounds. This meant he was shot four times in his back. Two projectiles were found still inside the body.

Arnaud said that cameras on John Borg Street at 6:36am, captured a Toyota Ractis car entering the garage complex; when it departed right after the 7am shooting, it turned left and then onto Naxxar Road.

The car then veered onto Valley Road and turned near the HSBC instead of going into the valley, near the aqueducts. The footage traced it to Fleur De Lys, then to Santa Venera. The vehicle’s journey was a five or six-minute drive after the murder of Chircop.

They went to Santa Venera, leaving the car in a garage there and then went to Jamie Vella’s nearby apartment. Over there they changed clothes to avoid gunshot residue findings and went their separate ways. The weapon used was thrown away in the sea off Marsa, near the Tiger Bar area. This was the version of events given by Vince Muscat, Arnaud concluded.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family. Daphne’s widower, Peter Caruana Galizia was present too. Lawyer Vince Galea was present for the Chircop family.

Robert Agius, Jamie Vella and Adrian Agius were assisted by lawyers Alfred Abela and Rene Darmanin. George Degiorgio is assisted by lawyer William Cuschieri.

Inspectors Shawn Pawney and Wayne Camilleri, prosecuted together with lawyer George Camilleri from the Attorney General.