Koħħu on Daphne plot: ‘David Gatt gave us the thumbs-up. George said Keith il-Kasco must have told him’

Live-blog: Vincent Muscat ‘il-Koħħu’ says he accompanied Alfred Degiorgio to meet former economy minister Chris Cardona at the time of murder plot; ‘Degiorgio told me Cardona gave him information on police raids’

Keith Schembri leaving the courthouse after testifying in the public inquiry probing the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Keith Schembri leaving the courthouse after testifying in the public inquiry probing the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
17:31 In a press statement, former AC Silvio Valletta categorically denied having passed on information to anyone that was not required by him at law. Matthew Vella
15:38 The next sitting will be questions from the parte civile questions and cross-examination. Muscat is taken out of the courtroom. Matthew Vella
15:37 Muscat now recalls the December 2017 arrests. “I was supposed to go there, get arrested, and get released two days later since they would have nothing on me. Alfred say they would probably pin it on George. We arrived in Marsa at around 7am. George was already there. I was uncomfortable… suddenly I heard sirens.” Muscat didn’t manage to throw away his phone. “When I spoke to Inspector Kurt Zahra, he asked me if I had a lawyer. I had always used Arthur Azzopardi. I told him, ‘yes, David Gatt’.” Arnaud concludes questioning for today. Matthew Vella
15:28 Muscat has now mentioned that before the arrests he had accompanied George and Alfred Degiorgio to the Mile End in Hamrun. “I knew they were going to speak to Chris Cardona because they had told me so. I told them, shall I come with you and they told me, ‘No, Ċens, better not.’” Matthew Vella
15:25 “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.” Matthew Vella
15:21 Another bombshell here.

Muscat said he was following all the news being reported about the Caruana Galizia assassination. “(Lawyer and Cardona associate) Dr David Gatt would come down the Marsa den and one time we were taking a coffee, and he started making a thumbs-up sign to me. George asked me, ‘what is he doing?’, and I said, ‘how would I know?’, and then I told him, ‘Does he know about it’? And he told me, ‘do you know who told him? Keith il-Kasco’ (Keith Schembri). We had thought it was Chris Cardona but it was Keith il-Kasco.”
Matthew Vella
15:16 Muscat says the call from Alfred to George Degiorgio started as soon as Caruana Galizia first emerged from the gate. It stopped when Degiorgio went into the car to flee the scene. “Up until then George was still on the line. The call stopped after the explosion.” Matthew Vella
15:14 Arnaud asks Muscat about the text message used to detonate the bomb. “In his mobile phone he had a message, it was long, 9 or 10 numbers. He had to send it to the bomb’s phone. It was saved. George didn’t save the text. It was either Jamie Vella or Robert il-Maksar (Agius).” Matthew Vella
15:11 Sitting resumes: Defence counsel William Cuschieri says he will not cross-examine the witness today. Caruana Galizia lawyer Jason Azzopardi will cross-examine at a later date. Matthew Vella
15:07 “A week before the arrest, Melvin Theuma told us that we would be arrested on the 4 December. Degiorgio had the same information. ‘It’s correct’, he said.”

Arnaud asks for a 10-minute break. Sitting continues at 3pm.
Matthew Vella
15:07 Vince Muscat says that Alfred Degiorgio had told him go to the Siggiewi bar where Cardona hung out, possible a reference to Ferdinand’s. “I don’t recall the name, it’s next to the parish church. It was a Wednesday, the week before our arrests. We went to look for Cardona, He was not there. Not even (omissis 3).”

Muscat says he had “no idea that a mobile phone top-up would have led to our arrests.”

“Alfred Degiorgio told us they would interrogate Chris Cardona and lawyer Arthur Azzopardi,” (Azzopardi was Muscat’s lawyer before dropping his brief in November 2019; he was also previously a lawyer for one of the Agius brothers, Robert). “I told Azzopardi, that ‘were you and Chris Cardona interrogated? He said ‘who? me?’.”
Matthew Vella
14:41 Muscat: “Alfred Degiorgio told me that Chris Cardona was sending messages with information on the raids.” Matthew Vella
14:40 “I had asked him, ‘Are they going to charge us?’ And George said, ‘of course not’ (U le, Ċens). George then used his burner phone, when he wasn’t supposed to. We were then at the bar next to the potato shed. But we didn’t expect such a raid. He came for me at 5am and we went to Marsa so that we would be all arrested together.” Matthew Vella
14:37 “George Degiorgio told me, ‘I’ve been waiting for them’…. We had agreed to give them all the fingerprints and anything they asked for.” Matthew Vella
14:35 “We had a Labrador there. We removed her because of the police.” Matthew Vella
14:34 “I told him, ‘I was expecting it.’ He said, ‘they’re saying there is some raid. They need to blame someone in this case. We were aware they were coming for us some two to three weeks before the 4th December. 100%.” Matthew Vella
14:32 “Then what happened was that later there was Alfred Degiogio preparing his other boat to go fishing. I went there in the morning as usual and saw the boat parked near the tea shop. As I walked a few more cars down, he called me from between the iron bars of the potato shed gate. I told him, ‘Haven’t you gone fishing yet?’ He said: ‘What fishing? They told me there’s going to be a raid. They’re coming for us.” Matthew Vella
14:28 Two days after the murder, Muscat says he met Alfred Degiorgio at the Marsa den and drove him to Marsaskala, where Degiorgio went inside a shop to pick up the cash from Melvin Theuma. He waited in the car for 30 minutes. “He gave me €40,000 in €5,000 bundles.” Matthew Vella
14:25 Arnaud asks about the money. Muscat says Melvin Theuma was supposed to arrive with the rest of the money within five days. “He had been coming and going for some time.” Degiorgio then cleaned the white car and returned it to the owner; the men changed their burner phones because a relative of Melvin Theuma’s had used it. Matthew Vella
14:23 Muscat claims they were “shocked at the reaction the murder provoked”. Matthew Vella
14:21 “In the afternoon we were all in Marsa at the potato shed. George, Alfred, me, and many others. We were listening to the news on the radio.” Matthew Vella
14:18 “George detonated the bomb before she reached the part of the road where it dips. In the meantime, we were walking back to the car. We didn’t hear anything. Alfred said: ‘I don’t think it exploded’. I looked back and saw black smoke. I swear, your Honour, we heard nothing from there. We heard only a small sound… we left the scene and Alfred stepped on the gas to get out of the Benniena road because cars pass from there. You wouldn’t want to encounter some innocent. He drove me to my car on Mgarr Road and drove off. He went to his flat and I drove to Rabat.” Matthew Vella
14:14 Then at one point, Caruana Galizia stepped outside. “‘Ċens, she’s coming out’, Degiorgio told me… but she went back in. The two men stayed on the phone with each other. Shortly after she re-emerged, it was like she had forgotten something. Alfred didn’t tell his brother. The agreement was that he would tell him before sending the message.” Matthew Vella
14:12 Muscat said they were in a hide that resembled former military rooms. “A man came near the site at one point… he nearly saw us but didn’t look in our direction.” Matthew Vella
14:10 The plan to detonate the bomb was to have George Degiorgio save an SMS text; then he would call his brother from a burner phone. They left the flat at 5:30am. “At 6am we were already in position. George had to go far out to sea, as far out as possible… I cannot recall the name of the boat, but knew its colour, white and blue. We got an umbrella with us, just in case fo rain and made a position for us to wait for Caruana Galizia to leave in her car. A lot of time had passed… George called to ask what was happening.” Matthew Vella
14:05 “We passed through the reeds, moved to the gate. Fredu opened the car with his device, the same we did it when practising. He opened the rear door and placed the bomb under the seat and switched it on. Then we went away on foot back to the reservoir. We waited for George, but he had gone home. First we spent an hour there looking for movement. I went with Alfred back to the flat. He wanted me to stay on, just in case he oversleeps or something” Matthew Vella
13:56 Muscat called George Degiorgio to the site. The victim’s car had been parked just down from the gate of her property. They hid the bomb near a water reservoir. It had been packed in a small shoebox in Alfred Degiorgio’s back-pack. He put on the rucksack. “The farmer had sown reeds and they had grown six feet high… we took care not to leave footprints… the bomb couldn’t explode as the wires weren’t connected. He was safe with it.” Matthew Vella
13:50 Muscat proceeded to pick the keys to the Sta Venera garage from the Marsa den, picked the bomb, drove to Bidnija, where he called up Degiorgio to see where he had posted himself. Matthew Vella
13:47 Muscat then recounts that Degiorgio called him one evening to tell him Caruana Galizia had parked her car out in the street. “I was going to Siggiewi and had my children with me. Alfred called up on the burner phone and said, ‘Ċens, her car is outside’. I wasn’t pleased… I was going out to eat with my family. It was around 9pm, late. I told him the bomb was in Sta Venera, so he said, ‘so just bring it down here!’. And I had to take it down there like an idiot.” Matthew Vella
13:44 Muscat tells the court all he recalls is from memory. “I don’t know how to read or write.” Matthew Vella
13:44 “Cardona came in to help us,” Muscat tells Arnaud when asked why Degiorgio had turned to the minister. “Toni would act as a go-between.” Matthew Vella
13:40 Muscat says the information he has on the meetings between Degiorgio and Cardona are based purely on what Degiorgio told him. “Degiorgio called me and told me once that I don’t need to meet him because Toni ‘l-iblaħ’ (driver to Chris Cardona who was also questioned by police in connection with the claims made by Yorgen Fenech in 2019 to police) was going to give him a lift.” Matthew Vella
13:38 “I saw him going into Castille from the side-door for his appointment with Chris Cardona,” Muscat has told the court. Matthew Vella
13:38 Now Muscat is even name-dropping former Assistant Commissioner Silvio Valletta.

3 “(Omissis 3) had contact with the assistant commissioner… I can’t remember his name. He’d speak to (omissis 3) and he would get the information from the assistant commissioner. What’s his name? Valletta? Valletta… that’s it. Alfred would get the information this way.”
Matthew Vella
13:38 This one’s a bombshell

“Alfred came to me one time. 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 her 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).”
Matthew Vella
13:28 Muscat has mentioned someone now which the court prevents us from reporting. Matthew Vella
13:27 “After the bomb was delivered to us, we would go to Mgarr, buy pastizzi, and then go scouting her movements. At one time, Melvin Theuma told us to go to some Naxxar teahouse. Who had commissioned him had told him she would be in this area.” Matthew Vella
13:26 The prosecution has asked the court to ban reporting the exact way the car was unlocked. But the method is rather rudimentary. Matthew Vella
13:21 They got the test car from Bugibba; the guy who gave it to them knew Robert Agius had sent them. Matthew Vella
13:18 Muscat says they practised on an identical car to Caruana Galizia’s rental vehicle, took it to the Marsa den, and Alfred Degiorgio studied the way it had to be opened. Matthew Vella
13:17 The Notte Bianca episode was in the first week of October 2017. The bomb was already in their possession by then. “We went to look for her in Valletta and thought we might see her car there. We would have placed the bomb there, under the seat, setting it as she drove back home.” Matthew Vella
13:12 Our live-blog is brought to you by Matthew Agius, our court reporter. Matthew Vella
13:12 Back in position. The courtroom is empty, bar journalists typing frantically at their keyboards. Matthew Vella
12:41 Prosecution asks for a small break. We resume at 1pm. Matthew Vella
12:41 “On another occasion, I don’t know whether before or after the airport, the three of us had followed the family. They went to Valletta near the Phoenicia Hotel and parked there. I saw Mrs Caruana Galizia walking in front. They went inside and stayed there till 11pm. It was during Notte Bianca. We set out to look for Daphne’s or Peter Caruana Galizia’s car but we couldn’t find it. We left at 11pm. In the meantime, we had placed the bomb at a Sta Venera garage rented out by George Degiorgio and Jamie Vella by some guy called (ommissis), so wouldn’t need to go all the way to Naxxar for it.” Matthew Vella
12:30 Arnaud asks: “What did George say when they told him it was different?”
Muscat: “They told him it contained 500g of gelatine. We attached a petrol bottle to it in case it wasn’t strong enough. We kept the bomb in a cardboard box, across several locations, Naxxar, Santa Venera… we even followed the Caruana Galizias when they went abroad. I had said, ‘I think they’re off on holiday because they had a lot of luggage.’ This was around two months before the murder.”
Matthew Vella
12:29 Romeo Bone mention here
“It was a neat bomb, it had a stainless steel face. It had an apparatus in which the SIM card would be inserted. The bomb came with a mobile phone. It had a switch. You send a particular message to the SIM card on the bomb. Either Jamie or Robert had told us it would explode seconds later. It had some 500g of explosive. George told us, ‘Let’s hope this one’s not like the Bone bomb’. And then one of the Maksar brothers said the bomb had not been placed under the seat but under the key lock. The car door had shielded him.”
Matthew Vella
12:21 “What I know is that I was told it was ‘gelatine’. Jamie or Robert said so. It had terminals for the battery.” Matthew Vella
12:19 “It was 6 inches thick, 5 inches wide and 3 inches long.” Matthew Vella
12:19 “Then, when the explosives arrived, I was informed by one of the Degiorgios. And once, one of the Degiorgios told me that the explosive would be placed under an overturned boat. We went there and found it. We took it and drove to Naxxar. They used to discuss these details in front of me. The bomb was sophisticated. It looked like it had been imported.” Matthew Vella
12:18 “I gave the €10,000 back because I was told that probably it would not go ahead.” Matthew Vella
12:16 After the rifle plot was discarded, the assassins started discussing getting a bomb from Jamie Vella. “I learned they were going to get three bombs.” Matthew Vella
12:14 At one point, Degiorgio had parked near a water reservoir. A bowser approached it every night to fill it up. “We saw the yellow beacon light and thought it was a police.” Matthew Vella
12:11 Arnaud: “Why didn’t you use a bomb then? Why did you plan to shoot her?”
Muscat: “There were no bombs at the time.”
Matthew Vella
12:10 “George Degiorgio always want a bomb. They didn’t want to shoot her or follow her around. A bomb, you place it at night and you leave. Quieter, less panic.” Matthew Vella
12:10 The plan was to shoot Daphne in her home. “George drove us to the post. Alfred had the rifle. We had everything ready, the sandbags… at one point the owner of the site we were in came back, and it gave us a fright but we hid. We checked to see that the light in Daphne’s window was on.”

“The plan was to have Alfred shoot from under the tree; I would take him away from the scene with a stolen car. As soon as he shot, I would have to raise the gate so that we escape. George started coming up with excuses. The rifle was too noisy. At a point, Alfred was ready to go and called George to start planning the escape. George came back with a stolen Toyota Vitz, stored tin the Naxxar garage. But he made excuses, saying it was too late - it was 11pm - and that there was a roadblock.

“We had weapons in the car. There was a 9mm automatic that took a 16-round magazine, and an AK47 in the car in case we encountered a roadblock.”

Arnaud asks why the AK was not used: “It wasn’t accurate enough,” Muscat says.
Matthew Vella
12:01 Muscat says Alfred Degiorgio tested the rifle at a field in Ħaż-Żebbuġ. Matthew Vella
11:59 “Alfred and George then told the Maksar brothers they weren’t good rifles. But one of them was good. It had a scope; it was about a metre long. We left the Naxxar garage. Jamie Vella and Robert Agius knew that out plan was to get rid of Daphne. We’d talk to them.” Matthew Vella
11:56 “We watched Daphne on her sofa with a laptop, till 2am,” Muscat says, estimating the distance at around 10 metres away at a higher elevation. “We had filled sandbags with each for a stable platform for a rifle. At the time we didn’t have a rifle. We then got three: one was rusty; we then found a good one: Robert Agius (tal-Maksar) and Jamie Vella supplied the rifles… I had seen the rifles at a garage in Naxxar near the Mosta Lidl. Alfred Degiorgio had the keys to the garage.” Matthew Vella
11:48 Muscat says they spent entire days at their observation post. “We’d be sitting there on two bricks. It was uncomfortable, you’d get sore. I’d go get food sometimes. I was buying three packs of Rothmans Red a day. We disposed of the butts in a water bottle so as not to leave any trace.” Matthew Vella
11:46 “At one point Degiorgio told me he was worried Theuma would cancel the job. He started pressing us. Melvin would say, ‘get it over and done with’ (fittxu eħilsu, fittxu eħilsu). Theuma told Alfred we had to hurry because she was going to publish something. He didn’t know about what.” Matthew Vella
11:41 The small car had adverts affixed to it, and they attempted to remove the stickers with a blade. They later found a better vantage point. He describes the scene, having already been taken there on a crime site visit, and points out an even quieter vantage point. “From up there you can see the house too, and no cars would pass by. There was a farmhouse being built nearby, and over the weeks the occupants would sometimes be watching us.” Muscat said they also spent long hours at Mosta’s Gnien tan-Gharusa. “We’d spend long hours there, sometimes from 6am to night-time.” Matthew Vella
11:32 Muscat and Degiorgio started using a rental vehicle, a grey Peugeot 406, rented in Alfred Degiorgio’s name. After a while they opted for a smaller car because of the Bidnija roads. “It didn’t have Z-licence plates because it belonged to the rental business’s owner,” Muscat says. Matthew Vella
11:28 Asked to clarify by Arnaud, Muscat says it was just one or two weeks after the June 2017 election that they got the go-ahead on the assassination. “We bought four Nokia mobiles, one for each of us, and one for Theuma. We bought them so that we don’t use ours. We would leave the phones at the Marsa shed.” Matthew Vella
11:25 Muscat recalls that he had seen Caruana Galizia at a Naxxar café, where she was alone with her iPad, after Theuma and Alfred Degiorgio had noted that she often hung around “at a café near the bank in Naxxar.”

“We went there, and we once saw her car parked close to the church. Alfred had told me, ‘Ċens go and see if she’s there’. I went. She was sitting at a table alone with her iPad. We followed her. She then left, went to her car and drove home.”
Matthew Vella
11:23 The assassins acquired a telescope from Forestals so that they could watch Caruana Galizia closely. “It would auto-focus so we didn’t need to fumble around with it.” In the meantime, the pair acquired a weapon. They saw that Caruana Galizia would use her car when she goes shopping, but that she never left it outside the house. They would be scouting the area on a daily basis. George Degiorgio was never on site. Matthew Vella
11:15 “There were supposed to be three of us, myself and the Degiorgios. George was supposed to shoot her. The plan was to follow her steps and shoot her when the time was right. After the election, Theuma gave us the go-ahead. He gave us a €30,000 deposit in a brown leather bag at Busy Bee. The sum was paid in €50 notes. We took €10,000 each and started work: Alfred and I followed her to Bidnija.” Matthew Vella
11:11 Muscat never saw Theuma and Degiorgio talking, but when Degiorgio returned after a second meeting at Busy Bee, he told him of the €150,000. “The cash is here,” Theuma had said. Three days later, Theuma gave the green light at another meeting, but the assassination would take place after the election. “We had told each other, he won’t do anything,” Muscat said when Degiorgio returned from these latter meetings with Theuma. Matthew Vella
11:09 At 12pm, Muscat took Degiorgio to the Busy Bee café in Gzira, where he had a coffee as he waited for Theuma. Muscat waited in the car parked outside the Msida church. Degiorgio walked on foot to the café. Degiorgio returned after one hour and told him about the job. He didn’t know who had engaged Theuma to carry out the job, but he knew it was at somebody else’s behest. The price agreed was €150,000. This was right before the 2017 election. Matthew Vella
11:04 “I had gone to the potato tent, and Alfred Degiorgio came to me at around 9:30am, 10am.. He mentioned Melvin Theuma,” Muscat says, confirming it is the same middleman. “He told me that there was a good job for me. He told me (Omissis) should not be brought in on it… he happened to be having a coffee near us.” The two then went looking for Theuma, to meet up with him. There Theuma told the pair he wanted them to kill Caruana Galizia. Matthew Vella
10:58 Arnaud asks him about his part in the explosion that killed DCG. Matthew Vella
10:58 Arnaud begins questioning. Muscat says he has known the Degiorgio for some 35 years. “We would meet in Marsa at the ‘potato shed’. It was part of the regatta club but the Degiorgios took care of it. There was a room, it was basically theirs, locked away with a padlock to which they had the keys.” Matthew Vella
10:57 Muscat asks that he apologises to the family of Daphne Caruana Galizia. “I admitted all the charges against me and I have been sentenced.” Matthew Vella
10:55 The oath is administered. Muscat kisses the cross. Matthew Vella
10:55 Muscat’s lawyer Marc Sant has asked the court to ban the publication of names which hadn’t already been reported because of ongoing cases. This will be the first time the press hears Muscat’s voice testifying in three years. The court orders that, should Muscat mention names who have not yet been mentioned in the case, they are not to be reported. Matthew Vella
10:51 Supt. Keith Arnaud tells the court that Vincent Muscat will be testifying today. Accompanied by prison director Alex Dalli, his lawyer Marc Sant and two correctional officers, Muscat is given a chair near the witness stand. He is wearing a bullet-proof vest. As the mics are set up, defence lawyer William Cuschieri protests that he cannot see the witness from where he is. There are armed guards everywhere, even in the upstairs gallery where the press is. Matthew Vella
10:50 A court-appointed transcriber now takes the stand. Copies of transcripts from 9 audio files are distributed. Matthew Vella
10:43 The magistrate enters the room and the court is in session; a court expert takes the witness stand to inform the court of the conversion of audio files to mp3 format which have been distributed to the parties. No transcripts are available as yet. He hands out USB drives and steps off the stand. Matthew Vella
10:41 The Degiorgio brothers, George and Alfred, are led into the courtroom. Inspector Kurt Zahra arrives. Matthew Vella
10:38 Matthew Caruana Galizia, son of the late journalist is also inside the courtroom, speaking with other family members. Matthew Vella
10:36 Security, already tight with this case, is even tighter this morning, with security teams sweeping the courtroom for explosives before the press pack is allowed in. Matthew Vella
10:35 Previously a co-accused in the case, Muscat is turning state witness in exchange for a lighter sentence Nicole Meilak
10:34 We’re in Hall 22 of the Law Courts again, awaiting what is promised to be explosive testimony by Vincent Muscat in the compilation of evidence against the Degiorgio brothers Nicole Meilak
10:31 Good morning. Nicole Meilak

The compilation of evidence against George and Alfred Degiorgio accused of planting and triggering the bomb killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia continues this morning. 

Vincent Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, is expected to testify. 

George Degiorgio 55, from St Paul's Bay, known as Ic-Ciniz, Alfred Degiorgio, 53, also St Paul's Bay, known as il-Fulu, are charged with murder and a number of charges relating to explosives.

George Degiorgio (left) and Vincent Muscat (right)
George Degiorgio (left) and Vincent Muscat (right)

Previously Muscat pleaded guilty to Caruana Galizia murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit is presiding.

Lawyer Marc Sant is appearing for Vince Muscat. Lawyer William Cuschieri is appearing for the Degiorgio brothers.