We spied on Daphne till 2am, ‘Maksar’ gang gave us the bomb: Koħħu lays out murder plot

Daphne Caruana Galizia: Vince Muscat lays out murder plot in court, says Degiorgio brothers got help from former Labour minister Chris Cardona and that they knew of arrests three weeks before

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

Vince Muscat ‘il-Koħħu’, the man serving a 15-year prison sentence for his part in the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, has set Malta alight.

In a five-hour testimony, the man who tracked Caruana Galizia’s movements with co-conspirator Alfred Degiorgio before she was murdered by a car bomb on 16 October, 2017, corroborated the events leading up to the execution with excruciating detail.

Before the hearing, Muscat apologised to Caruana Galizia’s family. “I admitted all the charges against me and I have been sentenced,” he said.

But he name-dropped the names of people in power and their associates... at least, the way he remembers the Degiorgios telling him: Chris Cardona, former Labour minister for the economy; Keith Schembri, the former chief of staff to former prime minister Joseph Muscat; as well as the lawyer David Gatt, a man who had been acquitted of masterminding the 2010 HSBC heist in which Muscat himself has yet to stand trial for his part.

Muscat saw Caruana Galizia up close, almost 10 metres away from a vantage point where Alfred Degiorgio was set to kill her with a sniper rifle equipped with a telescopic sight. The plot was called off by George Degiorgio. “Too noisy,” he thought. A bomb, he suggested, was easier to install and ‘cleaner’.

Daphne Caruana Galizia
Daphne Caruana Galizia

With an auto-focusing telescope, they would see Caruana Galizia typing on her laptop on her sofa till 2am. They saw her on her iPad at a Naxxar café. They looked for her car while she and her husband Peter were at the Phoenicia Hotel on Notte Bianca in the first week of October 2017. They tracked her movements everywhere, spent hours watching her from various vantage points at Bidnija and Mosta.  Muscat said he’d smoke three packets of Rothmans Red a day, watching, sitting on two bricks till his behind “got sore”.

Muscat said both the rifle, and a foreign-made bomb – one of three – were provided by the Agius brothers, and Jamie Vella, the other three men implicated in the Caruana Galizia assassination and the Carmel Chircop murder.

In their car, Muscat and Degiorgio had weapons, ready to shoot their way out of 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.”

He described the bomb: “Six inches thick, five inches wide and three inches long... 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.”

He then referenced the Romeo Bone assassination attempt, who lost his legs in an Msida car bomb. “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.”

Romeo Bone (inset) and the scene of the Msida car bomb explosion
Romeo Bone (inset) and the scene of the Msida car bomb explosion

Again, more connections drawing the Agius ‘tal-Maksar’ brothers and the Degiorgios to a spate of car bombs.

Such was the desire to have Caruana Galizia murdered, that the 500g gelatine bomb had a petrol bottle attached to it. “They told George it contained 500g of gelatine. We attached a petrol bottle to it in case it wasn’t strong enough.”

They obtained a car identical to Caruana Galizia’s rental vehicle where down at their Marsa den, they practised how to open the rear window. “They got the test car from Bugibba; the guy who gave it to us knew Robert Agius had sent us,” Muscat said.

Muscat also claimed he drove Alfred Degiorgio to Valletta, to none other than Castille, the seat of Malta’s power, the office of the prime minister, to meet Chris Cardona.

The Agius brothers, Robert and Adrian, who are also charged on the murder of Carmel Chircop
The Agius brothers, Robert and Adrian, who are also charged on the murder of Carmel Chircop

“Alfred came to me one time. He told me, ‘Ċens, let me go and meet 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.”

The claim suggests that two plots to kill Caruana Galizia could have at one point converged on the one with pardoned middleman Melvin Theuma at its centre: the one allegedly ordered by Yorgen Fenech.

“Degiorgio on called me saying 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.”

“Cardona came in to help us,” Muscat told prosecuting inspector Keith Arnaud when asked why Degiorgio had turned to the minister. “Toni would act as a go-between.”

Former Labour minister Chris Cardona
Former Labour minister Chris Cardona

16 October 2017

On the eve of her assassination, Muscat was summoned by the Degiorgios, to pick the bomb from a garage in Santa Venera. The car Caruana Galizia was driving had been left outside the house. The three met up in Bidnija, and Alfred Degiorgio walked up to the car, the bomb carried in a rucksack, soon to be placed under the driver’s seat and switched on.

The next morning they were in position at 6am. George Degiorgio set out at sea to get as far from the location as possible. Later that afternoon, 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.”

“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).”

Degiorgio detonated the bomb just before she reached the part of the road where it dips. “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…”

Muscat claims the gang was surprised at the national reaction to the assassination.

They collected their cash two days later from a shop in Marsaskala. Muscat’s cut was €40,000, apart from an intial €10,000 he was paid. In total, the job Melvin Theuma had commissioned was for €150,000.

December arrests

Even more shocking was the fact that the gang knew they were about to be arrested three weeks before the 4 December raids in Marsa. “We were aware they were coming for us some two to three weeks before the 4th. 100%.”

The three agreed to meet in Marsa to be arrested at the same time. Muscat says Alfred Degiorgio claimed that it was Chris Cardona was sending him information on the raids. “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.

Muscat also told the court that he had seen the lawyer and one-time Cardona law firm member David Gatt, drive down to the Marsa den. “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.

“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’.”