Koħħu testifies on Caruana Galizia murder: 'A bomb was easier... you press a button on the phone'

The compilation of evidence against brothers Adrian and Robert Agius and their associates Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio continues with testimony by Caruana Galizia hitman Vince Muscat, il-Koħħu

Vince Muscat, il-Koħħu, (right) was jailed for 15 years after admitting involvement in Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder. He is now testifying in the compilation of evidence against the other hitmen and the bomb suppliers.
Vince Muscat, il-Koħħu, (right) was jailed for 15 years after admitting involvement in Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder. He is now testifying in the compilation of evidence against the other hitmen and the bomb suppliers.

Daphne Caruana Galizia’s hitmen abandoned initial plans to gun her down with an AK47 assault rifle because operating a bomb is “easier”, a court heard.

Testifying in the compilation of evidence against the bomb suppliers, convicted murderer Vince Muscat said: “A bomb is easier… you press a button on the phone. A pistol makes noise.”

He was testifying in court against brothers Adrian and Robert Agius, known as Tal-Maksar, associate Jamie Vella, and George Degiorgio. They are charged with involvement in the murders of Caruana Galizia and lawyer Carmel Chircop. 

In today’s testimony, Muscat focussed on the Caruana Galizia murder, detailing things that happened or which he learned through his associates, brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio.

Asked for the motif of the murder, Muscat said Alfred Degiorgio always told him it was about “something Caruana Galizia was about to write”.

Muscat, who has been sentenced to 15 years in prison after admitting involvement in Caruana Galizia’s murder, told the court that George Degiorgio informed him that Robert Agius and Jamie Vella were going to procure the bomb. “They had many Italian friends,” Muscat said.

Robert Agius and Jamie Vella would frequently go to the potato shed in Marsa, where the Degiorgios and Muscat were based.

Muscat reiterated how the hitmen had been tipped off on their impending arrest on 4 December 2017.

Muscat told the court that Alfred Degiorgio got the information from former economy minister Chris Cardona and people associated with him. Information was purportedly relayed by a senior police officer to a lawyer, who would in turn inform Cardona.

Muscat also spoke of lawyer David Gatt and how he used to give the thumbs up and make explosion noises before and after the journalist’s murder. According to what the Degiorgios told Muscat, Gatt also got information on the impending arrests from Keith Schembri, the former OPM chief of staff.

The charges

Robert Agius and Jamie Vella are charged with supplying the bomb that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017.

Adrian Agius is charged with commissioning the murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop in 2015. Vella and George Degiorgio are charged with executing Chircop’s assassination in a garage complex in Birkirkara.

George Degiorgio is currently undergoing separate procedures, along with his brother Alfred, for his involvement in the Caruana Galizia murder.

Key courtroom players

Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo is presiding.

Lawyers Alfred Abela and Rene Darmanin are defence counsel to the Agius brothers. Lawyer William Cuschieri is appearing for George Degiorgio.

Lawyer George Camilleri is representing the Attorney General in the proceedings, while Superintendent Keith Arnaud and Inspectors Shawn Pawney and Wayne Camilleri are prosecuting.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are appearing parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family, while lawyer Vince Galea is appearing for the Chircop family.

READ MORE: Murder compilation: Witness recounts how Vince Muscat's family was offered hush money

13:43 That is all for today. Thank you for following. A summary of proceedings will follow shortly. Kurt Sansone
13:43 The hearing is being deferred to tomorrow at 8:30am. Kurt Sansone
13:42 AG lawyer George Camilleri suggests that this request be done in writing, and the magistrate agrees. Abela is making an argument, but asks the media not to report it. The defence makes a verbal request, so that they can have meetings between those accused with the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Carmel Chircop and their lawyers, so that they can prepare their defence. Kurt Sansone
13:29 Defence lawyer Alfred Abela requests that all three lawyers together with the accused are allowed to meet together to discuss the case in prison. However, the magistrate says that she has no control over what happens in prison. Kurt Sansone
13:26 And on that note, Muscat's testimony comes to a close. Kurt Sansone
13:25 Camilleri asks about visitors in prison. Muscat explains that only family members would visit. According to Muscat, one time his relatives told him that Jamie Vella and Robert Agius came up to them to offer hush money. Kurt Sansone
13:21 AG lawyer George Camilleri asks about the AK47 assault rifle that was going to be used against Caruana Galizia. Muscat says it was put in the Naxxar garage. Kurt Sansone
13:20 He is asked whether there was any particular reason why the Agius brothers would go to the potato shed. Muscat says the potato shed provided a good view to the Sicily-Malta catamaran. “I don't know, maybe drugs,” he surmises. Kurt Sansone
13:19 Muscat is asked about the ‘Maksar’ brothers. He says that they would frequent the potato shed. Kurt Sansone
13:15 Muscat explains that when the first plan was underway, the rifle was kept at the Naxxar garage. However, when the plan was scrapped, Muscat and Alfred Degiorgio moved the rifle to another garage in Qormi, belonging to Jamie Vella. “I used to know that Jamie Vella was paying the rent to someone. He told me himself,” the witness testifies. Kurt Sansone
13:08 AG lawyer George Camilleri asks about the three weapons that the Degiorgios were to choose from in the initial plan to shoot Daphne. He asks how they chose the particular rifle in question. Muscat says they tested the three guns in a field and two of them looked quite old. Kurt Sansone
13:07 Before the arrest, Muscat and the Degiorgios were interested in meeting Cardona to get more information on what would happen. Muscat says that they knew everything about the arrest including the location and time. Kurt Sansone
13:06 Muscat: “From 4 December the leaks started to come in. (Omissis 2) to (omissis 3) to Cardona.” Kurt Sansone
13:05 Arnaud seeks clarity on this information. “Did this happen before or after the murder?” Kurt Sansone
13:04 Muscat: “Chris Cardona used to get the information from (omissis 2); (omissis 2) used to inform (omissis 3), and (omissis 3) used to tell Chris Cardona. This is all coming from Alfred Degiorgio." Kurt Sansone
13:03 The magistrate appears and testimony resumes. Kurt Sansone
12:53 The accused have retaken their seat in the dock, Vince Muscat remains in the witness chair. Kurt Sansone
12:21 The court orders a 10-minute break. Kurt Sansone
12:19 Muscat says that this happened before and after the murder. Gatt would give the thumbs up and make bomb noises both before the murder took place, and after, Muscat says. Once, Muscat was at the Waterfront, a bit before his arrest, and there was David Gatt. “He sat next to me. I was with my children. He had gotten up to leave, and then he saw me. He sat next to me and even there he was making the thumbs up,” the witness testifies. Kurt Sansone
12:17 Muscat recalls seeing lawyer David Gatt giving the thumbs up. Degiorgio told him it's because of then chief of staff at OPM Keith Schembri. “At first, the Degiorgio brothers thought Chris Cardona told David Gatt, but then the lawyer told the Degiorgios it was Keith Schembri,” the witness testifies. Kurt Sansone
12:11 Muscat: “I used to go down to the potato shed every day, and I would see the Degiorgio brothers whispering to each other. I noticed something was up, but I don't know what happened.” Kurt Sansone
12:10 Muscat says the information on their impending arrest was coming from (omissis 1). The court asks the media not to report names that have nothing to do with the case in question. Kurt Sansone
12:08 Vince Muscat speaks about the alleged plot from former minister Chris Cardona to murder Daphne, running parallel to the one actually carried out. Muscat says the amount of money offered was the same - €150,000. Cardona has described these claims as “pure evil fiction”. Kurt Sansone
12:03 Muscat: “Before we were arrested [in December 2017], I was having a coffee under the potato tent, and at one point Alfred said ‘Ċens, I'm going to speak to Chris Cardona, x’taħseb?’. I used to drive him to Castille.” Kurt Sansone
12:01 Arnaud asks him from where he was getting the information on the arrest. Kurt Sansone
11:59 Muscat: “We knew there was an arrest coming. In fact, in the potato tent, we removed everything. There was a more dangerous dog, we decided to remove it so that there would be no panic. There were a lot of things… ċuċati.” Kurt Sansone
11:58 “Between the murder and his arrest, I knew Alfred Degiorgio was going fishing, as he would do. I went to the potato shed and saw the boat parked by a bar. When I saw the boat, I noticed he didn't go fishing. I saw Alfred call out to me. I asked him why he didn't go fishing, and he said it's because the police want to arrest his brother,” Muscat says. Kurt Sansone
11:53 Vince Muscat explains that Alfred and George Degiorgio took the other €100,000 and he had seen the money himself. Kurt Sansone
11:52 Arnaud asks about the money paid for the murder. “The murder cost €150,000, of which you took €50,000. Who took the other €100,000?” Kurt Sansone
11:50 Vincent Muscat is asked whether he knows from where Tal-Maksar and Jamie Vella acquired the weapon that was to be used initially. Muscat says he doesn't know. Kurt Sansone
11:48 Arnaud asks about the reasons for the murder. “Alfred always told me that she was going to publish something about someone. This is what Alfred told me,” Muscat says. Kurt Sansone
11:47 AG lawyer George Camilleri makes another submission, saying that if the witness must rely on this type of information, then so be it. The magistrate says she has no power over this, and this is something that can only be evaluated at a later stage. She orders the witness to be brought in again to continue his testimony. Muscat re-enters the courtroom and Arnaud continues his cross-examination. Kurt Sansone
11:42 Arnaud makes a counter-argument. While there were moments where Muscat was speaking hesitantly or uncertainly, but this does not constitute the full testimony. Parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi, who is appearing for the Caruana Galizia family, says it is unfair to stop a witness midway through his testimony. Kurt Sansone
11:41 Lawyer Alfred Abela, appearing for the Agius brothers objects, saying that Muscat's testimony relies too much on “I think”. “He needs to be clear,” Abela insists. Muscat is briefly escorted out from the courtroom for all parties to discuss the issue. The lawyer makes his argument, saying that throughout his testimony he says “I think”, “I heard”, and similar inferences. “If the witness needs to stop and think and tell us clearly, he should. But with due respect, this is not the testimony we need in a case like this,” Abela insists. Kurt Sansone
11:34 Later on, in the day, the Degiorgio brothers and Muscat gathered at the potato shed. “Il-Maksar and Jamie weren't there,” he testifies. Kurt Sansone
11:33 Muscat says Alfred remained on the phone with George, while he [Muscat] tried to look at the car. He saw smoke, but heard nothing. It didn't seem like the bomb had such a powerful explosive, Muscat says. Kurt Sansone
11:32 Muscat: “What happened was, as she was driving down, George Degiorgio pressed the trigger. I heard Alfred say ‘why did you press it?’” Kurt Sansone
11:31 Muscat recounts how while standing watch they could see a light flashing, indicating that the gate to Caruana Galizia’s house was opening. He says they waiting a few minutes to confirm it was her. Alfred Degiorgio, who was on the line with George Degiorgio, told him to wait because she went back inside. Caruana Galizia exited a few seconds later, the gate closed and she entered the car. “We knew that the bomb takes 10 seconds to detonate - Robert and Jamie told us. They told us that when you press okay, it doesn't trigger immediately,” Muscat says. Kurt Sansone
11:19 George Degiorgio went home, and in the morning, he was supposed to go fishing. From his boat, he would detonate the bomb from his mobile on the command of Alfred Degiorgio. Kurt Sansone
11:18 Muscat says the bomb was placed under the driver's seat. It had a small bottle of petrol with it, just in case any part of the explosive failed to detonate. The bottle used was brought from the potato shed, he notes. Kurt Sansone
11:17 Muscat is about to start explaining how he entered into Caruana Galizia's car. However, upon a request by Superintendent Keith Arnaud, the court orders the media not to report on the method used to get into Caruana Galizia’s vehicle. Kurt Sansone
11:15 The training was needed to gain knowledge on how to force open Caruana Galizia’s car to be able to place the bomb inside the vehicle. Kurt Sansone
11:14 Muscat recounts how they had gone to someone in Buġibba, who lived next to Robert Agius, to rent a car like that of Caruana Galizia, so that they could train on it. Muscat recalls a conversation between one of the Degiorgio brothers and Robert Agius, saying that they needed a Peugeot like hers. Agius said that they can go for it at this friend. Kurt Sansone
11:05 Alfred Degiorgio had driven Muscat to Bidnija - he had a large bag with him, just in case something happens. They went with the bomb, and arrived at around 10:30pm. Kurt Sansone
11:00 The car hadn't moved for hours, and the hitmen assumed that it will likely remain there. Muscat was told to bring the bomb there. Kurt Sansone
10:59 Muscat recalls that on 15 October he received a call from Alfred Degiorgio, saying that Daphne Caruana Galizia’s car was left outside by the gate of the Bidnija house. At this point, the bomb was in Santa Venera. Kurt Sansone
10:57 The bomb was transferred from the Naxxar garage to this Santa Venera garage on the day they followed Caruana Galizia on the Notte Bianca night. Muscat and one of the Degiorgio brothers had moved it. Kurt Sansone
10:56 Arnaud refers to a document, with four A4 papers and five photos. The Superintendent asks what Muscat knows about the photos. The witness confirms that they are photos of a Santa Venera garage he used to rent. Kurt Sansone
10:56 Muscat starts to speak about the Notte Bianca night in October 2017. “I received a call from Alfred Degiorgio, and a separate one at the same time from George Degiorgio. They said that they saw her leaving. We observed them and followed them to the Phoenicia Hotel. We saw her cross the road,” he says, adding that there were no ideas to do anything that night. Kurt Sansone
10:49 Arnaud asks about the car change. Muscat recalls that one day, a water bowser came at around 9am or 10am to refill from a nearby water reservoir close to one of their observation points. The bowser couldn't pass with the initial rented car, the Peugeot, and after that they decided it's best to opt for a smaller car. Kurt Sansone
10:48 QUICK REMINDER: Romeo Bone was the victim of a car bomb attack in Msida in February 2017. He survived but lost both legs. Bone is known to the police and had been investigated in connection with the murder of Raymond Agius at the Butterfly Bar in Birkirkara in 2008. Raymond Agius is the father of Adrian and Robert Agius. Kurt Sansone
10:45 Arnaud is asking about the details of the bomb. Muscat says that it was a small bomb with a battery, containing 500g of gelatine. He's unsure whether the mobile used to detonate the bomb came with the bomb or was bought separately. “At one moment, George said that he hopes it won't be like Romeo Bone. He said this to Jamie and Robert,” Muscat says. Kurt Sansone
10:38 Muscat says that one time, Jamie Vella and Robert Agius visited and Vella showed Alfred Degiorigo how the bomb system works. “I was present, but I was coming and going,” he testifies. Kurt Sansone
10:37 Vince Muscat continues testifying. He recounts how Alfred Degiorgio and he had brought the bomb to the Naxxar garage. There was a Toyota Vitz inside, and they placed the bomb in the boot. Kurt Sansone
10:36 We resume. The magistrate has just emerged from chambers. Kurt Sansone
10:11 The hearing is suspended for fifteen minutes. Kurt Sansone
10:10 Muscat says they had acquired the bomb around September. “Caruana Galizia's car was never left out, except on that last day,” he says. Kurt Sansone
10:09 Muscat recalls having found the bomb under a boat inside the potato shed. “It was in the middle of the potato tent. There were a lot of small boats,” he testifies. Kurt Sansone
10:05 Arnaud asks him about the bomb that was used. “I know that they got it from abroad. George would tell me, but he would only speak to Robert and Jamie about this,” the witness says. Kurt Sansone
10:05 Musact: “Jamie has lots of Italian contacts. They [Robert and Jamie] would travel even once a month to Italy.” Kurt Sansone
10:04 Robert Agius and Jamie Vella would frequently go to the potato shed in Marsa. Muscat says he would see them there often. “They would go up to Italy a lot. I don't know why,” Muscat says. He explains that he would hear them speak about going to Italy, because “they have friends there”. Kurt Sansone
10:03 George Degiorgio had told Muscat that Robert Agius and Jamie Vella were going to procure the bomb. “They had many Italian friends,” Muscat tells the court. Kurt Sansone
10:02 Arnaud asks what resulted in the change of plan to abandon the shooting and go for a bomb murder. Muscat explains that the bomb was easier: “You press a button on the phone. A pistol makes noise.” Kurt Sansone
10:01 Muscat says he doesn't know - all he knows is that Jamie Vella and Robert Agius had access. Muscat says he would occasionally see them there. “They had use for it.” Kurt Sansone
10:00 Arnaud: “As a garage, do you know if it belonged to someone? Or if it was rented?” Kurt Sansone
10:00 During the original plan to shoot Caruana Galizia, Muscat recalls finding a “perfect spot” beneath a carob tree, from where they were able to view Caruana Galizia sitting on her sofa. Alfred Degiorgio and Muscat removed some stones in the area and filled pillows with soil in preparation for the shooting. The plan was for Alfred to shoot, and for Muscat to drive them off. Kurt Sansone
09:52 Muscat explains that the hitmen opted for a smaller car to navigate the narrow roads of Bidnija. They had rented a Peugeot, but wanted a smaller vehicle. Kurt Sansone
09:52 Arnaud asks about the go-ahead from Melvin Theuma's side, pointing out that Muscat had earlier spoken in plural, saying 'they' gave the go ahead. “Melvin used to speak with Alfred Degiorgio, that's all I know. The go-ahead was given to Alfred Degiorgio,” he testifies. Kurt Sansone
09:51 Arnaud asks about the types of weapons he would see in the garage. Muscat recalls seeing a machine gun, AK47 on the site. Muscat says, for the most part, it was him and Alfred Degiorgio visiting the garage to see the weapons. “The keys were always in my hand,” Muscat says of the garage. Kurt Sansone
09:44 Superintendent Keith Arnaud makes reference to two documents, asking Muscat whether he recognises the place in question. He confirms that the photos in question are of the Naxxar garage they would use. The first document shows photos of several garages, Muscat marks which garage is the one in question. This is the garage in which the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia was stored. Kurt Sansone
09:41 AG lawyer George Camilleri asks him whether there was any significance to the location of the garage. Muscat simply explains that it was in close proximity to Daphne's house, but there was little further significance than that. Kurt Sansone
09:37 Muscat says that him and the Degiorgio brothers had keys to the garage, given to them by Jamie Vella and Robert Agius. The witness recalls how there were three rifles in the garage for Alfred Degiorgio to choose from. Kurt Sansone
09:34 Similarly, Muscat says he knew Jamie Vella since 2014. Muscat says that Jamie Vella and Robert Agius had a garage in Naxxar. He knows where it is, but doesn't remember the street name. “When I went for the first time I was with Alfred Degiorgio, and there was Robert and another person, I don't know him as such.” Kurt Sansone
09:32 Muscat says he knew Robert Agius since 2015 but adds that he had no familiarity with him. Kurt Sansone
09:30 Muscat explains that the plan was to shoot Caruana Galizia using a gun with a telescope feature, which he would procure from Robert Agius and Jamie Vella. Kurt Sansone
09:29 Muscat continues describing the observation posts around Caruana Galizia’s home. There was another place with a broken wire, he says, and from there, they were able to see her house and the nearby road. He says there was quite a distance, but they were close enough to see cars passing by. “You would see movement. When the house door would open, there would be an orange light. That would indicate that someone was entering or leaving the house,” he tells the court. Kurt Sansone
09:28 AG lawyer George Camilleri asks Muscat to illustrate the average day standing guard by Caruana Galizia's Bidnija home. Muscat explains the several vantage points they used to do their monitoring. “There's a small road on the way to Mġarr. You enter, you see another road on the left and you arrive at an old building. From there you could see everything in the area. No one would be there,” he recounts. Kurt Sansone
09:27 Muscat says that it was him and Alfred Degiorgio standing guard, generally waiting between 6am and 12pm, then coming back at 2pm. “We'd spend hours waiting,” he recalls. Kurt Sansone
09:21 Muscat says that from that point onwards they started to monitor Daphne Caruana Galizia's movements to draw up the assassination plan. Kurt Sansone
09:20 After the election passed, Theuma gave the green-light for the plan to continue. “Time passed, and Melvin Theuma crops up again, met with Alfred Degiorgio, and told us that we can go ahead,” Muscat tells the court. He says that he drove Degiorgio to Busybee in Msida, where he picked up an envelope containing the €30,000 deposit. Kurt Sansone
09:17 A lawyer for the accused objects to this testimony, arguing that it is based on hearsay evidence alone. However, the magistrate declares that Muscat should be allowed to give testimony regardless. Kurt Sansone
09:17 Muscat says he doesn't remember the exact date this meeting told place. He recalls Alfred Degiorgio asking for a €30,000 deposit on the murder plan. Kurt Sansone
09:16 QUICK REMINDER: We are in another sitting of the compilation of evidence against brothers Adrian and Robert Agius, known as Tal-Maksar, associate Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio, known as Iċ-Ċiniż. They are facing various charges linked to the murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 and lawyer Carmel Chircop in 2015. Vince Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, is testifying. Muscat was sentenced to 15 years in prison after admitting involvement in the Caruana Galizia murder. Our reporter Nicole Meilak is giving us live updates from inside the courtroom. Kurt Sansone
09:12 Muscat: “We let the election pass and waited to see what Melvin Theuma would tell us - he told us to wait until the election passes.” Kurt Sansone
09:11 Vincent Muscat is recalling the events in the run-up to the Caruana Galizia murder. The meeting at Busy Bee happened prior to the 2017 general election, with the murder plan put on hold until the election passes. Kurt Sansone
09:09 He recalls the day that Melvin Theuma approached him over a plan to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia. They had agreed to meet at Busy Bee, Gzira, together with the Degiorgio brothers. Laura Calleja
09:05 Vincent Muscat's testimony starts. Laura Calleja
09:04 The magistrate has just read out a decree on a request from George Degiorgio for the proceedings against him to be carried out separately. The court ruled that only the Attorney General can decide on this, therefore abstaining from the request. Laura Calleja
08:58 Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo has just emerged from her chambers, the sitting begins. Laura Calleja
08:57 The accused sit centre-stage, surrounded by Correctional Services officials. Laura Calleja
08:57 Sat opposite to them are the parte civile lawyers: Jason Azzopardi for the Caruana Galizia family and lawyer Vincent Galea for the Chircop family. Laura Calleja
08:55 Hall 22 is among the largest of the court rooms on offer. Left-side of the courtroom we have the prosecution at a table: lawyer George Camilleri representing the Attorney General, together with Superintendent Keith Arnaud and Inspectors Shawn Pawney and Wayne Camilleri. Laura Calleja
08:49 This is the first time that Vincent Muscat, or "il-Kohhu", is expected to testify in these proceedings. He has already been served a 15-year sentence after pleading guilty for his involvement in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, but was in turn offered a presidential pardon for his involvement in the Carmel Chircop murder. Laura Calleja
08:41 Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo has called in the prosecution, parte civile, and lawyers of the accused into her chambers. Laura Calleja
08:39 RECAP: The Agius brothers, Jamie Vella, and George Degiorgio are facing charges of involvement in two murders, including that of Caruana Galizia. Laura Calleja
08:36 Lawyers Alfred Abela and Rene Darmanin are present in court, representing the Agius brothers and their associate Jamie Vella. Lawyer Jason Azzopardi is here, appearing parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family. Laura Calleja
08:27 We are waiting inside Hall 22 for proceedings to start. Laura Calleja
08:27 Good morning. Laura Calleja