Court denies request to admit Koħħu, Degiorgio brothers in HSBC libel case

Jason Azzopardi doubles down, claims Abela fears having ‘truth’ spelt out in court by men accused of assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia

PN MP Jason Azzopardi has suggested that Carmelo Abela (pictured) had helped criminals in the failed heist on HSBC HQ in 2010 by providing them with false keys and internal footage
PN MP Jason Azzopardi has suggested that Carmelo Abela (pictured) had helped criminals in the failed heist on HSBC HQ in 2010 by providing them with false keys and internal footage

Government minister Carmelo Abela has opposed a request by Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, to have three men accused of the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination testify in a defamation case over the HSBC hold-up of 2010.

Azzopardi had asked the court to admit Vince Muscat, Alfred Degiorgio and George Degiorgio as parties in a libel case filed against him by Abela over his claims that Abela was the inside man in the HSBC heist. The request has now been denied.

Abela sued Azzopardi for libel over a Facebook post in which he claimed the then-Labour MP, an HSBC employee, was promised €300,000 to provide criminals with footage and access cards to be able to carry out the heist.

But Abela opposed Azzopardi’s request to the court to present the three men as witnesses. “It is evident that his only aim, as has been from the very beginning, is unscrupuously political. If he indeed has formed an ‘honest opinion’... he should prove this by showing the publication on which he formed that opinion,” the minister’s lawyer, Pawlu Lia, said in his reply.

Abela said none of the three men could answer for Azzopardi’s opinion. “The defendant must say whether this is indeed factual or not, and back it up with evidence of how he formed his opinion.”

The claims of a “sitting minister” having been an accomplice were first made by Vince Muscat and Alfred Degiorgio – the alleged hitmen in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

However, it was Azzopardi who outed the minister’s name in a Facebook post in April, which prompted Abela to file an urgent libel suit against the Nationalist MP.

In February 2021, Vince Muscat had indicated to the Police CID that the minister in question was instrumental in giving secret information, plans of the HSBC Head Office and vault access information in the lead up to the heist. These details included information about the place where the robbers met the minister and an ex-minister before May 2010.

Then in May, the Degiorgio brothers wrote to the Justice Commissioner of the EU and named Minister Carmelo Abela as their accomplice in the heist. They were directed to write to EUROPOL and did so a month later, asking for a meeting so as to pass on information about several crimes, amongst them the involvement of former minister Chris Cardona and minister Carmelo Abela in the 2010 hold up at HSBC.

In her decision on Azzopardi’s request, Magistrate Rachel Montbello disagreed with the MP that he could prove the basis of his “honest opinion” by presenting as witnesses the three men who were making the allegations in the first place.

Montebello said that the fact Azzopardi had based his opinion on allegations by the three men, was not enough for them to be considered legitimate witnesses on a declaration which – as Abela indicated in his case for libel – is attributable to Azzopardi himself.

In a reaction on the decision, Azzopardi told MaltaToday that he was surprised at Abela’s refusal to have the three men who implicated him in a series of hold-ups.

“I’m surprised, because I held him up to my standard; what would have I done in his place? Given that this is such a serious allegation made against a government minister that throws such a dark shadow on the government and Malta, I would not object to the request, to show that I have nothing to hide – if I were truly innocent.

“But I’m not surprised. Abela is scared of having the truth about him known. He knows it would be a problem to have other persons involved in the heist, testify. Abela is doing what Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi did and is running away when the evidence is presented to the Court.”