Lino Cauchi murder: Heirs awarded €615,000 over state’s failure to conduct proper investigation

Murdered accountant Lino Cauchi's heirs are awarded compensation for breach of human rights by the Constitutional Court, which found serious failings in the manner by which the State investigated the 1982 murder

A police forensic expert elevating Lino Cauchi's remains from a well in Buskett in 1985. Cauchi went missing three years earlier.
A police forensic expert elevating Lino Cauchi's remains from a well in Buskett in 1985. Cauchi went missing three years earlier.

The State failed Lino Cauchi’s family by failing to properly investigate his disappearance and murder, the Constitutional Court has ruled, awarding them €615,000 in compensation.

Anna Cassar and Paolo Cauchi, widow and son of the murdered accountant had filed constitutional proceedings against the Prime Minister in 2020.

Lino Cauchi disappeared in February 1982, his mutilated body being discovered, three years later, in a well in Buskett.

The fact that Cauchi’s attache case had been found, forced open and empty, in a field near Chadwick Lakes, the day after relatives had reported Cauchi’s disappearance to the police should certainly have raised well-founded suspicions with the police, noted Mr. Justice Francesco Depasquale. “But despite all this, despite the attache case having been established as Lino Cauchi’s, because his wife had identified it when the police showed it to her, and despite it having been found discarded in a field far from his home, the police still never opened a magisterial inquiry.”

Although the investigating officer had ordered fingerprints to be taken from the bag, no report or other indications that the order was followed were found in the acts.

The court said it could not fail to remark that the police’s failure to investigate the discovery of the attache case and Cauchi’s car was a grave shortcoming. The latter discovery was a clear indication that something had happened to Lino Cauchi. 

Cauchi had been accountant to former Labour minister Lorry Sant’s henchmen and had been involved in a rowdy meeting that took place just before the 1981 general election that was held in December.

The meeting was about a promise of sale agreement on lands involving Sant’s acolytes and another developer who was constrained to give up plots of land in exchange for building permits, which at the time were under the purview of Sant’s ministry.

Two months later Cauchi left his Santa Venera home for his Valletta office never to return back. His briefcase was found forced open near Chadwick Lakes but Cauchi was never found.

His wife, who was pregnant at the time, had received a mysterious visit a day after her husband’s disappearance from a man. Charles Zammit, who identified himself as an income tax official, had convinced the woman to hand it over.

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The man asked the wife to give him a second briefcase Cauchi kept at home and which he had told her never to let go.

Cauchi remained on the missing persons list until 1985 when a farmer in Buskett made the gruesome discovery of human remains inside a well. Sawn-off body parts, packed in plastic bags were recovered by the police. Forensic tests eventually showed that the victim was Lino Cauchi.

Cauchi was subequently buried in 1989 after a magistrate tasked to carry out an inquiry into 1985 discovery released the body for burial.

Forensic evidence showed that the back of Cauchi’s skull had been smashed with two blows from a mallet, that had also been found in the well.

Nobody has ever been charged with Cauchi’s murder.

In a judgement handed down today, Mr. Justice Francesco Depasquale, presiding the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction, ruled that the victim’s family should receive €15,000 for each of the 41 years that had passed since Cauchi was brutally murdered.  This, said the judge, was just and equitable compensation which will “give some form of closure to the plaintiffs for the trauma they will continue to endure till their dying day.”

The judge described the handling of the  investigation from the date of Cauchi’s murder to the present day as “a total failure, which failure has led to it being now next to impossible for Lino Cauchi’s family members to ever know what actually happened to him.”

Also highlighted in the 61-page judgement was the “further grave failure by the police to investigate persons who were already known by Lino Cauchi’s family, namely Lorry Sant and Piju Camilleri, and to act on suspicions declared to them by [the Cauchi family] and instead investigating the possibility that Lino Cauchi owed money and might have absconded from Malta - which lines of investigation all failed,” judge Depasquale ruled.  This had led to all investigations into the murder being covered up in a manner which deprived the family from having any closure about Cauchi’s death.

Lawyers Peter Fenech and Stanley Joe Portelli represented the plaintiffs. State Advocate Christopher Soler and lawyer Joel Calleja appeared on behalf of the State.

READ ALSO: Lino Cauchi heirs call on police to reopen investigation