The light touch of justice: how murder suspects thrived with impunity

The criminal history of the men charged with Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder suggests they benefitted from lenient court sentences to inadequate police prosecution, allowing them to live their high-stakes life with relative impunity

As he got down to plot Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder with his accomplices, Alfred Degiorgio was receiving a slap on the hand for his involvement in a hold-up.

On 22 August, Alfred Degiorgio, known as il-Fulu, was handed a suspended sentence by Magistrate Anthony Micallef Trigona over his involvement in a hold-up on a cash van in 2000 when more than €2 million were stolen.

Less than two months later, investigators believe Alfred Degiorgio was acting as a spotter in Bidnija and giving his brother the signal to send the fatal SMS that detonated the bomb, which killed Caruana Galizia.

Alfred Degiorgio, his brother George Degiorgio, known as ic-Ciniz, and Vince Muscat, known as il-Kohhu, were charged in court last week with the murder of the journalist.

They were arrested along with seven other individuals last Monday in a massive police and army raid in Marsa, Zebbug and Bugibba. The three men were found at their base camp, a rusty metal shed with direct access to the sea at Menqa in Marsa.

Several mobile phones were found during intensive searches on the seabed in Marsa, which could help the police in their investigations of other car bombings. But Alfred Degiorgio appears to have had a penchant for hold-ups.

In 2004, Alfred Degiorgio teamed up with Muscat and Darren Debono, known as it-Topo, to carry out a hold-up on employees of Valhmor Borg Co. Ltd at Pinto Wharf in Marsa. Some €18,000 in cash and cheques were stolen in the armed hold-up.

An employee of the company had admitted being an accomplice and was sentenced a month after the hold-up. He was to be the main witness in the case against the three masterminds.

File photo from 2010: Vince Muscat 'il-Kohhu' is escorted from court after being charged with involvement in the 2010 HSBC heist
File photo from 2010: Vince Muscat 'il-Kohhu' is escorted from court after being charged with involvement in the 2010 HSBC heist

However, the case against Degiorgio, Muscat and Debono dragged on for more than 10 years. By the time the case landed in the lap of Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera – she inherited it from another magistrate – the main witness claimed he could not remember anything.

In September 2015, the magistrate acquitted Degiorgio, Muscat and Debono on lack of proof.

Meanwhile, Muscat and Debono were charged with others of carrying out the daring heist on the HSBC operations centre in Qormi in 2010. Muscat was granted bail despite having fired more than 30 shots at police officers.

In 2014, Muscat almost lost his life when he was shot in the head outside his home. Jonathan Pace, the owner of the bankrupt Tyson Butcher, was charged in court of Muscat’s attempted murder.

While out on bail, Pace was gunned down as he stood in the balcony of the family home in Fgura. The criminal history of the three men charged with Caruana Galizia’s murder suggests they have benefitted from the light touch.

From lenient court sentences to inadequate police prosecution, the men have continued to live their high-stakes life with relative impunity. Despite being unemployed, George Degiorgio owns a cabin cruiser and several luxury cars. Sources close to the Caruana Galizia murder investigation believe George Degiorgio sent the SMS that triggered the bomb while being out at sea on his boat.

The three men kept their mouths shut during the 36 hours of interrogation at police headquarters, not even wanting to confirm their name verbally. Being unemployed they opted for a legal aide lawyer, however, they renounced their right to confide with him.

This modus operandi by these hardened criminals appears to be a defining characteristic. In 2003, George Degiorgio opted for complete silence during interrogation after he was stopped along with two others in Gozo and arrested for being in possession of tools that could be used in break-ins.

Degiorgio was acquitted of wrongdoing but in the case, it emerged that until then he had had seven run-ins with the law, including a 1981 case of theft. Non-cooperation was also evident when an inquiring magistrate looking into a hold-up in Qormi of a cash van belonging to City Security had asked the Degiorgio brothers and others to give mouth swabs for DNA testing.

The hold-up took place in August 2006 and it was four years later, during the course of the magisterial inquiry, that the magistrate ordered the Degiorgios be brought to him under arrest. The brothers had refused to submit to DNA testing and went on to file a constitutional case claiming a breach of human rights.

They were never charged with the hold-up and lost the constitutional case. However, in April 2013, the appeals court overturned the original decision and awarded the Degiorgios and two other men €100 each in compensation.

What we know so far

  • Three men, Vincent Muscat, Alfred Degiorgio, and George Degiorgio have been charged with Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder
  • Another seven were arrested but are out on police bail
  • Among those released on police bail are the sons of Raymond Agius, who was gunned down at the Butterfly bar in Birkirkara in 2008
  • The bomb that killed Caruana Galizia was placed inside the car beneath the driver seat at around 2am on 16 October
  • The car’s central locking system was bypassed electronically, leaving no trace of a break-in 6. The bomb was to be triggered by an electronic device that took a SIM card
  • Just before 3pm on 16 October George Degiorgio realised that the mobile phone from which the fatal SMS had to be sent had no credit
  • George Degiorgio placed a call with a friend who works at a telecoms company asking him to top up the mobile phone with €5
  • Alfred Degiorgio acted as a spotter in Bidnija and informed his brother of Caruana Galizia’s last movements
  • George Degiorgio sent the deadly SMS while aboard his cabin cruiser out at sea
  • The mobile phone was found on the seabed in Marsa along with several others
  • At around 3.30pm, after delivering the message of death, George Degiorgio sent his wife a message that read: “Open a bottle of wine for me, baby.”