Police caught OPM official removing items from Caruana Galizia memorial, court told

Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina testifies that police had apprehended an OPM official after clearing items from a makeshift memorial to murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Valletta

An official at the Office of the Prime Minister was apprehended by the police after clearing items from a makeshift memorial to murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, a judge heard on Monday morning.

Judge Joseph Zammit Mc Keon heard lawyer and Nationalist Party MP Karol Aquilina testify that on the night between 21 and 22 March last year, the police had spotted people taking items away from the foot of the Great Siege monument and had chased and apprehended them.

“One is Nigel Vella, a company director and Labour supporter, and the other is Chris Galea, the head of government events at the OPM,” Aquilina said.

The PN MP took the witness stand in a constitutional case filed by activist Manuel Delia against Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and Ramon Deguara, the director general of the Cleansing Department, over the repeated removal of the Caruana Galizia memorial.

Aquilina testified that the police did not follow up the case.

The lawyer said that he was one of the first to place candles and flowers at the foot of the Great Siege monument in memory of Caruana Galizia. The site had been chosen because it was directly in front of the law courts, he said.

Aquilina recalled how on 20 March last year, he had gone to buy candles and placed them at the foot of the monument. The next day he went to court and checked whether they were still there but they had been taken away. He had reported the theft to the police.

Afterwards, Aquilina was asked to be present for a protest by a group of activists, just in case a lawyer was needed. They had hung a banner, calling for justice, on the barricades around the monument.

In the afternoon he was informed that government workers were taking the items away. A journalist had spotted them and filmed the government workers, before filing a report at the police station.

Deguara later called Aquilina up. He informed him that he had ordered the department staff to return the items to Manuel Delia. After their return, the activist had once again placed the items at the foot of the monument at around 5pm.

At 5.17pm, Deguara had called Aquilina again, saying he was very sorry about what happened and was “following orders he had received from Owen Bonnici personally”.

After that incident, Deguara had started depositing the items in court.

“I had bumped into Owen Bonnici and informed him that it was totally unacceptable,” Aquilina said.

He had filed other police reports but nothing had happened, he said.

Journalist and activist testify

Also testifying today was Newsbook journalist Christoph Schwaiger, who told the judge about an incident on 15 September in which he was accosted by a government official whilst filming workers as they removed candles from the site.

“A man who identified himself as a senior technical officer approached me and asked me why I was filming. He said I can’t film as it was a danger to his workers. He called the police but I carried on doing my work. He then grabbed my hand and I could not continue to carry out my work. Luckily the situation was solved without violence,” the reporter said.

Occupy Justice activist Anne Demarco also took the stand. She told the judge that she had been visiting the site twice a day to place photos, candles and flowers since late September to replenish the ones taken away.  

“We’d place the photo on the pedestal, not the monument proper, and plant flowers in the soil in front of it. There was a bay tree that was removed,” she explained. Signs relating to Caruana Galizia’s life and death were also put up.

“It is a big protest… that a journalist is killed is shocking and horrifying. When it happened I didn’t know what to do. I went to the vigil that same day," Demarco said.

She added that she had met Caruana Galizia only on one occasion but felt the need to take a stand after the murder.

“The fact that she was killed in that way and that nobody took political responsibility and although arrests were made the case is still in its preliminary stages... I am acting together with others because we felt that we had to take a stand and not let this thing be forgotten.”

The Judge asked who had chosen the Great Siege memorial and why.

“Nobody decided. When the murder happened, schoolchildren… placed flowers there. [The site is] ideally placed in front of court, but it occurred spontaneously.”

She denied being given the task by Manuel Delia, saying she did it out of her own free will.

“Delia is not a part of Occupy Justice but is among the people who is sympathetic with the group’s intentions,” she explained.

Under cross-examination, she clarified that the group had “no structure or juridical personality”. “We are a pressure group made up of women... we try to keep her memory alive.”

Earlier in the sitting, Superintendent of Cultural Heritage Joseph Magro told the court that no requests had been received, in relation to the case, for restoration or cleaning works on the monument. This would normally only happen if structural damage or intensive cleaning was involved, he said.

The case continues on 7 February.

Lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia, Jason Azzopardi and Eve Borg Costanzi and Karol Aquilina appeared for Delia.

Lawyer Victoria Buttigieg appeared on behalf of the AG. Lawyer Chris Cilia is appearing for Ramon Deguara.

Lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia, Jason Azzopardi, Eve Borg Costanzi  assisted the applicant.


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