Expert not formally appointed to murder inquiry, MaltaToday managing editor tells court

In libel case filed by John Muscat, a court expert in the Daphne Caruna Galizia murder inquiry, MaltaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan testifies on deliberate leaks from inquiry

MaltaToday’s managing editor Saviour Balzan defended his newspaper’s report which revealed that alleged court experts appointed by one of the magistrates who formerly led the magisterial inquiry into the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination, were not formally appointed by court decree.

Balzan was testifying in a libel case filed by John Muscat, who was formerly a court expert on the Caruana Galizia case, but which according to MaltaToday’s report, had lost trust among police sources following an investigation into leaks from the magisterial inquiry.

In court Balzan insisted that he did not indicate who was responsible for having leaked deliberately-fed information, that was intended to understand who was leaking information to the foreign press.

READ MORE • Witness admitted to police he lied about Cardona sighting with Degiorgio: witness who told Daphne Project of Cardona meeting with Degiorgio told police he lied • Investigators fed misleading information in a bid to weed out leaks from within the inquiry

“I had emphasised that John Muscat was one of the inquiry’s experts and that he was the brother of Caroline Muscat, a former PN campaign manager and editor of The Shift News, which had been publishing these leaks.

“I was generic in what I had said. The police were noticing leaks and had complained to the Magistrate Anthony Vella. This is information that I gathered myself… when the experts were changed, the leaks stopped,” Balzan said.

Balzan said court records also showed Muscat was not officially confirmed as an expert by the inquiring magistrate, but despite this, he was granted access to sensitive information and privileged information belonging to private individuals and third parties.

Bona fide experts and investigators were upset by these leaks and had confronted the magistrate about them, he said.

“The leaks have been interfering with the investigation’s primary task… they were imprecise leaks and many times conjectures with a political intent,” Balzan said, citing examples which found their way into Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

He said one of the Caruana Galizia family’s in parte civile lawyers, the Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, “would often announce the upcoming news on Facebook and Twitter, before the news was broken.”

Balzan testified that reports in the Italian press of minister Chris Cardona meeting a suspected killer, had been a red herring ‘invented’ to identify the leaker. The court experts who had been appointed by Magistrate Vella to gather CCTV from houses near Siggiewi’s Ferdinand Bar had not seen Cardona in any footage, but had not told the investigators about this, he said.

The police found out about the contents of the footage only after a story appeared on the The Shift News, Radio France and the Times, he said, adding that when the police went to collect the CCTV footage, they were told it had already been collected by the magistrate’s experts.

Balzan said the police were rightly irked about this, and concerned that footage proving the minister had met one of the accused had not been communicated to them.

John Muscat did not remain a court expert after Magistrate Vella was elevated to judge. After a new magistrate was appointed into the inquiry and the experts were changed, the leaks had stopped, Balzan said.

“Some journalists had also received logs of calls intercepted, which had originally been in the hands of a court expert. This list is immensely sensitive and could lead to whoever wanted to derail the process, to imagine that because there were some phone calls to family members or close associates of the killers, then they must have had a hand in Caruana Galizia’s murder. I wish to remark that among these calls, are private persons and established lawyers and this in no way means that they were involved.”

Grilled by lawyer Joseph Zammit Maempel on whether he considered John Muscat to be a ‘senior official’ in the investigation, Balzan said that he distinguished between bona fide investigators such as the police and court experts with years of experience, and Muscat.

“Muscat has expertise in offering security in music concerts, and he was an expert without being noted down as one by Magistrate Vella; furthermore he has a clear conflict of interest,” he said, referring to his direct relationship to a journalist. 

Balzan said that publishing leaked information should also be done responsibly. He cited the leak to La Repubblica of a video from the investigation, showing murder suspect George Degiorgio leaving the Grand Harbour on the day Caruana Galizia. “I have no problem saying that the video was given to the Italian journalist by Jason Azzopardi.  This is an example of the state of affairs when the first magistrate was carrying out the investigations. I do not know what the game is, but in my mind it is all about creating chaos.”

The case continues in November. Lawyer Veronique Dalli is appearing for Balzan. Lawyer Joseph Zammit Maempel is appearing Muscat.

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