Degiorgio phone taps were not sole avenue of investigation, investigator says

Lead investigator in Caruana Galizia assassination investigation tells court MSS phone taps were used as 'intelligence' to help the police in apprehending alleged murderers

Inspector Keith Arnaud (in white) is the lead investigator in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation
Inspector Keith Arnaud (in white) is the lead investigator in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation

Inspector Keith Arnaud, the lead investigator in the Caruana Galizia assassination investigation has told a court that phone taps carried out by the Malta Security Services, were used as “intelligence” to help the police understand the main body of evidence which provided the basis of the prosecution’s case. 

He was testifying in a Constitutional case filed by George Degiorgio, one of the men accused of the murder, in which the validity of the phone intercepts and the law under which they were made is being brought into question. 

Degiorgio filed the case last year, arguing that the prosecution in the murder compilation had “bragged about” telephone intercepts which had allegedly been crucial in identifying the suspected murderers and linking them to the murder.

Arnaud told Mr Justice Toni Abela that the main body of evidence the police had used had been gathered from the crime scene, together with forensic evidence and digital data gathered from local service providers.

All cell tower data was analyzed by the FBI as well as the Maltese investigators, said Inspector Arnaud, who gave an outline of the process through which data analysis had put the police on the suspect’s tracks.

The FBI proved crucial in identifying five mobile phone numbers, two directly linked to the device that had set off the car bomb and three others later discovered to be ghost phones, allegedly used by the suspects to bypass possible tapping of their personal phones, he said.

It had been a call made by George Degiorgio from his personal phone on the day of the explosion, that had led investigators to suspect that the request for a mobile credit top-up was not for his own phone but for another, when the rest of the body of evidence was taken into account Arnaud explained. 

But that call, which had been intercepted by the Malta Security Services (MSS), would not have sufficed on its own, he said. 

“The call ‘buy me a top-up’ alone meant nothing. If the top-up was actually bought and inputted, that’s another thing.” That piece of evidence had been supplied by Vodafone, he said. “We did not need the intercept,” explained Arnaud.

“How could you get to the top-up message without the intercept?” asked Degiorgio’s lawyer William Cuschieri.

Arnaud explained that there had been two avenues of investigation, namely, the intercepts and an analysis of the suspects’ call profile.

The latter had revealed the number of the third party who had been contacted by George Degiorgio shortly before the explosion. Arnaud explained that the third party had later confirmed Degiorgio’s message. 

The intercepts had also shown that one of the ghost phones had moved in tandem with one of the numbers linked to the explosive device, Arnaud continued, pointing out that the Degiorgios had been under police suspicion in relation to other similar crimes. 

“Did you confirm whether the MSS had a warrant for the intercepts?” asked Cuschieri.

Arnaud explained that “it was not his duty to do so” but confirmed that he had forwarded a report to the Commissioner on February 20, 2017, asking him to request MSS to help monitor Degiorgio in relation to other cases. 

“Did you ever see the warrant?” asked the lawyer. “No, I did not,” Arnaud replied.

As part of the sitting this afternoon, the Inspector exhibited a CD containing an audio-visual recording of George Degiorgio’s interrogation during which the intercepted call had allegedly been played to him.

The judge declared that the CD would be placed in a sealed envelope which was to be made accessible only to the parties, who in turn, were to ensure that no part thereof was to be made public. 

The recordings contained in the CD had not been exhibited during the compilation of evidence but the call was heard in the recording of the interrogation, Arnaud explained. 

George Degiorgio had not reacted to hearing the recording during his interrogation, nor had he answered any questions, said the inspector.

Cuschieri asked whether there had been any voice analysis carried out on the recordings to ascertain whether or not it was actually George Degiorgio’s voice. “We know George Degiorgio’s voice. We immediately recognized it. I know his voice well,” replied the Inspector.

During today’s sitting, Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar also took the witness stand, confirming that he had passed on the request for the intercepts on the same day that the investigators’ request had been handed to him on February 20, 2017. 

Today also saw MSS Chief Joseph Bugeja testify behind closed doors after the court upheld a prosecution request that he be allowed to do so without the media or the public being present. 

Lawyer William Cuschieri assisted Degiorgio.

Lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia and Peter Caruana Galizia appeared on behalf of the victim’s family.

Lawyers Victoria Buttigieg and Maurizio Cordina appeared on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General.