PM questioned on recusal on Koħħu pardon, after representing Maksar brothers

Robert Abela had acted for brothers Robert and Adrian Agius in legal disputes between 2012 and 2016

Robert Abela
Robert Abela

Robert Abela has confirmed he legally represented the brothers believed to have supplied the bomb that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia, and is now looking into whether he should recuse himself from the decision on whether to pardon a suspect in return for naming them, The Times has reported.

But Abela told the newspaper he sees no reason to do so.

Abela personally appeared for brothers Robert and Adrian Agius in legal disputes between 2012 and 2016.

Last week, a joint investigation by MaltaToday and The Times showed the Agius brothers, who police believe are at the head of an organised crime group, are part of the conspiracy that supplied the bomb used to assassinate Caruana Galizia in 2017.

The Times reported that Abela represented the Agius family in two cases revolving around financial disputes, first in 2012. “The fact that I personally, not my law firm, but I personally, represented the Agius brothers is not a secret,” Abela said.

Abela said this would not impair his judgement. “The fact that someone was my client in the past will certainly not work in their favour when it comes to important decisions I have to take. The oath I took back in January holds me back from doing that. Even more so, my conscience won’t allow it,” he said.

The prime minister said “the easiest thing to do” would be to avoid taking any decision whatsoever and to steer clear of this case.

Abela did admit he was trying to establish whether there are grounds for him to recuse himself on the matter. “The two instances where I had appeared on the Agius brothers’ behalf have nothing at all to do with the allegations being made by [Vince Muscat],” Abela said.

Abela has not yet taken a final decision on whether a pardon should be considered and that he was awaiting advice from police commissioner Angelo Gafà and the attorney general, Victoria Buttigieg, who are examining Muscat’s request in detail.

Muscat first requested a pardon for his crimes in exchange for testimony more than 10 months ago.


Pardons and conflicts

The former lawyer to Vincent Muscat ‘il-Kohhu’, one of the three men accused with executing the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, had tried to make Muscat recant on an April 2018 statement, in which he named Melvin Theuma as the middleman in the assassination.

Arthur Azzopardi, who dropped his brief for Muscat in late 2019 just before the arrest of Melvin Theuma on charges of money laundering, denied having attempted to convince Muscat to change his version of events.

One month before the arrest of Theuma in November 2019, the lead investigator in the assassination, inspector Keith Arnaud, had informed Muscat’s family that Muscat was changing his version on Theuma.

But it turned out that Vincent Muscat had never instructed Azzopardi on such a decision, and Arnaud was duly informed that this was not what Muscat had wished.

In comments to MaltaToday, Azzopardi insisted that he “definitely did not tell Arnaud that his client was reneging on the statement that Theuma was the middleman”.

Arthur Azzopardi also said that when he had gone to Arnaud, it was to inform him that he was no longer Muscat’s lawyer.

In April 2018, Vincent Muscat had asked for a pardon in return for revealing details on 15 major crimes including murders, car bombs and heists.

He had also offered details of the Caruana Galizia murder, hinting at Melvin Theuma as the middleman; and it appears this was the first time that the police had been given the name of the man who had served Yorgen Fenech in canvassing for the hit-men who murdered Caruana Galizia.

Muscat had also told Arnaud that the bomb used for the Caruana Galizia murder was one of several devices that had been imported, with similar bombs still in circulation.

It was after this meeting, sources tell MaltaToday, that Theuma started making mobile phone recordings of all his encounters and meetings with people connected to Yorgen Fenech and Keith Schembri.

Two days after Muscat had told Arnaud on 23 April, 2018 that he would cooperate with the police in return for the pardon, the two incarcerated brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio informed their own family members that Muscat was dishing the dirt on the murder and other crimes.

But Muscat’s request for a pardon then was not only ignored but simply buried and disregarded by the police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar.

Only recently, Arthur Azzopardi was acting as defence lawyer for Robert Agius, one of 10 men who were arrested in connection with the Caruana Galizia investigations, along with his brother Adrian Agius, and released on bail. Robert Agius, 36, known by family nickname ‘tal-Maksar’, was acquitted in June 2020 of drug trafficking charges dating back to 2012 after a court found there was nothing to prove he had a part in any conspiracy.

The Agius brothers were released and never charged but court testimony given by murder middleman Melvin Theuma shows how he had been sent by Yorgen Fenech to the Maksar brothers, who allegedly made the bomb.

Muscat, 57, was charged in December 2017 along with brothers George Degiorgio ‘ic-Ciniz’ and Alfred Degiorgio ‘il-Fulu’, with the murder of Caruana Galizia on 16 October 2017.