Marsaskala car bomb widow: 'Who killed my husband?'

Wife left in the dark after partner, fisherman Martin Cachia, was killed in 2016 car bomb

Martin Cachia was killed in a Marsaskala car bomb and almost seven years later his wife has been left questioning who carried out the hit.

Cachia was killed when his car blew up while he was driving along the Marsaskala bypass in 2016. He was a registered fisherman and had pending charges for drug trafficking, human smuggling, and contraband cigarettes.

Nobody has been charged with his murder and his wife, Elena Cachia, has been unable to get any answers from the police. She speaks with MaltaToday about her husband, his illegal affairs and lifts the lid on how Martin grew anxious in the months before the murder.

Elena married her husband in 2013 after dating him for nine years. As they got married, Martin appointed her director to all of his companies to avoid any inheritance issues down the line.

After he was killed, Elena was left battling several court cases to try and reclaim her husband’s companies and put the business back in action. 

She says her husband grew anxious in the months before his murder. “He would tell me not to come in the car with him,” she said, suggesting that he knew he was being targeted. 

He had also expressed a wish to leave Malta entirely. “He said, ‘I want to run away from Malta, leave somewhere and you join me later after I send you a ticket’,” Elena recounts.

Between the pending charges and his fishing business, Elena believes that it was Martin’s fuel-smuggling operations that made him a target.

Cachia’s license allowed him to sail into international waters. According to Elena, her husband would sail out into the middle of the sea between Libya and Malta. Fuel would be loaded onto Cachia’s vessel, and another boat would come and pick up the load. 

Cachia was already known to police as a fuel smuggler. He was a person of interest in a police probe into the smuggling of fuel from Libya. 

He also faced human trafficking charges after his fishing vessel, the Liberty V, was impounded by police officers when they received a tip-off that 20 irregular immigrants were on board.

Liberty Fishing Company, which owned the Liberty V, was indeed owned by Elena, who was written down as the director, legal and judicial representative, and company secretary.

When he was arrested in 2013, Martin Cachia had refused to answer any questions during his interrogation over the human trafficking allegations. But his Egyptian crew soon changed their story. From rescuing sailors in distress, the crew recounted how the Liberty V had encountered problems with the vessel’s bilge pump.

They had contacted Cachia, who at first instructed them to return to shore, but shortly afterwards called up a crew member and told him to stand fast and await another vessel that was sailing to their location to pick up their cargo of around 70 boxes of Russian vodka.

After the two vessels got alongside each other, and before transferring the alcohol, the Liberty crew said that between 28 and 42 passengers embarked on their vessel from the other boat. The other boat had a Libyan crew.

The passengers included around five women and four or five children, who they said were “probably Syrian.” The Liberty reached land at Ras Ħanżir, beneath Corradino Hill in the Grand Harbour and had successfully offloaded part of its human cargo into a van before drugs squad police arrived on the scene. The officers were told by the crew that around 20 people remained on board the vessel.

Car bomb raised more questions than answers

Cachia’s car went up in flames on 16 January at around 9:15am as he was driving through Triq il-Latmija on Marsaskala’s bypass. 

The car blew up after an explosive device went off. The driver lost control of the vehicle, which hurtled along the road for around 100m before crashing into a nearby wall. 

At the time, police were not ruling anything. Former assistant commissioner Silvio Valletta had said they could not conclusively say the death was a homicide due to the dynamics of the explosion.

Since the bomb was most likely inside the car when it went off, police had to establish whether someone placed the bomb inside the car with the intention of killing Cachia, or whether Cachia was knowingly transporting the bomb somewhere else.

Elena is convinced that the bomb was placed in the car by a third party, especially given her husband’s behaviour before the murder.

This wouldn’t be far-fetched in hindsight. Most of the car bombs that had taken place in prior years saw the explosives placed underneath the car, which is what probably led police to consider the possibility that Martin may have been transporting the bomb.

But if Martin was assassinated, his death would have been the first episode in a series, where car bombs started being placed inside the vehicle.

Testimony given during the compilation of evidence into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia gives an insight into how this could have been pulled off.

Superintendent Keith Arnaud had described how Robert Agius, known as Tal-Maksar, had acquired a vehicle similar to the one used by Caruana Galizia so that her executioners could practice lock-breaking.

The Caruana Galizia bomb had been placed underneath the driver’s seat with no apparent sign of break-in and was triggered remotely by a text message sent to a SIM card placed inside the bomb.

It remains unclear whether the bomb that killed Cachia had the same dynamics as the Caruana Galizia one.

In her blog, the murdered journalist had pointed out a pattern among the criminal assassinations from the past decades.

“Diesel smugglers are blown up by bombs in their cars, and drug smugglers are shot dead by hired hitmen,” she wrote. 

“The diesel smugglers are described as ‘fishermen’ or ‘restaurateurs’, and the drug smugglers are called long-distance lorry drivers or hauliers, or ‘unemployed family men’ or ‘businessmen’, though some of them are occasionally described as ‘known to the police’,” Caruana Galizia had said.

Martin Cachia and Pierre Darmanin

She referred to one man, Josef Cassar, also a victim of a car bomb while he was driving along Marsa’s December 13 Road.

Caruana Galizia alleged that Cassar was a diesel smuggler linked to the MV Silverking, a vessel owned by Silver King Ltd, “whose only shareholders are Pierre Darmanin, black sheep of the well-respected Tan-Niksu family of Żurrieq, and his estranged wife Annabelle”.

Caruana Galizia said the vessel was impounded by Customs three years prior, and Darmanin was named in a police and customs investigation into a diesel-smuggling ring.

Darmanin went on to call the journalist to clarify his position in relation to this blog post. He told her that his company sold the MV Silverking when it was released from impound three years before.

But according to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, after hanging up from Caruana Galizia, Darmanin first called Economy Minister Chris Cardona, followed by Alfred Degiorgio – one of the three hitmen convicted so far with Caruana Galizia’s murder.

Darmanin has always denied wrongdoing but his name had also appeared in court proceedings that concerned Martin Cachia.

Court records included a letter, signed by Darmanin, dated 11 December 2015, asking an unspecified recipient to allow Cachia to travel with him to Egypt. But Darmanin told Caruana Galizia that his signature was forged by Cachia.

Elena tells MaltaToday that the purpose of this particular trip was to bring a large vessel to Malta from Damietta in Egypt. The vessel had a large space underneath to store fuel, she says.

Whether this particular case had any bearing on her husband’s demise, she cannot tell.

The Cachia car bombing is one of several unsolved cases in which powerful bombs were used to eliminate criminals, smugglers and traffickers. These bombings culminated in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017.

Almost seven years since Cachia’s demise, his wife is convinced her husband was murdered but like many others she remains in the dark as to who may have ordered his death and who carried out the hit.

Car bombs since 2016

16 October 2017: Daphne Caruana Galizia (murdered)

Daphne Caruana Galizia is killed in a car bomb outside her house in Bidnija. Three men have been convicted of the hit after pleading guilty. Criminal cases against three others, including suspected mastermind Yorgen Fenech, are still ongoing.

20 February 2017: Romeo Bone (injured)

Romeo Bone, 40, is grievously injured and eventually loses both legs, after his car blew up while driving in Msida. Bone was well known with the police. Nobody has been charged with the bombing.

29 January 2017: Victor Calleja (murdered)

Victor Calleja, 61, dies when a bomb detonated in his car while driving from Marsa to Qormi next to the Maltapost headquarters. Calleja, known as Ic-Chippy, was also well known to the police. Nobody has been charged with the bombing.

31 October 2016: John Camilleri (murdered)

John Camilleri, 67, known as Giovann tas-Sapun, died when a bomb under his seat detonated at St Paul’s Bay. The bomb was considered to be the most powerful one yet, and the car’s roof ended up on a nearby penthouse. Camilleri owned S&S Bathrooms. Nobody has been charged with the murder.

26 September 2016: Josef Cassar (injured)

Josef Cassar, 38, was targeted by a car explosive while driving in Marsa. Cassar, who was the sole director of S&T Services, survived but lost his legs. A passenger was also injured. The bomb, which was reportedly full of screws and ball bearings, was placed under his car. Nobody has been charged with the bombing.

16 January 2016: Martin Cachia (murdered)

Martin Cachia, 56, was killed when a bomb detonated inside his car. It was not confirmed whether Cachia was the victim of the bomb, or if he was transporting it. Cachia was also known to the police. Nobody has been charged with the bombing.