Piju Camilleri: A suspect without evidence in the Lino Cauchi murder

Piju Camilleri was a suspect in the murder of Lino Cauchi, but he always denied any involvement

Piju Camilleri has always denied any involvement in Cauchi’s murder, similarly refuting suggestions that Cauchi was his accountant
Piju Camilleri has always denied any involvement in Cauchi’s murder, similarly refuting suggestions that Cauchi was his accountant

Piju Camilleri, a developer from Luqa, was regarded as a suspect in the murder of Lino Cauchi, testimony given by former police commissioner John Rizzo shows.

Testifying in the constitutional case filed by Cauchi’s heirs against the State, Rizzo said that during his time as commissioner the police reopened investigations on the case several times.

“We had also arrested Piju Camilleri, who was a suspect, several times, but the investigations did not have the desired outcome,” Rizzo said on oath.

However, these interrogations only took place after 2001, many years after Cauchi went missing, making it hard for police to connect anyone to the murder in the absence of evidence that had not been preserved in 1982.

Until then, Camilleri and others had never been spoken to by the police in relation to the Cauchi murder.

Camilleri has always denied any involvement in Cauchi’s murder, similarly refuting suggestions that Cauchi was his accountant.

Camilleri, known as il-Ħawsla, was described by developer Joseph Borg as the “lunga manus” (the long arm) of public works minister Lorry Sant, who was responsible for issuing building permits.

Both Camilleri and Sant had been indicted by the Permanent Commission Against Corruption as having extorted lands from developers between 1977 and 1987, in exchange for building permits. Police charges against the pair and others in 1991, however, were thrown out by the court because they were time-barred.

Borg has over the years provided key testimony on a heated meeting held on 8 December 1981, just days before the general election.

The meeting was called by Camilleri who had a joint company with Borg and Victor Balzan, another person in the Lorry Sant clique. Fearing a change in government, Camilleri wanted to wrap up a number of agreements following a dispute with Borg over lands that were being sold by the joint company.

In the meeting, a private agreement was drawn up by which Camilleri was to return to Borg several plots of land in Luqa. The agreement was drafted by Lino Cauchi, who Borg insists was introduced as Camilleri’s accountant.

It transpires that Cauchi presented plans that showed how Camilleri was selling plots of land for a price but only declaring on contract a lower price. Camilleri was pocketing the difference behind his business partners’ backs.

This caused Camilleri to flip and use threatening language against Cauchi. The private agreement was held by Cauchi and he would not give Borg and Balzan a copy unless authorised by Camilleri.

When Cauchi went missing, the agreement vanished with him and the agreed transfer of plots to Borg never took place.

Former deputy police commissioner Pierre Calleja, testifying in the constitutional case recounted how after 2001, Joe Pace, a businessman who owned the defunct Magic Kiosk in Sliema, had recounted a runin he had with Lorry Sant after 1987.

Pace, who has since died, was often used by Piju Camilleri to front contracts related to corrupt land deals.

Pace told Calleja that Sant wanted to continue running the show after the change in government in 1987 and insisted he be involved in what plots of land are sold. When Pace wanted out, Sant purportedly told him “you do as I say or I’ll get Piju Camilleri to cut you up like he did to Lino Cauchi”.

Calleja said the police interrogated Camilleri several times. “We heard a lot of witnesses who had never been heard before, but because the murder had taken place a long time before it was difficult to find evidence,” Calleja told the court.

Today, Piju Camilleri is a man in his 70s, having passed over the shareholding of most of his companies to his two sons.

He retains one company in his name and lives in a seafront apartment block in Sliema – a project he financed through a loan of Lm500,000 (€1.2 million) obtained from Mid-Med Bank in the mid-1980s.

The loan was one of the irregular transactions highlighted in the 1993 Judge Anastasi Report that probed Mid-Med Bank’s dealings prior 1987 after Judge Wenzu Mintoff (who had been a lawyer in the bank’s legal office at the time) blew the whistle on the preferential treatment people close to the Labour government at the time were being afforded.

Camilleri had to make Lm780,000 (€1.8 million) from the sale of apartments in the Sliema project. He continues to enjoy the fruits of his ‘labour’ to this day.

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