Witness admitted to police he lied about Cardona sighting with Degiorgio

EXCLUSIVE • 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

Labour minister Chris Cardona has been at the centre of allegations that he knew or spoke to one of the murder suspects in the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination
Labour minister Chris Cardona has been at the centre of allegations that he knew or spoke to one of the murder suspects in the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination

The witness who had told the Daphne Project that he had seen minister Chris Cardona in conversation with murder suspect Alfred Degiorgio sometime in November 2017 after the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, had admitted to the police under interrogation of not having said the truth.

Crucial details of the sensitive murder investigation have come to light since reports last week contradicted reports by Italian newspaper La Repubblica on calls made by a fishing boat owner consecutively to Caruana Galizia, Cardona and Degiorgio – one of three men accused of carrying out the car bomb that killed Caruana Galizia on 16 October, 2017.

Perhaps the most extraordinary twist in proceedings has been the admission of the ‘eyewitness’ at Ferdinand’s Bar in Siggiewi, who told the police he had not seen Cardona and Degiorgio together, and that he had actually only seen them visiting the bar separately and on different occasions.

The witness, a regular at Ferdinand’s, had been reported by Radio France saying he had seen Alfred Degiorgio ‘il-Fulu’ chatting with Cardona at the bar one day in November.

But under interrogation soon after the Daphne Project published a recording of the witness – who was presented to the journalists’ consortium by a Nationalist MP – he would have told police that when the French journalists returned to seek further information he had asked them to leave him alone.

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Already CCTV footage taken from a private residence in the main square of Siggiewi had been collected by court expert Martin Bajada for Magistrate Anthony Vella back in December 2017 – on the strength of a tip-off on the alleged sighting.

But while that footage had proved inconclusive, the resulting conclusion disproving the allegation was not included in Magistrate Vella’s inquiry, nor were police informed of the findings of the CCTV footage.

It was only in April 2018, when the Daphne Project released its report on the eyewitness’s claim, that police investigators went on site to collect the footage from the private residence, only to be told that the footage had already been collected by the magistrate.

This clear lack of communication riled some of those working on the investigation at this point, with Vella not even interviewing Cardona – who at this point had been conjured up as a potential suspect in the assassination plotline.

Instead it was the police investigators who interviewed Cardona, who released a statement to Inspector Keith Arnaud, the chief prosecutor in the criminal proceedings against the three murder suspects, denying having met Degiorgio but admitting being at the bar at the weekends.

But the Cardona storyline was further reinforced in the last weeks when La Repubblica reported statements made to the investigators by witnesses who said they had seen Cardona at a bachelors’ party at a Fawwara farmhouse, in Siggiewi, during which Alfred Degiorgio was also present.

In his statement to police this time, Cardona was asked to clarify a photograph of the party in question that had been passed on to the investigation: in it, the photo features four young men in a swimming pool, one of them the bachelor being celebrated, while in the background on the pool deck, Alfred Degiorgio can be seen as one of the invitees.

Cardona is said to have stated he had not been invited to the party by the bachelor, the son of the owner of Ferdinand’s bar as it happens – but that he had been called over to the party by one of the invited patrons. Visiting the party at a late hour, Cardona left after 10 minutes, denying having met or seen the accused at the party.

Weeding out leaks

But it has been the leaks from the magisterial inquiry to foreign press outlets that have riled police investigators, exposing a rift with the former magistrate tasked with harnessing the inquiry.

Police sources complained that they could not trust some of the court experts appointed to the inquiry: they included John Gera, a health and safety expert who has since resigned from the investigation after Magistrate Neville Camilleri took over the case; but also John Muscat, a security consultant who is also the brother of former PN campaign manager, now The Shift journalist Caroline Muscat; and former Security Service officer Roberto Critien.

At one point, Magistrate Vella ordered the call logs of all police officers on the scene of the crime at Bidnija, including the Commissioner of Police. But Vella did not order the confiscation of Caruana Galizia’s laptop, which machine was later delivered months after the Daphne Project’s revelations to German police; a move which had at the time prompted a judicial request by police for the laptop. When MaltaToday asked Vella in April why he had not seized the laptop, Vella could not answer, citing the ongoing investigation.

Police investigators, who have been central in the collection of forensic evidence, mobile phone data and the identification of the murder suspects, were actually left in the dark about the magistrate’s request to his court experts to collect the phone call records of senior politicians, including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Adrian Delia, for the 12 months prior to the murder, as well as of other prominent public officials.

Police investigators complained that information had been leaked from the inquiry, but it was not until the departure of Magistrate Vella that it was possible to identify the leak.

Highly-placed officials working on the murder investigation fed inaccurate information to court experts in a bid to weed out those speaking to reporters and politicians.

The move came just as Magistrate Neville Camilleri took over the investigation in June 2018 after Vella was promoted to judge. The information concerned an alleged phone-call made by fishing boat owner Pierre Darmanin (see pages 4-5) to Caruana Galizia in 2016, after she named him in connection with a smuggling investigation.

In the last weeks La Repubblica reported information from within the inquiry that Darmanin had called Caruana Galizia to demand a rectification of what he wrote, then called Chris Cardona and after murder suspect Alfred Degiorgio ‘il-Fulu’.

But last Sunday, the Malta Independent reported a more precise account of the telephone data, effectively exposing the wrong information fed to La Repubblica: “While the call between Darmanin and the Degiorgios has been confirmed, there is no evidence of a call between Darmanin and Cardona. According to our sources investigators have found regular contacts between Darmanin and the Degiorgios in the logs.”

The TMID report effectively contradicted La Repubblica’s account, ostensibly having based itself on misleading information used to sniff out who was leaking the information.

The TMID said that while it was not excluded that Cardona was contacted at an earlier or later stage on an unknown number, “Darmanin really did call brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, two of the three men accused of killing the journalist, shortly after the phone call with the journalist.”

It also said it was Daphne Caruana Galizia who had called Darmanin, and not the other way round as Caruana Galizia had written, and that the call lasted 411 seconds (around seven minutes). The call was placed on 31 October 2016 at 14:29, according to the phone logs.

Darmanin was ostensibly known to Caruana Galizia, given that her husband Peter Caruana Galizia was his lawyer in civil proceedings, at least up to March 2016, in a case instituted against him by his former partner Rachel Tua, a Labour candidate.

La Repubblica journalist Carlo Bonini stuck by his story, citing the fact that Cardona had initially avoided giving the newspaper a comment justifying his presence at the Fawwara party.