Revisiting a Maltese mystery: Lino Cauchi, the accountant who knew too much

Lino Cauchi’s murder remains a mystery to this day. His widow, Anna, and their now 37-year-old son Paolo, whom Cauchi never saw, are seeking compensation from the State for what they claim was a murder facilitated by the violent political climate of the time and the lack of willingness to properly investigate the case

Lino Cauchi was kidnapped and butchered, his body sawn off, packed in plastic bags and dumped inside a well at Buskett.
He was only 32 when he disappeared without trace, leaving his pregnant wife Anna and relatives perplexed as to what may have become of him.

Cauchi’s last words to his wife at around 1.30pm on 15 February 1982 were: “I’ll see you tonight.”

It was not to be and 37 years after he was brutally killed, nobody has ever been charged with the gruesome murder.

Two days after his mysterious disappearance, Cauchi’s brief case was found in the area of Chadwick Lakes, forced open and empty.
Cauchi’s remains were discovered by chance in November 1985 by someone who had gone to wash his car in Buskett. The gruesome find unearthed human body parts and a mallet.

Three years later Australian forensic experts concluded the remains belonged to Cauchi.

Inquiring magistrate David Scicluna, who later became judge, wrote that the man was killed by a violent blow to the back of his head by the same mallet found in the well.

The skull was fractured in 28 places as a result of the blow and forensic evidence suggested that both a manual and an electric saw were used to dismember the body.

Cauchi’s murder remains a mystery to this day. His widow, Anna, and their now 37-year-old son Paolo, whom Cauchi never saw, are seeking compensation from the State for what they claim was a murder facilitated by the violent political climate of the time and the lack of willingness to properly investigate the case.

The corrupt land deals

Cauchi was an accountant by profession. He worked for the firm Diamantino-Manfré before branching out on his own.

His name had cropped up in testimony given by businessperson Joseph Borg in court proceedings and before the Permanent Commission Against Corruption.

Borg was testifying on several land deals he was involved in during the turbulent 1980s with other businesspersons linked to the notorious Labour minister at the time, Lorry Sant.

Borg and his business partner Victor Balzan had formed Luqa Developments Ltd, a joint company with Piju Camilleri, Sant’s right-hand man and a works manager at the Public Works Department.

Lorry Sant (left) at a 1989 debate with Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Wenzu Mintoff (right). Lawyer Georg Sapiano (centre) moderated.
Lorry Sant (left) at a 1989 debate with Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Wenzu Mintoff (right). Lawyer Georg Sapiano (centre) moderated.

Borg had testified that he entered into this arrangement on Balzan’s suggestion, to be able to acquire building permits without running into trouble with Lorry Sant.

Borg and Balzan had transferred property they owned in Luqa and Marsaskala to the joint company with Camilleri.

At the time, building schemes were amended at will by Sant and according to the Permanent Commission Against Corruption he used this power to award or castigate individuals.

Camilleri also sat on the Planning Area Permits Board that granted building permits. The corruption commission had noted how a recurrent trend was for building schemes to be changed, removed or created each time Camilleri and other protagonists got involved in a deal.
Borg eventually realised that Balzan was two-timing him, having been in cahoots with Camilleri.

Camilleri used his leverage on Balzan to convince Borg to agree to the transfer of plots to his personal company in exchange for building permits.

On some occasions, Camilleri asked Joe Pace, who owned the now-defunct Magic Kiosk in Sliema, to appear in his stead on these corrupt deals.

Lorry Sant, Piju Camilleri, Victor Balzan, Joe Pace and others had been charged in court in 1989 with corruption but the cases fell through after then magistrate Carol Peralta ruled the crimes were time-barred despite there being enough evidence to issue a bill of indictment. Till this very day, Sant remains the only politician to ever be charged in court with corruption.

The missing documents

In this web of corruption and intrigue, Borg had described Cauchi as Piju Camilleri’s accountant and placed him in at least two stormy meetings prior to the 1981 election.

Camilleri has always denied Cauchi was his accountant. He told the inquiring magistrate that he only met Cauchi once or twice in his life.
Camilleri had testified that it was his brother Indri, who knew Cauchi. Indri Camilleri was an accountant and took care of the joint company’s books. When a dispute arose with Borg and Balzan over the accounts, Indri had suggested roping in Cauchi as an accountant instead of him.

Camilleri has always insisted that Cauchi never entered the meeting and simply waited outside because the dispute was resolved and his services were not required.

However, Borg’s testimony told a different story.

Borg described how in one of the meetings Cauchi presented accounts of the joint company that showed how Camilleri was inflating expenses to the detriment of his fellow business partners.

The accounts showed the real value of the property and the declared value on contract.

Camilleri was enraged by Cauchi’s faithful presentation of the accounts, which he had wanted to be kept hidden from Borg.

In 1981, Borg wanted out of the joint company and demanded that the remaining unsold land be divided equally between the shareholders.
Borg described how a private agreement between himself, Piju Camilleri and Victor Balzan over the transfer of lands to settle the ongoing dispute had been drawn up by Cauchi.

The promise of sale agreement would see Borg acquiring some 30 plots.

The draft of that agreement was kept by Cauchi and went missing when the accountant disappeared two months later, leaving Borg empty-handed.

The general election was held on 12 December 1981 and months before that date there was a rush to conclude several land deals, fearing a change in government.

Evidence submitted in court claimed that Camilleri demanded plots of land in Fgura, Safi and San Gwann, among others, as compensation for awarding permits on other plots or changing the building schemes.

The disappearing files

There is no evidence to link Cauchi’s disappearance with these corrupt land deals or the people involved in them.

Piju Camilleri has always denied any link with Cauchi’s murder, insisting he only got to know of his disappearance from the newspapers.

However, an investigation carried out by MaltaToday in 2002 revealed how the day after Cauchi’s disappearance, a man from the Inland Revenue Department had gone knocking on Anna Cauchi’s door, asking for some important files.

The man was later revealed to be a certain Charles Zammit, an acquaintance of the Cauchi family, who had been doing the bidding of a top official at the department, a certain Micallef, known as Il-Mulej.

In a renewed effort to carry on the investigation, in 2002, the police interrogated Zammit but the man who sent him had by then passed away.

Nobody knows what information those files contained and why was it so important for an Inland Revenue official to go and pick them up, less than 24 hours after Cauchi went missing.

The death of Lino Manfré

Cauchi’s disappearance must also be viewed in the context of another incident a few days before when his former boss at Diamantino-Manfré, Lino Manfré, died in mysterious circumstances while receiving treatment at St Luke’s Hospital.

Manfré was said to have been admitted in hospital with nothing serious and his death raised suspicion. No explanation was ever given as to how a medical pipe attached to Manfré was removed.

After Manfré’s death Cauchi increased the value of his life insurance, interpreted by family members as an indication that he may have been fearing something bad was going to happen to him.

Cauchi’s father, Emanuel, had claimed in a newspaper interview years later that Manfré had informed acquaintances that Lino Cauchi had access to all the files and was privy to sensitive information.

Manfré’s death and Cauchi’s subsequent disappearance a few days later has always left open the question as to whether both men were an inconvenience to someone because of what they knew.

The priest’s advice

The MaltaToday investigation in 2002 had also prompted the police to question Fr Joseph Falzon, the Santa Venera parish priest at the time of Cauchi’s disappearance.

Family members had told MaltaToday that Falzon mysteriously advised Anna Cauchi soon after the disappearance to look for her husband in “the reservoirs of Santa Venera”.

The priest, who knew the family well had also confessed to them that he was scared, so much so that he visited on foot rather than by car.
But Falzon changed his version when interrogated by the police many years later in 2002.

Journalist John Pisani writing in Illum in 2014 said the police had always considered Cauchi’s murder a hard case to solve. Until the body was found, Cauchi’s case was considered as that of a missing person. When the discovery of the victim’s remains was made, the body had to be identified.

It was only in 1989, when the magisterial inquiry concluded its report that Cauchi’s case became a murder investigation.

Cauchi’s funeral was held in April 1989 at the Immaculate Conception church in Hamrun. The son he never saw was also there – a seven-year-old boy dressed in school uniform.

Paolo, named after his father, whose official name was Paulino, had received a special dispensation from the Curia to be able to receive the Eucharist since he had not yet made his first holy communion.

With little evidence, a lot of omertà and the passage of time, hope that justice would ever be done continues to fade.

It has been left to Anna and Paolo to seek some form of closure by instituting legal proceedings against the State, which in the eyes of many may not have done enough to solve a brutal murder that continues to haunt the national conscience.

Timeline

End November 1981

  • A meeting is held at the Valletta office of Joe Pace, the owner of the Magic Kiosk in Sliema. Pace was a director in Terry Ltd and a shareholder with Piju Camilleri in Tor Ltd.
  • The people present for this meeting are Pace, Camilleri, business partners Joseph Borg and Victor Balzan, notary Joseph Saydon and accountant Lino Cauchi.
  • Borg and Balzan jointly want to develop land they own in Fgura but Camilleri is asking for 22 plots to be transferred to his company in exchange for the building permits to be issued.
  • The meeting is intended to finalise the transfer of plots but Borg plays for time and another meeting has to be scheduled.

8 December 1981

  • A contract is signed for the transfer of 22 plots in the Ta’ Belinja area in Fgura from Borg and Balzan to Camilleri. However, at the last minute, Camilleri decides that Pace should appear on the contract in his stead and the plots are transferred to Terry Ltd.
  • During this meeting, a separate private agreement is drawn up between Borg and Camilleri in settlement of another dispute between them involving their joint company Luqa Developments Ltd.
  • When testifying in court in a case he later instituted against Pace and Terry Ltd, Borg said the private agreement was drawn up by Lino Cauchi. The agreement would see Camilleri transfer 30 plots back to Borg. In exchange, Borg would drop a court case he had instituted against Camilleri. The agreement is held by Cauchi but goes missing when he disappears two months later.

12 December 1981

  • A general election sees the Malta Labour Party returning to power after winning a majority of seats but a minority of votes. This gives rise to a turbulent period that lasts until 1987.

15 February 1982

  • Lino Cauchi returns home in Santa Venera for lunch at noon. An hour later he leaves for work at his office in Old Bakery Street, Valletta. At around 5pm two of Cauchi’s clients ask for him at home but his wife Anna tells them he is not there. They point out that his car is parked outside. Cauchi never returns home. The last recorded sighting is at 6.30pm in Valletta.

16 February 1982

  • An Inland Revenue official visits Cauchi’s wife, Anna, at the family home and asks her to pass on certain files. She passes on the documents because the man is a family friend. Years later it transpires that this official was obeying instructions from a top official at the department by the surname Micallef, known as Il-Mulej.

17 February 1982

  • Cauchi’s briefcase is found abandoned in the vicinity of Chadwick Lakes. The briefcase is empty and forced open.

15 November 1985

  • Human body parts wrapped in plastic bags are found in a well in Buskett in an area known as il-Bosk. The body cannot be identified. A mallet believed to be the murder weapon is also found in the well.

3 May 1988

  • In-Nazzjon reports that the remains belong to Lino Cauchi and were identified by Australian forensic experts.

20 March 1989

  • Magistrate David Scicluna concludes his inquiry into the discovery of body parts in Buskett and concludes the victim was Lino Cauchi. The report says the man was killed by a violent blow to the head with a heavy mallet found inside the well. The case now becomes a murder investigation.

24 April 1989

  • Cauchi’s funeral takes place at the Immaculate Conception church in Hamrun. His son, Paolo, is now seven years old.

June 1992

  • Cauchi’s name crops up in the testimony Joseph Borg gives in a law suit he institutes against Joe Pace over the transfer of land. Borg describes in court what happened in a meeting held on 8 December 1981 with Piju Camilleri. Borg says Cauchi was present at that meeting as Camilleri’s accountant. He also identifies Cauchi as the person responsible for drawing up a private agreement to settle a dispute between Borg and Camilleri.

7 April 1994

  • Testifying in court during a libel case against Il-Ġens, Piju Camilleri denies Lino Cauchi was ever his accountant. He also denies any connection with him, an assertion he reiterates years later when summoned to testify in front of the inquiring magistrate.

More in National