After years of inaction, Malta is finally staring its criminal underworld right in the face – with gangsters, political figures, and their enablers facing the gavel in a watershed moment for Maltese history.
Tal-Maksar brothers Adrian and Robert Agius, two men thought to be at the top echelons of the criminal hierarchy, are sitting in Corradino – while Yorgen Fenech and Keith Schembri’s alleged criminal empire is just starting to be unravelled.
State witnesses Vince Muscat and Melvin Theuma are working with police to break open the floodgates, but our institutions still have a lot on their plate.
Malta has faced 22 mafia-style murders, attacks, and disappearances since the 2008 murder of Raymond Agius, the father of the Maksar brothers, ending with the 2017 assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The leader of the investigations was then-Assitant Commissioner Silvio Valletta – whose name has fallen into disrepute following revelations that he allegedly leaked information to the Daphne Caruana Galizia killers before and after the assassination.
Valletta was leading homicide investigations and other similar cases right up to his retirement in 2019. -just a few months before Fenech’s arrest. He remains on a police pension.
Years of fear and inaction left a trail of blood and violence which created an environment for criminal enterprises to thrive. Here’s a look at the cases linked to the Maksar’s criminal underworld.
1. 24th April 2008 – The murder that started it all
Raymond Agius, the father of the infamous ‘Tal-Maksar’ brothers Robert and Adrian, was shot in the head by hitmen at the Butterfly Bar in Birkirkara in 2008.
The hitmen, who were wearing motorcycle helmets, carried out the murder in broad daylight and had sped off on a motorcycle soon after the hit.
Agius was a suspected contraband cigarette smuggler with interests in construction and a car dealership. The murder remains unsolved, however, police allegedly suspect that Agius’ rivals feared he was leaking information to investigators in exchange for protection.
Agius’ sons, Robert and Adrian, would later ascend to the top echelons of the criminal underworld in Malta – and have since been charged on offences related to the murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Carmel Chircop.
Romeo Bone, who would survive a bomb explosion in 2017, was one of four men who had been interrogated over the Raymond Agius murder.
2. 4th April 2009 – The son with the nails in his head
Just less than a year later, Malta woke up to the shocking news of a gruesome murder in St Paul’s Bay. Gaetano Romano’s charred body was discovered in the industrial furnace of his father’s gypsum workshop.
Romano, who was murdered just a day after his 20th birthday, was found with six nails in his head.
Romano and his father, Nicola, had been subject to threats in the lead up to the murder. Around eight months before, the family’s dog had been killed and left rolled in a carpet in a field nearby. The family were reportedly sent images of the dog.
Gaetano Romano allegedly wrote a letter in the months preceding the murder, showing that he feared for his life and even naming a man he feared would cause harm to the family.
Three suspects were arrested. However, the murder remains unsolved.
3. 23rd November 2010 – A man shot in broad daylight
Another murder in broad daylight. In November 2010, Joe Baldacchino, the managing director of the Baldacchino Group, which owns the Kempinski hotel in Gozo, was shot by an unidentified motorcyclist in a car park near Hastings Garden in Valletta.
Baldacchino, who was 51, died a month after the shooting. He was involved in a myriad of court cases linked to his wide variety of business interests.
Romeo Bone is also linked to this case. Baldacchino’s car licence plate number had been found on a piece of paper in Bone’s car. He was interrogated but never charged.
Bone, as mentioned earlier, survived a car bomb in February 2017.
4. 16th November 2011 – The first of many car bombs
Keith Galea was targeted by a car bomb along Triq Canon Bonnici in Hamrun. The bomb, which detonated at 9.30am, went off just after Galea walked into his mother’s home.
Three people were injured because of the blast.
Galea had left prison a week earlier after having served time on prostitution-related charges.
No one was ever charged.
5. 15th March 2012 – A cocaine heist, a shootout, and several murders
In the early hours of 15th March 2012, a shootout inside a Marsaskala garage complex left two dead and one injured. Kevin ‘Iz-Zibga’ Gatt was killed in the incident, while Stephen Zammit succumbed to his injuries a few months later.
Joseph ‘Il-Lion’ Cutajar was charged with the incident. Under interrogation, Cutajar revealed that he was the target of a hit from Zammit and Gatt – and he had shot the men while trying to escape.
Police suspect that Cutajar, along with Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect Alfred Degiorgio and Paul ‘Is-Suldat’ Degabriele, were involved in a suspected major cocaine heist from alleged trafficker Raymond Caruana in November 2011. Caruana, who was later murdered in 2015, is believed to have ordered the hit.
The incident saw three masked heavily armed men steal a 20kg shipment of cocaine, which had a street value of €1.4 million, from Caruana, believed to be a major narcotics smuggler. It is believed to be the last straw in growing tensions among Malta’s gangsters.
Cutajar was murdered a few months later on 13th December. Degarbiele was murdered on 31st May 2013.
6. 9th November 2012 – The disappearance of a Maksar associate
Terence Gialanze went missing in November 2012. He was last seen in Luqa, and no one has seen him since.
Gialanze was dealing with mounting debt at the time of his disappearance, often times convincing vulnerable people to act as guarantors for loans that bankrolled his extravagant lifestyle.
MaltaToday had previously revealed that four weeks before disappearing, Gialanze had disposed of his shares in a company he jointly owned with Adrian and Robert Agius.
In a blogpost in 2014, two years after the disappearance, Daphne Caruana Galizia linked the disappearance of Gialanze to the Agius brothers, naming him as an “associate” of Adrian Agius. She claimed he aided them with their criminal activity.
7. 13th December 2012 – The shootout survivor gets gunned down
Joseph ‘Il-Lion’ Cutajar, who was out on bail for the Gatt and Zammit murders, was shot dead at 8.30am in Mosta. He was shot 12 times with a Kalashnikov assault rifle as he emerged from his car in Mosta.
Police believed that the murder was a hired hit. No one was ever charged.
8. 18th February 2013 – A business owner shot dead
Another business leader. Ronald Galea, the Continental Meat Co Ltd owner, was shot and killed outside his Hal Far factory. Police believe that the killer was waiting for Galea for hours before the murder and had likely fled abroad after the incident.
No one was ever charged. However, police believe that Galea may have been owed or owed someone money.
9. 31st May 2013 – Bomb attack survivor gets murdered
Paul Degabriele, who was killed in May 2013, had avoided being murdered a few months earlier. On 1st October 2012, Degbriele had spotted an unidentified individual placing an object underneath his car in Fgura. He alerted police to the scene, who later identified the object as a bomb.
Suldat allegedly told police that the bomb had come from a man from Żejtun, believed to be Pietru ‘l-Ħaqqa’ Cassar, who was murdered outside his home in February 2014.
By May 2013, Degabriele’s luck had run out. He was shot at close range in front of Sammy’s Bar in Marsa, three times in the head and twice in the chest. His assailant was waiting for him when Degabriele walked out of the bar at around 11am.
The killer then jumped in a stolen Nissan van driven by an accomplice and sped off before abandoning the vehicle in a private underground garage in Dun Frans Camilleri Street, Ħamrun. Police at the time noted the similarity between the Degarbiele and Raymond Agius murders.
Degabriele, who is believed to have been involved in the 2011 heist, was also questioned in connection to Cutajar’s murder.
10. 4th February 2014 – A 20-bullet drive by
Joe ‘Il-Gilda’ Galea was gunned as he sat in his car outside his apartment along Triq ix-Xemxija in Marsa in the early hours of the morning.
The killer, believed to be two men, opened fire on Galea out of an SUV. Around 20 bullets were fired, with five hitting Galea.
Galea had filed a police report that he had received a death threat several months before the murder. Police examined CCTV footage in the area, but no significant leads were found.
11. 12th February 2014 – The bomb expert is killed
Eight days later, Pietru ‘l-Ħaqqa’ Cassar, whom police believed to have a hand in producing bombs, was gunned down. He was shot three times in his garage along with Triq Santa Marija in Zejtun.
In October 2012, the police’s CID and the Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit from the Armed Forces had found explosives inside Cassar’s garage, as well as unlicensed ammunition and two revolvers.
Cassar had a criminal record, including having been a suspect on several hold-ups. He was placed under an attachment order in October 2012, preventing him from transferring his assets under money-laundering prevention terms.
Cassar was also named as the man who supplied the bomb for the 2012 attempt on Paul Degabriele.
12. 1st June 2014 – Car bomb kills suspected smuggler
Darren Degabriele died of his wounds days after his car was bombed as he drove on the road leading from Marsaxlokk to Zejtun on 1st June 2014. His girlfriend at the time was injured by the blast but survived.
Degabriele, who was the Gente di Mare restaurant owner and in the fuel business, is believed to have been connected to smuggling.
Six people were interrogated, however, none of their identities was even made known.
13. 22nd August 2014 – Tyson butcher gunned down
On 21st August 2014, Jonathan Pace, the owner of Tyson Butcher, was shot in the back and head while standing on a balcony in Fgura.
In April of that year, Pace had been accused of shooting Vince Muscat, the man who has pleaded guilty for his role in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. He was out on bail at the time of his murder.
Pace is mentioned in state witness Melvin Theuma’s secret recordings of Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.
In the recorded conversation, Theuma and Fenech were discussing Muscat, who in 2018 was also willing to provide information to investigators in exchange for a pardon, and his then-lawyer Arthur Azzopardi.
“Muscat told the investigators about tat-Tyson. I have no fucking idea who this Tyson is. He said [Muscat, Alfred Degiorgio, and George Degiorgio] had offered €10,000 and they gave a discount. They gave him a discount, and they charged him €8,000. He said they were gentlemanly for doing it! They agreed, ten and they gave it to him for eight. He told them it was because he was nothing special, and they just said yes, ok. You understand?”
At the time of the murder, Pace had been declared bankrupt with over €90,000 in debt.
14. 20th March 2015 – Killers get revenge on drug trafficker
Raymond Caruana, a suspected drug trafficker, linked to the murders of Joseph ‘Il-Lion’ Cutajar and Paul ‘Is-Suldat’ Degabriele, was shot with an assault rifle outside his San Blas residence in Haz-Żebbuġ.
A total of 30 rounds had been fired. A burnt car with an assault rifle was found in Rabat days later.
Police believe that the theft of a large amount of cocaine from his warehouse triggered off the chain of deaths that kicked off in 2012.
Reports have since claimed that the death of Caruana, who at the time was believed to be one of Malta’s high-profile criminals, left a void that was exploited by Robert and Adrian Agius, the Tal-Maksar brothers.
Caruana had also been involved in the allegations of bribery of Judge Ray Pace a few years before his murder.
15. 8th October 2015 – Carmel Chircop gets shot
Lawyer Carmel Chircop was killed after he was shot four times while walking to a garage complex in John Borg Street, Birkirkara, in October 2015.
CCTV footage showed a light-coloured vehicle driving away from the crime scene. However, the crime remained unsolved until Vince Muscat was granted a presidential pardon in exchange for information on the murder.
Muscat has revealed that Adrian Agius had ordered the hit – and the murder was carried out by Jamie Vella, George Degiorgio, and himself. Muscat was paid €20,000 for the murder.
Chircop had been chasing Agius for money in the months leading up to the murder. Chircop had in 2014 loaned €750,000 to Ryan Schembri, the owner of the now-defunct More Supermarkets. Agius was also a shareholder.
Agius was arrested in connection to the murder in 2015. However, he had provided an alibi for the murder.
16. 16th January 2016 – Transporter dies in car bomb
Martin Cachia was murdered by a car bomb at the start of 2016 while driving along the Marsaskala bypass. At the time, police said that they did not know whether Cachia was the target of the attack or whether he was transporting the explosive.
Cachia was out on bail at the time and was well known to police in connection to drug trafficking, human trafficking, fuel smuggling, and contraband cigarette smuggling.
Much like the murders before, the case remains unsolved. There were no suspects, but Cachia’s son was subject to an arson attack the year prior.
17. 26th September 2016 – Another car bomb linked to smuggling
A few months later, Josef Cassar was the victim of a car bomb on Triq Aldo Moro in Marsa but survived the incident. Cassar, who was the sole director of S&T Services, lost both legs in the explosion.
Investigators later uncovered that the bomb, which was filled with screws and ball bearings, was placed under his car seat. The bomb, much like in the Caruana Galizia murder, was detonated by phone.
Caruana Galizia had written about the murder – linking Cassar to diesel smuggling. She had linked both the murders of Cassar and Cachia to a certain Pierre Darmanin.
Darmanin was placed under the spotlight by Italian newspaper La Repubblica, a member of the Daphne Project consortium after it claimed he had called Caruana Galizia on a 2016 story concerning a boat of his implicated in a human trafficking investigation.
The newspaper said he had called the journalist demanding a rectification of the report and then called economy minister Chris Cardona and right after Alfred Degiorgio.
Muscat has since claimed that Degiorgio told him that Cardona along with David Gatt were plotting to assassinate Caruana Galizia at one point. Both men have denied the allegation.
18. 31st October 2016 – The one Vince Muscat is also talking about
Barely a month later, John Camilleri, better known as Giovanni tas-Sapun, was murdered by a car bomb in St Paul’s Bay. The bomb, much like other cases, was also placed under Camilleri’s seat and was detonated by mobile.
The bomb was particularly noteworthy because it was particularly powerful, with the car’s roof even ending up on a nearby penthouse.
It has since been revealed that police have reopened the investigation into the murder of Camileri, who owned S&S Bathrooms.
Vince Muscat is allegedly willing to tell investigators all he knows about how and why the murder was commissioned. He is also reported to be willing to testify about how the explosive device that killed the businessman was procured.
While Muscat is understood not to have yet divulged the name of the masterminds, indications show that the police are operating on the belief that the Agius brothers commissioned the murder.
However, at the time, Camilleri was also chasing George Degiorgio over €52,000 for a St Paul’s Bay apartment he ‘sold’ him back in 1996.
Camilleri has also been named in the case against the Agius brothers, who had rented a garage off of the victim.
19. 29th January 2017 – Former heist members gets killed
Victor Calleja, also known as Ic-Chippu, died when a car exploded in Marsa. The victim was a 61-year-old man from Hamrun. The bomb is believed to have been inside the car and was detonated electronically.
The police said that the man died on site. He was in an Opel Astra that was being driven in the direction of Qormi. Calleja had a history with the police having been implicated in the December 1998 holdup on a Group 4 security van, in which Lm50,000 in cash were stolen.
20. 20th February 2017 – Romeo Bone survives but loses two legs
Romeo Bone lost both of his legs in an explosion in Msida junction at 10.30am. The car bomb caused widespread havoc in one of Malta’s busiest roads, with then-Prime Minister revealing to the nation that he was close to the explosion.
He survived the attack but refused to talk to investigators. Court sittings have since revealed a potential link between the incident and Vince Muscat, George Degiorgio, and Alfred Degiorgio.
State witness Melvin Theuma has said that the men were concerned about whether the bomb used to kill Caruana Galizia would be strong enough, warning that they did not want another incident like Bone’s.
This has been corroborated by Vince Muscat, who has said that George Degiorgio relayed the concerns to the Agius brothers, who in turn provided a stronger explosive and recommended the bomb be placed by her steering wheel.
Bone had been investigated over the murder of Raymond Agius, the Agius’ father, and Joseph Baldacchino.
21. 27th February 2017 – The man found dead in a pool of blood inside his home
Barely a week later, David Abela was found in a pool of blood at his Swieqi residence with multiple stab wounds across his body.
Abela’s hands and legs were bound with duct tape, and his mouth covered when he was discovered. He was found naked and police believe he had been dead for around 12 hours.
CCTV footage from the Swieqi residence suggests that the murderer was waiting for Abela to return home after a person was caught on camera breaking in.
Police excluded the theory that he was a victim of a theft gone wrong. Still, no one was ever charged with the murder.
Rumours have suggested Abela’s murder could be linked to the mafia-style killings or the players connected to the murders. However, evidence and information has been limited.
22. 16th October 2017 – The day Daphne died
A decade of gangland violence culminated with the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. She was murdered by a car bomb at 3pm as she left her home in Bidnija.
The murder and the ensuing battle for justice have gripped Malta ever since. Vince Muscat, George Degiorgio, and Alfred Degiorgio have arrested the December after. However, the hunt for the masterminds and other accomplices continued for the years that followed.
More than two years later, the arrest of state witness Melvin Theuma led to the arrest and charge of Yorgen Fenech in connection to the murder.
Theuma has since testified that Fenech forked out 150,000 to fund the assassination. Muscat has since confirmed the sum.
Both Muscat and Theuma have since revealed how the murder’s players were intimately provided with information on the investigation – with then-Assitant Commissioner Silvio Valletta being named a key leak.
Valletta was leading every single murder and attempted murder investigation mentioned above.
Muscat, Theuma, and Fenech have also implicated other players in this murder and separate plot to assassinate Caruana Galizia, namely former minister Chris Cardona, David Gatt, and former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri. However, this remains hearsay, with all parties denying involvement.
Muscat, who has pleaded guilty for his role in the murder, has provided information that led to Robert Agius and Jamie Vella’s arrests for procuring the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia.
It has also been confirmed that at the time, Muscat and the Degiorgios were already planning the murder of an as-yet-unnamed police officer.
Other murders have occurred since then with the killings of Hugo Chetcuti, Chris Pandolfino, and Ivor Maciejowski. They have so far been attributed to robberies gone wrong or disgruntled employees. But with more arrests expected over the coming months and years, previously unconnected crimes may be connected to gangland violence.
Meanwhile, the murder of Saviour Gaffarena and the attempted murder of Vince Gaffarena in a drug deal gone wrong show that the violence could also be set to continue/ Gaffarena’s refusal to take the stand against the two men suspected of killing his cousin and attempting to kill him speaks volumes.
Malta has gone pardon crazy in recent months, with Theuma and Muscat proving vital to aiding investigations. Now, it is Alfred and George Degiorgios turn to ride on the bandwagon, pledging to reveal information on the Caruana Galizia murder, other murders, and attempted robberies.
With so many unsolved murders and crimes, it can be easy to see why they might seem beneficial. However, pardons are no replacement for true justice, with killers and enablers often walking free.
Police have already made positive steps. Now, the government must show their commitment to seeking truth and justice by providing the police or an independent commission with sufficient resources to see how these crimes are linked to people currently under arrest and how they can be used to bring down Malta’s criminal underbelly.
For too many years, authorities turned a blind eye to these cases, emboldening criminals to take the life of Malta’s foremost journalist. If this country is to heal, we need to face the past with our eyes wide open.
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