Daphne hitmen used car supplied by Robert Agius to practice lock-picking, court hears

Robert Agius, known as Tal-Maksar, had acquired a vehicle similar to the one used by Daphne Caruana Galizia so that her executors could train on how to defeat the car lock.

The information was divulged in court this morning by Superintendent Keith Arnaud, who was testifying in the compilation of evidence against Agius, his brother Adrian, and associates Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio. The four men are charged with involvement in the murders of lawyer Carmel Chircop and Caruana Galizia.

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Robert Agius and Vella had supplied the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia and showed her executors how it worked. Arnaud told the court that the bomb had been stored in a garage in Vjal Ragusa between Mosta and Naxxar.

The bomb was an A4-size, was laden with 500g of explosive and also had a petrol bottle attached to it to act as an accelerant.

daphne hitmen used car supplied by robert agius to practice lock picking court hears - Daphne hitmen used car supplied by Robert Agius to practice lock-picking, court hears

Robert and Adrian Agius


Arnaud’s testimony is based on what convicted murderer Vince Muscat told police after he admitted being part of the Caruana Galizia assassination. Muscat was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a plea bargain agreement. George Degiorgio and Alfred Degiorgio are facing separate proceedings for their involvement in the Caruana Galizia murder.

Arnaud said that Muscat’s testimony explained how Caruana Galizia’s executors were able to open Caruana Galizia’s car so quickly and place the bomb beneath the driver’s seat. The bomb was detonated by an electronic device that was activated by an SMS.

The SIM cards used to activate the bomb were purchased sometime in November and December 2016 and towards the start of 2017 an SMS was exchanged between them. This was probably a test SMS to ensure they worked. The message was traced to Santa Venera, which tallies with what Muscat told police that the bomb was for a short while stored in a Santa Venera garage since the intention was to blow up Caruana Galizia as she drove to Valletta.

Arnaud also told the court that Robert Agius had also supplied the rifle, which was originally going to be used to shoot Caruana Galizia from a distance. That plan was however scrapped since according to what Muscat told police, George Degiorgio preferred using a bomb.

daphne hitmen used car supplied by robert agius to practice lock picking court hears 1 - Daphne hitmen used car supplied by Robert Agius to practice lock-picking, court hears

Lawyer Carmel Chircop (inset) was murdered in Birkirkara in 2015


The court also heard Arnaud testify on the involvement of the Agius brothers, Vella and George Degiorgio in the murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop in a Birkirkara garage complex in 2015. Muscat was given a presidential pardon to tell all on this murder.

Muscat was offered €20,000 for his involvement in the Chircop murder and €50,000 for the Caruana Galizia assassination.

The compilation of evidence will continue tomorrow, Wednesday.

In the previous sitting magistrate, Nadine Lia withdrew from hearing the compilation for the same reasons Lia had to withdraw from hearing the Yorgen Fenech case.

The Agius brothers are facing charges of involvement in two murders, including that of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

daphne hitmen used car supplied by robert agius to practice lock picking court hears 2 - Daphne hitmen used car supplied by Robert Agius to practice lock-picking, court hears

Vince Muscat has admitted his role in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia


Robert Agius and Jamie Vella are charged with supplying the bomb that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017.

Adrian Agius is charged with commissioning the murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop in 2015. Vella and Degiorgio are charged with executing Chircop’s assassination in a garage complex in Birkirkara.

Degiorgio is currently undergoing separate proceedings for his involvement in the Caruana Galizia murder.

 

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12:22 That’s it for today. Thank you for following. A summary will appear shortly.

12:15 No more questions for Arnaud. The case is put off for continuation tomorrow at 8:30am.

12:15 Arnaud says that according to Muscat, the 15 October (2017) was the first time they had seen Daphne’s car outside. It looked like it would stay that way for some time so the decision was taken to plant the bomb then.

12:14 Azzopardi asks about the rifle. Arnaud says there were three rifles, two in rather bad shape and one in much better condition. It was a bolt-action rifle, but he wasn’t sure if it was magazine fed or single shot. It had a scope attached and would be rested on sandbags. It would be stored in the Naxxar Garage too.

12:12 Arnaud answers another question from Azzopardi, saying that the Naxxar garage had been rented out by John Bugeja up to 2019.

12:12 Arnaud testifies that according to Vince Muscat, the Romeo Bone bomb was considered a failure since he wasn’t killed, although he lost both legs.

12:10 Arnaud explains that the bomb was A4 size, contained 500g of explosive and had a petrol bottle attached to it to act as an accelerant.

12:07 Lawyer Alfred Abela objects to questions “on other cases”. The court notes the objection.

12:07 Once, because Melvin Theuma insisted on the murder, Vince Muscat told police he had let Alfred Degiorgio borrow his vehicle to take Theuma to Bidnija and see what they were doing. He hadn’t known if Melvin Theuma had been sent by someone.

11:59 Azzopardi asks who she was with at the Phoenicia. “With her husband,” Arnaud replies. He adds that there are many areas of corroboration between Melvin Theuma and Vince Muscat’s versions given to the police.

11:58 Arnaud testifies that according to Vince Muscat they had seen Caruana Galizia going to the Phoenicia often and selected a date close to the Notte Bianca. One time, Alfred Degiorgio had seen the Caruana Galizias leave their house with luggage as if they were going to the airport. The couple had in fact left the island.

11:55 The bomb-triggering SIM cards were turned on in November/December 2016 and a message between them was registered towards the start of 2017. Arnaud says this was probably a test message and it was localised at Santa Venera. This tallies with the information that the bomb was for a short while in a Santa Venera garage because according to Muscat the initial plan was to detonate the bomb when Daphne Caruana Galizia was on her way to Valletta.

11:49 He asks for a timeline on the SIM cards connected to the Caruana Galizia murder.

11:49 Azzopardi is appearing parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family.

11:48 Lawyer Jason Azzopardi cross examines the superintendent.

11:45 Arnaud is now exhibiting DVDs of the men’s interrogations.

11:44 Arnaud, Pawney and Camilleri interrogated the men, who didn’t reply to any of the questions put to them. The accused were assisted by the lawyers of their choosing.

11:42 Documents were also recovered during police searches.

11:42 Vehicles registered to third parties were also found in the compound.

11:41 Arnaud says that several electronic devices were also recovered. Two Europol experts were appointed to extract the data and present it in the acts of the case. At present the devices are being transported to The Hague in the Netherlands.

11:40 The police have sent the substance for analysis. Arnaud says that in Robert Agius’s Mercedes, €45,000 cash were found and another €20,000 were found at his villa in Baħrija.

11:39 Arnaud tells the court that as a result of the recent developments in the case, the police had obtained arrest warrants for the four accused. The Agius brothers were arrested in Baħrija. He says that in a vehicle police found around 300g of a suspected illegal substance. Other items were also recovered.

11:37 The sitting continues. Superintendent Keith Arnaud takes the witness stand again. He will continue testifying.

11:29 The accused are being led back into the courtroom.

11:03 We are stopping for a 20-minute break now. Proceedings will continue shortly.

11:01 Police think they might have switched names to confuse any attempt at identifying them. An identification parade was later held and Robert Agius was not recognised.

11:00 A relative of Muscat had been having tea in Marsa and a man, identifying himself as Jamie walked over. This Jamie, said Robert Agius had offered €1,500 a month so that Muscat will not tell the police about them. The family had not accepted the offer and Jamie left. Jamie was described as tall blonde and Germanic or English looking. The family member could not remember what Robert looked like, but remembered Jamie.

10:58 A media allegation that was published in 2020 about hush money offered to Vince Muscat’s family from Tal-Maksar so that he will not spill the beans was confirmed by police with Muscat’s family members. The story had appeared in MaltaToday.

10:56 In 2019, the lease expired and the garage was returned to its owner.

10:53 A garage in Mosta was identified by Muscat as the place where the bomb was stored. It belonged to a certain John Bugeja who had rented it out to Robert Agius for a couple of years.

10:52 Muscat also explained to the police how the car lock was defeated. Robert Agius had borrowed a similar car to practice on for a few hours. Arnaud says that this explained how the three men accessed the vehicle so quickly.

10:50 The plan was executed with the assistance of a long-range scope purchased for that purpose. Caruana Galizia had gotten into the car and gotten out again for some reason. After she got back in, the signal was given to send the trigger message. Vince Muscat had driven Alfred Degiorgio to pick up the money from Melvin Theuma. He returned with a bag of cash. The amounts were €30,000 as deposit and €120,000 on completion. Vince Muscat took €50,000 from the Caruana Galizia murder.

10:48 Muscat told police they collected the bomb and took it with them to the vantage point. Muscat said they approached Caruana Galizia’s house through some fields, defeated the car lock and placed the bomb under the seat.

10:47 Arnaud recounts to the court the version of events as told to the police by Vince Muscat. The three executors had explored the possibility of jumping the gate to get to Caruana Galizia’s car but on one occasion it was left outside.

10:46 Vince Muscat had also told police that there was a plan to shoot Caruana Galizia and how Robert Agius and Jamie Vella had provided rifles. One of them was chosen as the others wasn’t “strong enough”. Muscat recounted to police how they had gone to the sniping spot and seen the window but George Degiorgio had always wanted to use explosives. Eventually, the sniping plan was abandoned in favour of the bomb.

10:44 Muscat also told police that the bomb used in the murder had been passed on to them by Robert Agius and Jamie Vella. It contained 500g of explosive, more than that, which was used in the Romeo Bone assassination attempt in Msida. Agius and Vella had showed them how it worked.

10:42 He had been approached by Alfred Degiorgio to speak to Melvin Theuma. Muscat told police he was offered €150,000 and effectively also paid for this murder. Vince Muscat had also confirmed that the place where the cigarette butt had been found was one of the places where they would hang out to observe Caruana Galizia’s movements in Bidnija.

10:40 Theuma was the go-between for the alleged mastermind and the executors. Vince Muscat later admitted to his part in the murder and was spoken to by the police. Muscat then testified in the magisterial inquiry and confirmed that he was one of three executors. His evidence is corroborated by the evidence.

10:38 The police had questioned the Agius brothers and Vella soon after the murder. Arnaud says that at that point the police only had information and no evidence to link the three men to the Caruana Galizia murder. Arnaud says that in November 2019, pardoned middleman Melvin Theuma had explained another part of the puzzle.

10:35 Arnaud adds that later the police were tipped off that Robert Agius, Jamie Vella and Adrian Agius might have supplied the bomb.

10:27 Arnaud says that FBI, Europol and NFI experts established that the bomb was triggered by a SIM card inside it. The message was sent a few minutes before 3pm on 16 October, 2017. Cell towers showed one number, which police were tracking, move from St Paul’s Bay to Marsa, to sea out north that day. Police later realised two other numbers had moved along with that one. One was George Degiorgio’s personal number. The other was a burner phone. All three phones were regularly traced together, in the Bidnija area.

10:24 This evidence has already been compiled in the compilation of evidence against George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat.

10:19 Arnaud says that the investigation had established the number of the SIM card in the explosive device and the one sending the trigger SMS that detonated the bomb. Arnaud goes through the testimony he has given on multiple occasions as to how the police used triangulation data from mobile phone masts to arrive at the mobile phone numbers that helped them make the links to the three men who executed Caruana Galizia’s crime.

10:16 With regards the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Arnaud gives the court a rundown on how he had been notified and how the bomb had been triggered. This is the subject of a magisterial inquiry under Neville Camilleri, he says.

10:14 Lawyer William Cuschieri also demands a copy of Adrian Agius’ statement to the police. He asks the court to pass on a copy of every document presented in this case to him. Court orders this be done and also to the parte civile.

10:11 They will be given to the defence by the next sitting.

10:10 Arnaud says that the two men were arrested on 22 February this year. Agius was arrested in Baħrija and Vella from his villa in Ibraġġ. Arnaud exhibits some documents. The court is addressing how they will be passed on to the defence as there aren’t enough copies.

10:09 The police officer says that Vince Muscat had also admitted to his role in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and explained the involvement of Jamie Vella and Robert Agius in supplying the bomb that killed the journalist in October 2017.

10:08 Arnaud says that the weapon used was thrown away in the sea off Marsa, near the Tiger Bar area. This was the version of events given by Vince Muscat, concludes Arnaud.

10:07 Arnaud says that part of the money (€10,000) was given by George Degiorgio, “sent from Robert”, and another two instalments of €5,000 were collected personally from Robert Agius.

10:02 Arnaud exhibits a map with the route taken by the car.

10:02 Arnaud says that the perpetrators drove off, avoiding Valley Road which would be full of traffic. They went to Santa Venera, leaving the car in a garage there and then went to Jamie Vella’s nearby apartment. Over there they changed clothes to avoid gunshot residue findings and went their separate ways.

10:01 As soon as Carmel Chircop opened the garage door, Jamie Vella fired five shots at the lawyer from inside the getaway vehicle.

10:00 The murderers had conducted reconnaissance on the garage complex in Birkirkara. They would keep a lookout from a small window in the complex seeing the approaches. They drove from Santa Venera to Rampol Buildings and up to the door of the garage with Jamie ready to fire. The weapon was a revolver, which was chosen since it didn’t eject spent cartridges. They had other firearms just in case, including an AK47 assault rifle.

09:57 Arnaud continues his testimony. At the potato shed in Marsa, George Degiorgio had told Vince Muscat that Tal-Maksar had a job involving the murder of a lawyer. They had followed Chircop’s movement but were later given an address. Muscat was offered €20,000 to participate in the assassination. Chircop was to be shot from inside a vehicle. Jamie Vella was to fire the shots.

09:54 Arnaud says that Vince Muscat himself is going to testify at a later stage of proceedings.

09:54 Lawyer Alfred Abela stops the superintendent. “Who was saying that the man had confessed to the murder of Chircop? The issue is whether it emerged in the proces verbal or in the investigation.” Abela argues that the defence has a right to full disclosure.

09:52 Arnaud says the investigation had continued and it emerged that the murder was commissioned by the Agius brothers but the police didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute. “This changed with the Vince Muscat pardon request,” Arnaud says.

09:51 A garnishee over his business was mentioned and the villa was put up as collateral. The lawyer had not accepted to be paid by instalments. Agius had not explained to the police why he suddenly started hanging out with George Degiorgio.

09:49 Adrian Agius had denied murdering Chircop. Arnaud tells the court that Agius confirmed that he would meet Chircop at the Yorkdale coffee shop in Naxxar to discuss money issues. The lawyer would always find an excuse to avoid paying, Agius had told police. Chircop is purported to have said “I’ve had enough of dealing with you”. Agius is believed to have replied that he was the one who should say that because of the More Supermarket money. But Agius insisted with police that it wasn’t a heated argument.

09:44 Arnaud says that police asked Adrian Agius about any arguments over the money. He confirmed that Chircop would persistently chase him for money but that there were no arguments, Arnaud says. Agius told police that he had many others chasing him for money too.

09:43 Arnaud explains the business deal. The intention was to develop the warehouse into offices. But it was on a promise of sale which Chircop was due to earn €700,000 from. The sale was for €3million. Adrian Agius complained that he had made it appear as a loan to avoid tax and insisted he had no reason to kill the lawyer. Agius had told police that he was going to challenge the validity of the agreement which was made before a notary.

09:40 Adrian Agius was spoken to by the police at the time and had denied any involvement in the murder of Chircop. He had given details on the business he had with Chircop to the police.

09:39 Police had also spoken to a lawyer, who had rented an office from Chircop.

09:38 Police found documents showing that there was a warehouse in Qormi transferred to Chircop, which was going to be sold to the director of More Supermarkets. There was a difference that Chircop was due to receive in the transfer. However, the promise of sale didn’t take place. Chircop had engaged Agius to gather the €600,000 he was due from Ryan Schembri, who was the owner of More Supermarket.

09:35 Police confirmed this account by the woman from phone records.

09:31 This was between July and October 2015. Chircop’s widow had told police that they had met Agius again during that period. Arnaud says that the widow told police that in September her husband and herself went to Italy and she heard her husband arguing with Agius, telling him “don’t forget you haven’t paid me yet”.

09:29 The widow explained to the police that there was a particular problem with Adrian Agius. She said that there were some payments due to Chircop from Agius and to pay this, he had taken her with him to Agius’ villa in Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq, which was supposed to be given as payment. They ended up not taking the villa and the amount remained pending.

09:26 Arnaud says that police had also spoken to Chircop’s widow, who gave them access to his office. A magisterial inquiry was held. Searches were carried out in the office and two more garages. Arnaud says the victim lived two minutes away from where he was murdered.

09:24 The car then veered onto Valley Road and turned near the HSBC instead of going into the valley, near the aqueducts. The footage traced it to Fleur De Lys, then to Santa Venera. The vehicle’s journey was a five or six-minute drive after the murder of Chircop.

09:22 Cameras in Triq John Borg at 6:36am captured a Toyota Ractis car entering the Rampol Buildings, which stayed there for a while. When the Ractis departed, it turned left, behind the primary school and then on to Naxxar Road.

09:20 The Mercedes car in the garage was found to be damaged by a gunshot and a mangled bullet was recovered from its bonnet. Arnaud says the first thing the police did was gather CCTV footage.

09:18 Two projectiles were found still inside the body. The garage was a large one-car garage, which was searched and police found two more bullets, Arnaud says. In total, four projectiles were found.

09:17 Arnaud says that this led to the police thinking it could have been a revolver and that the murderer had gathered the spent cartridges. The victim had eight wounds. All were bullet wounds – some entry and some exit wounds. This meant he was shot four times in his back.

09:15 A neighbour found the body and called the police. Arnaud says that no spent cartridges were found at the scene.

09:14 He says the body was found face up, three quarters inside the garage with his lower leg protruding into the entrance. There was damage from gunshot to the lock. The victim had suffered gunshot wounds to his abdomen and was lying in a pool of blood. His briefcase and mobile phone were next to him. Neighbours heard around five shots around 7am.

09:13 Arnaud is describing the scene of the Chircop murder in 2015.

09:11 Jamie Vella, unemployed, also pleads not guilty. George Degiorgio’s lawyer informs the court that his client will not reply to any questions.

09:09 Brothers Adrian Agius and Robert Agius, known as Tal-Maksar, tell the court they are working in construction and plead not guilty to the amended charges.

09:08 AG presents amended charges, in which Adrian Agius and Robert Agius are together charged with having on 8 October 2015 and the days and months before… the charges are not completely read out. It appears from our standpoint that the amended charges now implicate Robert Agius in the Chircop murder as well.

09:01 Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family. Daphne’s widower, Peter Carauana Galizia is here too. Lawyer Vince Galea is present for the Chircop family.

08:59 Robert Agius, Jamie Vella and Adrian Agius are assisted by lawyers Alfred Abela and Rene Darmanin. George Degiorgio is assisted by lawyer William Cuschieri.

08:58 Inspectors Shawn Pawney and Wayne Camilleri, arrive, together with lawyer George Camilleri from the AG’s office. A knock on the door and Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo emerges from chambers.

08:57 QUICK RECAP: Adrian Agius, Jamie Vella and George Degiorgio are charged in relation with the murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop in Birkirkara in 2015. Robert Agius and Jamie Vella are charged with supplying the bomb that killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017.

08:56 Superintendent Keith Arnaud has arrived. He is speaking to parte civile lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Vince Galea. This is the first time that Galea has appeared in connection with these sittings. He is representing the Chircop family parte civile.

08:55 Two of the accused are already in the dock, speaking to their lawyers, who are seated in front of them.

08:55 We’re all set up in the public gallery of Hall 22 of the law courts. Vincent Muscat, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail for admitting involvement in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, is already here.

 

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