Lawyers argue as Daphne murder suspects return to court
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Lawyers argue as Daphne murder suspects return to court

Snappy testimonies and disagreements over an IT expert's testimony

The Maya, owned by suspect George Degiorgio.

The Maya, owned by suspect George Degiorgio.

Three men accused of killing Daphne Caruana Galizia were back in court on Friday morning, as the compilation of evidence against them resumed. 

The almost three-hour session featured some ill-tempered exchanges between lawyers and the bench, with defence lawyer William Cuschieri in particular getting into some heated conversations at times. 

  • Defence lawyers are not happy that IT expert Martin Bajada has been summoned to testify. Dr Bajada's involvement was given the all-clear by a constitutional court last month, but lawyer William Cuschieri has argued that that judgment is subject to appeal. Magistrate Stafrace Zammit will rule on that objection and deliver a decree in chambers. 

  • An IT expert told the court that an SD card extracted from an underwater camera had been corrupted and would need to be sent overseas to try and salvage its data. He suggested labs in the UK, Germany or the USA. 

  • Four other boats registered locally resemble George Degiorgio's Maya. Owners of all four testified and confirmed that their boats were not out at sea on the day of the murder. 

Minute-by-minute

12.50pm That's it for this live blog. Thank you for joining us, we'll be back with more live updates on March 1. 

12.48pm That's it for today's session. The next court sitting has been scheduled for March 1. 

Between now and then, magistrate Stafrace Zammit will decide whether IT expert Martin Bajada can testify in proceedings. 

12.38pm The next witness is an officer who handled exhibits. He confirms his signature on various documents related to them and explains how each exhibit has a unique number. 

12.35pm Those objects included two pairs of binoculars, a brown envelope and a plastic bag. They did not feature any matching fingerprints. 

12.30pm Proceedings resume after a brief recess. 

A police officer hurries to the witness stand and explains that he was asked by the court to check fingerprints he had lifted from a number of objects.  

12pm A brief recap of this Friday's court session so far.

  • Defence lawyers are not happy that IT expert Martin Bajada has been summoned to testify.
    Dr Bajada's involvement was given the all-clear by a constitutional court last month, but lawyer William Cuschieri has argued that that judgment is subject to appeal. 
  • An IT expert told the court that an SD card extracted from an underwater camera had become corrupted and would need to be sent overseas to try and recover its data. 
  • Four other boats registered locally resemble George Degiorgio's Maya. Owners of all four testified and confirmed that their boats were not out at sea on the day of the murder. 

11.58am The court takes a 15-minute break. It's been more than two hours and everyone needs to stretch their legs. 

11.55am The missing file has been found. A scene of the crime officer who has been waiting patiently to testify is shown the document. 

11.53am Proceedings have been momentarily held up while the court finds a file containing a transcript of a witness summoned during an earlier sitting. 

11.46am Ok, maybe not 1,000. The witness corrects his earlier estimation and says that there are "hundreds" of photos in the reports. 

11.40am Those reports are also gargantuan, the court hears. They contain over 1,000 photos. 

11.37am Another police sergeant takes the stand. He presents three reports of police searches that took place in Żebbuġ, Mosta and St Paul's Bay. 

Other officers and foreign experts were also present during the searches, the court hears. 

11.32am The hearing moves on from boating and onto other matters. 

The next witness - a police officer - tells the court they visited Tarġa Gap to photograph the Caruana Galizia family home, and the home to photograph the Tarġa Gap vantage point. 

He presents 13 photos and goes through each one, one-by-one. 

11.22am The fourth boat owner tells the court he had his vessel brought over from Libya two years ago. It's still being repaired and has not been lowered to sea yet. 

On the day of the murder, it was on land at a yard, he says. 

11.20am And after another series of detailed questions from Dr Fenech - "please circle the boat's spotlight on this photo" - it's boat owner number four who testifies. 

11.16am "She's never left port in these past 10 years," the boat owner tells the court. "I only move it from the pontoon to land and vice-versa. I've never sailed out in 10 years". 

11.15am A third boat owner whose vessel resembles the Maya testifies. 

He's had his Wellcraft vessel since 1995 and it is berthed at Msida marina.  

11.08am Mr Cauchi gives a few more details about his boat - bought in the UK, changed its canopy once - and steps off. 

Next up - the owner of another of the Maya-like boats. 

He tells the court that he's owned his vessel since 2010 and it usually berthed at Mġarr marina. On October 16, 2017 it was at his garage, without an engine. It was only returned to the water in September last year. 

He's also asked a series of questions by Dr Fenech - about its lights, antenna, canopy and so on - and is then free to take his leave. 

11.02am A Mellieħa boat owner is the next to testify. 

He is the owner of the boats resembling the Maya. He tells the court that his boat was in the water between June and September 2017, and on land in October of that year. 

10.52am The officer spoke with the vessel owners, got each of their histories and took photos.

Boat 1 - damaged and was being repaired on land.
Boat 2 - Its owner did not live in Malta, and the boat rarely left its pontoon.
Boat 3 - Seen at a Mellieħa yard and was only used by its owner in summer.
Boat 4 - Berthed in Gozo. 

The witness adds that in November 2017, before the suspects were arraigned, he had filmed the Maya entering the Grand Harbour. 

10.50am The third witness is up - a police officer who got in touch with the owners of the four vessels resembling the Maya.

10.46am Inspector Arnaud explains why investigators were so focused on the Maya. The suspected mobile phones were traced all leaving George Degiorgio's home together, and headed to Marsa. 

At the time the bomb went off, the Maya stopped beneath the Great Siege bell. Then it sailed back to port. 

Ms Caruana Galizia's murder shocked the nation. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaMs Caruana Galizia's murder shocked the nation. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

10.42am Inspector Arnaud is losing his patience with Dr Cuschieri's constant interruptions.

"Why don't you answer the question yourself, to be happy?" he snaps. 

The magistrate calls for calm. Dr Cuschieri asks for the record to state that he was interrupted by a witness during questioning. 

10.40am Dr Cuschieri wants to know if police spoke with the vessel owners before arraigning the three suspects. 

Inspector Arnaud replies: we already had enough evidence to focus on the Maya at that stage. Afterwards, to eliminate all doubt, we checked the other four boats which were similar.

10.37am Inspector Arnaud tells the court the police spoke to the owners of all four vessels similar to the Maya. None were at sea on October 16, 2017 - the day Ms Caruana Galizia was assassinated.  

10.35am With that done, Keith Arnaud takes the stand. 

10.30am As the various lawyers make their points, the magistrate decides she will rule on this point in camera - essentially, in private, without distractions. 

10.27am The lawyers are still battling this out. 

Dr Cuschieri speaks with a hint of incredulity.
"This is ABC," he says.

Magistrate Stafrace Zammit does not take too kindly to that.

"What I'm saying is ABC, not what you're saying, with all due respect," she tells him.

"Let him [Dr Bajada] testify, and then it will eventually all be annulled," Dr Cuschieri sulks back. 

10.22am Court expert Martin Bajadais back on the agenda (his testimony had prompted a protest from the defence at the start of the sitting). 

The magistrate says that she has not been formally notified of the constitutional proceedings, and therefore cannot take formal note of them.

10.21am The court agrees with the inspector. 

10.20am Defence lawyers are not happy that the vessel registry search only stretched to December 2017. They say they want 2018 included.

That would be after the date of the crime, inspector Arnaud notes. 

10.16am Lawyer Martin Fenech asks about the length of these vessels. The Maya is 8.05m long. He also asks about the colour of the vessels. The witness says colour is not included in the registry. 

10.14am The TM registry included some other boats similar to the Maya,  Dr Cutajar says. The registry does not include photos of the boats, though. 

10.11am Another Cutajar takes the witness stand - Gordon Cutajar, a lawyer who serves as assistant registrar at the Merchant Shipping Directorate. He tells the court that until December 2017 there was only one Martinique 288 yacht registered with Transport Malta.

The Maya, Mr Degiorgio's pleasure yacht, is a Martinique 288. 

10.09am Mr Cutajar is done testifying. No decision on which company to choose, yet.

Lawyer Yanika Bugeja is now presenting Maltese translations of Matthew Caruana Galizia’s testimony. Mr Caruana Galizia had testified in English.

10.07am Mr Cutajar says the UK companies' forensic processes are the ones which most closely mirror Malta's. 

The three suspects.The three suspects.

10.02am The question is, which of the labs should ? The various parties have to agree on one. 

The witness emphasises how delicate this operation is. It could lead to evidence being tampered with, and you only have one shot at retrieving the data. 

Inspector Arnaud tells the court the data on the corrupted SD card was not backed up.

10am Prosecuting inspector Keith Arnaud wants to know how long it would take for the card to be assessed by one of these labs. 

At least three days, the witness says. 

9.57am The witness is explaining that an SD card retrieved from an underwater camera used in the case had been corrupted. He could not retrieve its data and it should be handed to a more specialised lab, he says.

Mr Cutajar says he know of four such labs - two in the UK, one in Germany and another in the USA - which could do such work. There is also a local company which takes apart such cards, he says. 

9.55am In the meantime, a court messenger has reentered the courtroom, file in hand - possibly the file the magistrate asked Dr Cuschieri to present a few minutes ago.

9.53am Mr Cutajar's report is around 1,000 pages long, he tells the court. 

9.50am Proceedings begin. Keith Cutajar is the first witness. He's a telecoms expert, and he presents extracts of reports detailing calls and telephone numbers related to the case. 

9.48am Magistrate Stafrace Zammit says she has not received any court order to suspend Dr Bajada's testimony. She moves the case along. 

9.45am The court has asked William Cuschieri, the lawyer who is arguing Dr Bajada should not testify, to present acts referring to appeals proceedings in constitutional cases. 

"I could go looking for the file in the court registry, but I'm not a court messenger," he replies.

Meanwhile, Dr Bajada and six other witnesses wait patiently for the legal dust to settle. 

9.42am Just a reminder that the compilation of evidence in this case - essentially its pre-trial stage - is now in its 14th month. 

9.40am We're expecting court experts to testify today - among them IT expert Martin Bajada, who the three suspects had objected to. That request was rejected by a separate court last month.

Despite that ruling, the prospect of him testifying has prompted some discussion in the courtroom ahead of the official start of proceedings. 

Alfred Degiorgio's lawyer is saying that last month's judgement in Dr Bajada's favour is still subject to appeal, so he should not be testifying today.

Background

Degiorgio brothers Alfred and George and Vince Muscat face charges of having planted and detonated the bomb which killed the journalist in October 2017.

The court’s last session, held last month, saw court experts testify about a boat spotted entering and exiting the Grand Harbour on the day of the murder, which investigators say is Alfred Degiorgio’s Maya.

Police witnesses also testified about items they had confiscated from a Żebbuġ site on the day police had arrested the three suspects.

The three suspects have filed separate proceedings against authorities, saying their arrest and searches of their homes had breached their fundamental rights.

We will be updating events as they unfold in the courtroom. Our live blog will begin at 9.40am.

The key players:

Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit is presiding. 

Lawyer Martin Fenech is appearing for Vince Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, 55.

Lawyers William Cuschieri and Martha Muscat are representing Alfred Degiorgio, known as il-Fulu, 53.

Lawyer Josette Sultana is appearing for Alfred's brother George Degiorgio, known as iċ-Ċiniz, 55.

Philip Galea Farrugia from the Attorney General's office and inspectors Keith Arnaud and Kurt Zahra are prosecuting.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Eve Borg Costanzi are appearing parte civile.

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