A few days before a botched armed robbery at HSBC Qormi in 2010, Alfred Degiorgio was given robbery plans and a set of false keys at a Fleur de Lys apartment in the presence of former minister Chris Cardona and sitting minister Carmelo Abela.
This was what Nationalist Party MP Jason Azzopardi alleged while testifying in court on Wednesday in a libel case that Abela filed against him, over a Facebook post in which Azzopardi alleged that the minister was linked to the failed heist.
Based on information that he said was gleaned through “professional and police sources,” Azzopardi said that Vince Muscat – a self-confessed hitman in the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination – had supplied detailed information about other crimes to support his request for a presidential pardon.
That information included details about the days leading up to the 2010 robbery attempt, when Muscat claimed to have driven Alfred Degiorgio, another alleged hitmen in the Caruana Galizia murder, to a Fleur de Lys apartment belonging to lawyer David Gatt.
Degiorgio, wearing a balaclava, was given plans, footage and false keys to the bank premises during that meeting, Azzopardi testified.
Former minister Chris Cardona and sitting minister Abela were both present at that meeting, Muscat had allegedly told criminal investigators.
That statement by Azzopardi appeared to spark a reaction by minister Abela as he stood in the courtroom a few steps away from the witness stand.
But his reaction did not go unnoticed by presiding magistrate Rachel Montebello.
“Don’t laugh, minister,” the court told him.
Azzopardi went on to allege that Cardona was subsequently arrested, basing his claims on the same sources. The PN MP has previously made that same claim in parliament.
“The fact that [police commissioner] John Rizzo arrested Cardona in the hours right after the attempted hold-up is significant. In a normal country, it wouldn’t happen and things wouldn’t remain the same,” Azzopardi said animatedly.
“Perhaps to you it is but to me, having a member of cabinet involved in such affairs is unacceptable,” he added, addressing Abela’s lawyer.
The PN MP noted that he had posted the Facebook comment that sparked this libel case after the minister had had a dig at his personal affairs.
“I’d rather be accused over the qabar ta’ Kristu matter – although that is not true – than be implicated in such filth,” Azzopardi remarked.
Abela’s lawyer Pawlu Lia pressed Azzopardi to divulge more.
“You said that Abela was an accomplice. So who was the mastermind?” Lia persisted.
Azzopardi said that the word within criminal circles was that there was more than one mastermind behind the attempted robbery, but that the main one was Cardona, with Gatt serving as the middle man.
“It’s said that Cardona was the mastermind not only in this hold-up but in two other crimes,” he added.
Azzopardi argued that the minister had failed to issue a public statement denying claims made by Muscat and the Degiorgio brothers, and said that had he been in Abela’s shoes he would have also sued for libel.
Lia pointed out that the minister had since filed an affidavit in records of the libel suit, denying the claims.
“So you based your opinion on the fact that he did not make a public denial of the allegations,”asked Lia.
“Until he files a libel against the Degiorgios…. ” Azzopardi responded before being interrupted by the lawyer’s next question.
“So you confirm what you wrote, that you said that Abela was accomplice by handing footage and false keys to the mastermind?” Lia asked.
“Don’t put words in my mouth,” Azzopardi retorted.
It was persistently claimed within criminal circles that Cardona and a sitting minister were involved in the failed robbery and the only minister working at the bank premises at the time, therefore the one who had access to the place, was Abela, Azzopardi said, firmly sticking to his guns.
The rest of his testimony proceeded behind closed doors to safeguard the witness’ sources.
The case continues in September.
Lawyer Joseph Zammit Maempel assisted Azzopardi.
Lawyer Luciano Busuttil also assisted the Minister.
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