A magistrate had “real suspicion” that police officers may have been involved in the gruesome murder of Lino Cauchi, information revealed for the first time shows.
Cauchi went missing in February 1982 and his dismembered body was found in a well in Buskett in November 1985. Nobody has ever been charged with the murder.
The shocking revelation comes from the police file submitted in the court records of a constitutional case Cauchi’s widow, Anna Cassar, and his son, Paolo, filed against the State.
Judge Francesco Depasquale last week awarded the heirs €615,000 in compensation after concluding the State failed to properly investigate the murder, pointing out several serious shortcomings.
Documentation seen for the first time shows that a Homicide Commission set up in 1996 between the Malta police force and the Specialist Operations Organized Crime Group from Britain’s New Scotland Yard was tasked to investigate unsolved murders, particularly those of Karen Grech and Lino Cauchi.
The commission had only started revisiting the Cauchi case when it was disbanded after the Labour government came to power later that year.
However, the commission did manage to talk to Cauchi’s widow and retired judge David Scicluna, who was the duty magistrate tasked with the inquiry when the butchered corpse was found in 1985.
Laundering money for people in high places
An internal report compiled by Inspector Jeffrey Rees from New Scotland Yard referred to what the magistrate told the commission in a meeting held in October 1996 and the revelations are indeed shocking.
“He [then magistrate David Scicluna] described himself as sceptical of the contents of the police files dealing with case. Indeed, there was real suspicion that police officers were involved in the murder,” Rees wrote in this report.
Although suspicions of a police cover up have always been floated by Cauchi’s relatives, this is the first time that such a shocking statement can be attributed to the magistrate dealing with the case.
But it does not stop at that. Rees’s report also refers to the magistrate’s belief that Cauchi could have been “laundering money for people in high places and the police protected them”.
“Apparently, police had seized the papers from Lino Cauchi’s office but he [the magistrate] had never been able to gain access to them. He had no knowledge of what had happened to the briefcase found or to the demand letters,” Rees reported.
Indeed, Scicluna told the commission that “Lino almost certainly died because he knew too much about some criminal activity”.
“He would have become aware of the information through his employment as an auditor, and he audited accounts for a number of influential people including Labour clients,” Scicluna is reported telling the commission.
The reference to ‘Labour clients’ was most definitely former public works minister Lorry Sant, the only politician to ever be charged in court with corruption, and his henchmen, particularly developer Piju Camilleri.
Camilleri had been a member of the Planning Area Permits Board (PAPB) and was notorious for extorting lands from developers seeking to acquire building permits. Cauchi had been his accountant and was also present for a stormy meeting on 8 December 1981 between Camilleri and other land owners.
At that meeting, Cauchi had inadvertently presented plans, showing how Camilleri sold plots of land for one price but declared a lower price on contract, hiding the true value from his business partners. Camilleri rebuffed Cauchi and eyewitnesses at the meeting interpreted some of his statements as a death threat towards the accountant.
Scicluna concluded his inquiry in 1989, focussing primarily on the discovery and identification of Cauchi’s butchered body. The inquiry was reopened under a different magistrate years later to hear the testimony of other people involved in the 1981 meeting.
Failure to preserve evidence
Judge Depasquale expressed incredulity that police failed to ask for a magisterial inquiry when Cauchi disappeared in 1982 despite the man “not being a habitual absentee”.
An inquiry would have preserved crucial evidence at the time of Cauchi’s disappearance that could have led to the people who murdered him.
The Cauchi case was being investigated by Inspector Anġlu Farrugia, today’s Speaker of the House, who had even arrested Cauchi’s wife a year after the man disappeared, on suspicion that she knew of his whereabouts.
The judge said the discovery of Cauchi’s briefcase at Chadwick Lakes two days after he went missing, should have been reason enough for the police to seek a magisterial inquiry. The briefcase was found empty and forced open. Police did send the briefcase to forensics but no report on the findings is to be found in the Cauchi police file.
Similarly, it remains unclear whether police carried out forensic tests on Cauchi’s car, which was found parked outside his house. Cauchi had last been seen in Valletta, where his office was, at 6:30pm, while two people who visited his house at 7:30pm had seen the car outside.
The police file also contains missing information on what police may have found when they searched his Valletta office. Indeed, the inquiring magistrate confessed to the Homicide Commission that he was unable to get his hands on the papers and files police had collected from Cauchi’s office.
Furthermore, when Lino Cauchi’s brother had found blood on his car in what he interpreted as a threat, no forensic tests were carried out.
In this way, crucial evidence was not collected with police insisting on treating Cauchi’s case as that of a missing person until the gruesome find in 1985. By then, potentially incriminating evidence had long been lost