Former chief of staff Keith Schembri today admitted in court to never declaring his friendship with Yorgen Fenech to the police and denied passing on any information to him related to the murder investigation of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Schembri was testifying as a witness in a constitutional case filed by Yorgen Fenech, who is pleading not guilty to being an accomplice in the murder of Caruana Galizia, against Police Inspector Keith Arnaud in an attempt to remove the officer from the case. The courtroom was filled with journalists, family members of Daphne Caruana Galizia as well as members of the public.
Schembri’s testimony before Judge Wenzu Mintoff was due to take place yesterday but he failed to turn up in court, claiming that he had never been notified to appear as a witness.
During a cross examination by Fenech’s lawyer Marion Camilleri, Schembri was asked whether he ever informed Arnaud or anyone who was involved in the murder investigation of his friendship with Fenech after the businessman became a police suspect.
“No, I didn’t declare it,” Schembri said, adding that “in hindsight, it might look a bit ugly”.
When asked about the nature of his friendship with Fenech, Schembri said: “he was a friend, but then again I have a lot of friends.” He went on holiday with Fenech about “three times in seven years,” and would speak to him on Whatsapp.
When pressed about how often he communicated with Fenech, Schembri said he did not know. Schembri also said he went on Fenech’s yacht once in seven years and could not recall how many times he visited Fenech’s farmhouse.
Schembri also denied passing on information to Fenech about the investigation. However, he admitted that they both spoke about the case on a general basis prior to being aware that Fenech was a suspect. As he said this, Fenech could be seen rubbing his forehead in disbelief.
He did not know whether Fenech’s mobile phone was tapped, saying he would not be “privy to such information” though he thought it could be the case based on local news reports.
When asked about whether he leaked any information obtained from police briefings on the murder investigation to Fenech, Schembri denied doing so, adding that he was unaware that this had taken place. He said that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, the Attorney General and Justice Minister Owen Bonnici would sometimes also attend the police briefings.
He also stated that he never told Fenech that he was attending meetings with Arnaud about the case but admitted to holding a telephone conversation that lasted 24 minutes with Fenech prior to his arrest. However, he denied being involved in Fenech’s attempted escape from the island.
“I received a message from Fenech, then he called me and told me that he was taking his boat to Sicily,” Schembri said. “I asked him whether he thinks it is the right time to leave Malta with everything that’s happening.”
“Why did you feel the need to tell him that?” Camilleri asked. “Imagine what the reaction would have been had he escaped,” Schembri said. He then added that he was aware that Fenech was a suspect at that time, saying he had known for “weeks”.
Asked about his relationship with Melvin Theuma, the middleman in Caruana Galizia’s murder, who was granted a presidential pardon, Schembri said that he recalled meeting him at Castille when Theuma came for a government job but that he was not involved with him. He offered Theuma a coffee and took a photo with him in front of a picture of former prime minister Dom Mintoff.
Schembri also referred to Adrian Vella, the Fenech’s family doctor, as a friend but said he did not recall the reason why he called him on the same night Fenech was arrested. He also denied writing any notes and using Vella to pass these on to Fenech. When asked whether he knew of any minister being mentioned in the notes, Schembri said he knew Economy Minister Chris Cardona was named, and described his relationship with the minister as that of a colleague not a friend.
Describing his relationship with Arnaud, Schembri said they met during the first police briefing held after the murder two years ago, adding that the meetings used to be held at Castille. “Arnaud used to message me on Whatsapp and then we would meet at Castille,” he said. The messages would be about setting up the meetings and the police would then “give me the information in the everyone’s presence,” he said.
Schembri also told Camilleri that he was arrested twice for 50 hours in total and spent 30 hours in the ‘lock up’. He also was searched twice, once at home and once at his Castille offices, where police took his electronic devices.
In his testimony, Theuma reiterated that he had informed people at Castille that he did not need work with the government. “I told them that I wouldn’t be able to go in for work because I have a job,” he said.
Following the testimonies, Camilleri requested that CCTV footage to be shown in court, which was granted by the court.
The case is adjourned to 14 January.