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Case against alleged mastermind in journalist’s death continues

Melvin Theuma, given a presidential pardon as the suspect acting as a middleman in Caruana Galizia’s murder, testified today.

Malta law courts
Photo: Berthold Werner

Part of a recording taped by Melvin Theuma, middleman in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, was today played in court in a compilation of evidence against murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.

One particular clip was recorded by Theuma by a mobile phone hidden in his car as he picked up Fenech and his children from the airport following a vacation. Theuma said the recording could have been from 2018 or 2019.

In the recording, with the children’s voices in the background, Theuma told Fenech about the bail and need for three million euro for the murder suspects Alfred Degiorgio, George Degiorgio and Vince Muscat. The three men are being charged with the murder of Caruana Galizia who died in a car explosion in October 2017. This information was allegedly passed on to Theuma by Kenneth Camilleri, the former security guard of then prime minister Joseph Muscat.

A total of 198 GB of data was extracted from pen drives and mobile phones put together in a box that belonged to Theuma and was presented to the court by expert Alvin Cardona. Part of the recordings were played in today’s sitting while Theuma was intermittently questioned about what was said.

Theuma was heard saying that former chief of staff Keith Schembri spoken to him about about bail, however, when questioned by the court, Theuma said that he actually meant that Schembri told him through Camilleri.

Theuma said that, during his meeting with Camilleri, he was so sure that the information was coming from Schembri that he didn’t feel the need to question it.

At the end of the sitting, the Court ordered the appointment of an expert to write out transcripts of the recordings as these were unclear. Theuma will be questioned from the transcriptions. The case will continue on 5 February.

12.21: The defence lawyers insist on having the full recordings and not just the transcript. Theuma will answer questions on the recordings when the transcription is completed and handed over to the court.

12.17: Magistrate Montebello orders the appointment of an expert for transcriptions of the recordings, since they are unclear.

12.13: Theuma clarifies that, in the recording, Fenech told him that Schembri had “no power in these things”. Asked to clarify what is meant by that, Theuma said that Schembri didn’t even arrange his things when it came to his own court cases, “God knows how much he will be able to arrange this bail”.

12.09: The recording continues and the words “Keith” and “bail” can be heard. In the recording, Theuma says Schembri told him about the bail, however, when questioned by the court, Theuma says he actually meant that Schembri told him through Camilleri.

Arnaud asks Theuma why did he mention Schembri in the recording. “I thought it was coming from Keith,” he says.

Asked to clarify a quote where Theuma said “Kenneth didn’t come from the sky”, Theuma tells the court, “someone sent him”.

Theuma recalls his meeting with Camilleri and says was so sure that the information was coming from Keith that he didn’t question it. Theuma says he doesn’t know what Camilleri was saying on the phone.

He says that Mario Degiorgio, brother of Alfred and George Degiorgio, would contact Theuma in the early hours of the morning and throughout the whole day, asking about  the guaranteed bail.

Theuma says he had thought about taking Mario Degiorgio to Keith Schembri’s house so as to not take responsibility for guaranteeing bail himself. He said that Kenneth Camilleri promised it, not himself.

11.58: In the next part of the recording, Theuma is speaking to Fenech about guaranteed bail and the one million euro offered to the three murder suspects charged with Caruana Galizia’s murder which Joseph Muscat’s former security guard Kenneth Camilleri allegedly told him about. Theuma tells Fenech that he feels betrayed and fears he will end up killed or in jail after murder suspect Vince Muscat was being pressured by his lawyer Arthur Azzopardi to speak up.

Replying to questions by Magistrate Montebello, Theuma says that Fenech had told him that he received information from former chief of staff Keith Schembri.

11.48: Playback resumes. In the recording, Fenech is telling Theuma about the football game he watched on holiday.

11.45: Theuma confirms that he was in the car with Fenech and Fenech’s children. He had two mobile phones – one was left in the middle in the car’s console and was left on airplane mode so that Fenech does not realise he was being recorded. Theuma says Fenech didn’t know he was being recorded.

The magistrate asks whether Fenech ever knew he was being recorded. Theuma says that Fenech knew he was being recorded on 15 October 2018, when Theuma handed Fenech the box.

Theuma had told Fenech what was on the pen drives. He says Johan Cremona also told Fenech that Theuma recorded him. However, going back to that day in the car, he says Fenech was unaware of being recorded.

11.41: A child’s voice is heard, and a man’s voice says “we have your present”. Theuma explains that the voices are of Fenech and his child and it was recorded when Theuma went to pick Fenech up from the airport. He thinks the recording dates back to 2018 or 2019.

11.40: He asks Theuma to clarify a muffled sound at the beginning of the recording. Theuma says that it was the sound of his Jaguar, possibly reverse lights or the seat belt sign.

11.39: Arnaud informs Theuma that the recordings will be played in parts, followed by questions. He tells the court there are gaps of silence lasting around five minutes in some clips.

The first recording is played.

11.34: The case resumes. Theuma is called in to testify.

11.02: The case is suspended until the recordings are prepared.

11.00: Theuma’s lawyer, Matthew Brincat, asks the court for a copy of all the documents presented by expert Alvin Cardona, with the permission of the defence and prosecution. It is clarified that the data presented was from all the items collected from the box left by Melvin Theuma when he was arrested.

In a previous sitting, it was reported that inside the box three switched-off mobile phones were found, along with USB drives, a voice recorder and papers, including a picture of a mobile phone with a number of messages.

10.53: The defence lawyers request a copy of the recordings. Magistrate Montebello orders that a copy of everything, which will be presented today to be given to the parte civile. The court also orders that the copies should not be published or made available to third parties.

10.52: Police Inspector Keith Arnaud, who is leading the murder investigation, explains to Magistrate Montebello how the recordings were categorised and how these can be played. He says that his team selected the ones for the compilation of evidence. There were a number of recordings that were two hours long and “you hear nothing, but we have highlighted the ones for the Court to hear”, he says.

10.30: Fenech’s defence lawyers complain to Magistrate Montebello that they did not receive the notification that the expert had been informed he was to appear. A notification was provided to the prison on 24 January, but the legal team was not notified until four days later and, therefore, did not have much time to reply.

The recordings made by middleman Melvin Theuma will now be heard by the court while Theuma takes the witness stand to be questioned about them.

10.23: Cardona was tasked with copying files, and says that a total 198 GB of data was in the hard drive. The hard drive was presented to the magistrate. It is still unclear from what device this information was extracted.

10.19: Court-appointed expert Alvin Cardona was tasked with the extraction of information from electronic devices. The expert exhibits 23 photos, both as hard copies and soft copies, and presents them to presiding Magistrate Rachel Montebello.

Businessman Yorgen Fenech is being charged with being an accomplice in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was killed by a car bomb on October 16, 2017, in Bidnja.

He was arrested after being intercepted by the Armed Forces while attempting to leave Malta on his yacht last November and escorted back to the island. His arrest came less than 24 hours after then prime minister Joseph Muscat announced that he promised to grant a conditional presidential pardon to Melvin Theuma, a person suspected of acting as a middleman in Caruana Galizia’s murder. Theuma is expected to testify today.

Fenech was found to be the owner of 17 Black a company set up in Dubai to pay kickbacks to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, according to leaked emails. Fenech led Tumas Group until his resignation as revelations emerged, and a director of Electrogas, the consortium that won a bid to build and run a €450 million gas power station a few months after the Labour Party was elected to power in 2013.

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