A mysterious photograph, a death threat, a mobile phone fished out from the bottom of the sea and an alleged ‘overdose’ featured in the testimony of middleman Melvin Theuma today, linking former minister Chris Cardona to the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Theuma, who was granted a presidential pardon for collaborating with the police, told a court that lawyer David Gatt had passed on a message to the Degiorgio brothers, who are being charged with Caruana Galizia’s assassination, threatening that if they tried to pin the murder on the former Economy Minister he would kill them.
“I know another thing about David Gatt. Mario (Degiorgio) had told me that David Gatt sent a message with someone that if the Degiorgios rat out Cardona, he is ready to have them killed.” Theuma said.
These allegations emerged as Theuma testified in the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, who stands accused of acting as the mastermind behind Caruana Galizia’s death. The sittings resumed after court hearings were suspended for three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Replying to a set of questions by lawyer Jason Azzopardi, who is appearing parte civile on behalf of the Caruana Galizia family, Theuma said Fenech told him Cardona had been admitted to hospital after he “swallowed some pills” and overdosed because he was worried about the murder.
Azzopardi also showed Theuma a photograph and he identified the person in the photo as someone who had allegedly passed around €350,000 between Cardona and alleged hitman Alfred Degiorgio (known as Il-Fulu). This is the first time the €350,000 figure is mentioned.
“His name starts with a B,” Theuma said, adding that he had seen the picture before – once when it was shown to him by the police and the second time through Fenech or his business partner. He never met the men and did not know his name, Theuma told the court.
Azzopardi also questioned Theuma about whether Mario Degiorgio, the brother of two alleged hitmen, had ever mentioned someone linked to a trial by jury. Theuma again mentioned Gatt.
“Mario Degiorgio once mentioned Gatt and told me that, until the trial by jury, he needs to prepare €400(000),” Theuma said.
He told the court he did not know Gatt and he was unaware that he had once shared an office with Cardona.
When asked by Azzopardi whether there was a photo of Cardona and Alfred Degiorgio, Theuma confirmed, but he could not say whether it was taken before or after Caruana Galizia’s murder.
During his testimony, the court heard a number of recordings done secretly by Theuma during his meetings with Fenech. They referred to Cardona’s mobile number as the only number saved on a burner phone that was recovered from the bottom of the sea by the police in Marsa as part of the 2017 murder investigations.
Theuma also told the court he once saw Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta at Fenech’s farmhouse in Zebbug and that the former businessman had boasted that he had dined with Nationalist Party Leader Adrian Delia.
The Opposition Leader said in a statement later that he had never met Fenech since it was revealed he was the owner of Dubai company 17 Black, linked to corruption in the Electrogas deal and reportedly set up to funnel €5,000 a day to offshore companies held by former Minister Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri.
Cardona suspended himself from his ministerial role at the end of 2019 following revelations that had implicated government officials in Caruana Galizia’s assassination. He resigned from his MP role in April, saying he was retiring from public life. Cardona has so far kept his position as Labour Party’s Deputy Leader for Party Affairs.
A few months prior to the murder, Cardona had sued Caruana Galizia for libel after she alleged that he and his personal aide Joseph Gerada had visited a brothel in Velbert while on an official visit to Germany.
The former minister had gone so far as asking the court to serve Caruana Galizia with a garnishee order amounting to €46,000. This effectively froze Caruana Galizia’s bank accounts and on the fateful day of 16 October 2017, Caruana Galizia was on her way to the bank see whether she could access her accounts.
Cardona then dropped the case in a move widely suspected to have been aimed at preventing the publication of phone records.
The Labour Deputy Leader denied the accusations Theuma made under oath, describing them as “lies” and an attempt to frame him by those really involved in the crime. It is not the first time Cardona has alleged that he is being framed.