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State witness was ‘living in fear’ of being the scapegoat in journalist’s murder

Daphne Caruana Galizia
Citizens calling for justice and an end to impunity on 16 October 2019, two years since Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated for her work.

The burden of his involvement in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia had become too heavy to carry for middleman Melvin Theuma who was living in fear that the crime would be pinned on him, leading him to spill the beans to the police.

He told the court today that he was scared and worried that the three men charged with executing her murder were going to confess to the police or be granted bail.

Theuma confessed to the police when arrested as part of a separate money laundering charge that he acted as the middleman between businessman Yorgen Fenech and the three alleged hitmen. He was then granted a presidential pardon in exchange for information while Fenech was denied one.

Theuma gave a brief glimpse of the intense pressure he was under in his testimony today in the compilation of evidence against Fenech, who is being charged with acting as the mastermind behind the journalist’s assassination. The court heard a number of recordings that Theuma had secretly taped during his conversations with Fenech.

He told the court that he started panicking at the thought of the two Degiorgio brothers, who are being charged with Caruana Galizia’s death, getting bail or a presidential pardon as he was afraid that they would reveal their connection to him.

The heat turned up when it was reported that the police were suspecting Fenech in the murder.

When news emerged that Degiorgio brothers wanted to speak to MEP Ana Gomes, who has been very vocal about justice for Caruana Galizia’s death, MEP David Casa and the family’s lawyer Jason Azzopardi, he said he was terrified.

“I wanted to speak to Matthew Caruana Galizia. I wanted to speak to the Church,” Theuma said.

“There was a time when I used to equate Keith Schembri with Yorgen. I begged Yorgen: please don’t let them kill me,” he added.

Theuma said he had spent days crying and suffered from depression. It was Fenech who gave him pills to help him self-medicate.

The court listened to a number of recordings that Theuma had made during his meetings with Fenech, which together with his testimony, revealed Fenech’s close relationship with the police.

Fenech had informed Theuma that he would be arrested on 16 November 2019 and that he would have in hand a list of places that would be searched by the Economics Crimes Unit. This list was to be provided by Police Inspector Ray Aquilina, who would also speak to him, but these never came through, Theuma said.

He added that Fenech was informed about the upcoming raid by Joseph Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri and former assistant commissioner Silvio Valletta, who was a close friend of Fenech. When this happened, he told Fenech to speak to “the man from Luqa”, referring to former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar.

He mentioned how his friend Edwin Brincat, known as il-Ġojja, visited Cutajar who asked him whether he was aware of any recordings about the murder. Brincat warned Theuma to be careful because Cutajar’s comment meant that the police were aware of his recordings.

Theuma insisted that he never spoke to Cutajar – even though he was ready to bluff with Fenech that he knew the former commissioner to protect himself.

He also turned to Fenech to intervene with Cutajar and not involve his relatives in the upcoming raid. Fenech said he would be just be questioned and then released.

But several members of his family were arrested and Theuma broke down in court, apologising for the trouble he had caused them.

Theuma told the magistrate that he knew that Schembri and Fenech were close. He was scared that he would be the one to pay – either with his life or with a jail term.

He was also asked about a message from Fenech, which referred to a news report that Labour was ahead in a pre-electoral survey.

This meant that Fenech felt that they would be protected with Labour in power, Theuma said.

When asked about Schembri’s role in the murder, Theuma said he could not implicate him and never met him or Kenneth Camilleri, the former security detail of Joseph Muscat, and the man who accompanied Neville Gafa on the secret trip to Libya.

Theuma told the court today that Fenech had referred to Schembri as a source of information but not as being involved in the murder. This jars with information that emerged in the public inquiry into the journalist’s brutal murder.

Schembri was the one who had given Theuma a government job, at the request of Fenech, without Theuma ever doing an hour’s work.

Last week, Theuma had testified that lawyer David Gatt had passed on a message to the Degiorgio brothers, threatening that if they tried to pin the murder on former Economy Minister Chris Cardona, he would kill them. He also said that Cardona’s mobile number was the only one saved on a burner phone fished out from the bottom of the sea during a police raid as part of the 2017 murder investigations

When asked on Monday by lawyer Jason Azzopardi, who is appearing on behalf of the Caruana Galizia family, about a text message from Fenech, Theuma said Fenech was worried in the week of the one-year anniversary of Caruana Galizia’s death – especially because of the protests.

In February 2019, he drove Fenech to a party hosted by Muscat at his official summer residence at Girgenti – the same event where Fenech had gifted the former prime minister with two expensive bottles of wine.

Angelo Gafa (inset) with the Malta police headquarters in the background.

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