The version of events given by the Fenech family doctor Adrian Vella in the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech conflicts with the testimony of former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri in June.
Schembri had denied that he passed on a note to Vella to give to Fenech. Yet, when pressed by magistrate Rachel Montebello in court on Tuesday, the Fenech family doctor said the former chief of staff had indeed passed on the letter to him to give to the man accused of being the mastermind of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
When Montebello pointed out Schembri’s previous testimony regarding the note to Vella, the doctor replied: “He passed it on to me”.
The letter first hit the headlines in November 2019, shortly after Fenech’s arrest, and contained an alleged frame-up attempt on former Economy Minister Chris Cardona.
Vella told the court the series of events that led to him collecting the note from Schembri and passing it on to Fenech while he was on bail.
Following a call from Schembri to the doctor, asking him to pass by his house, Fenech had also called Vella and told him to go to Mellieha to collect something from Schembri.
Vella told the Court how he has known Schembri for four years. He got to know him due to a medical condition that Schembri had, which led to the two travelling to America together.
Vella said that the former chief of staff had passed on a few A4 papers which Vella then folded and put in his shirt pocket. Vella insisted that he did not see what the documents contained. The doctor added that it was the first time he had received such a request from Schembri.
Vella then went on to deliver the note to Fenech. The doctor said he handed the papers to Fenech’s lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran, but an agitated Fenech snatched them out of his hands.
Replying to questions by parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi, Vella confirmed that at that moment Fenech said: “If I go down, everyone goes down with me (ninżel jien, jinżel kulħadd miegħi)”.
Caruana Curran then asked Vella why he had left out the part where, while at Fenech’s house, Schembri had also called the doctor and asked him to pass on the phone to Fenech. Vella confirmed this, saying Schembri had spoken to Fenech for “three minutes”.
Questioned about former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, Vella confirmed that Cutajar was present while he was giving his statement to the police following his arrest. “He occasionally butted in to call me a liar,” he added. Vella said that Cutajar had his mobile phone in his hand, though he could not say what he was doing with it.
Struck by fear, Vella’s reaction was to call Schembri
Emotionally, Vella recalled the night when he was arrested at his home, a few hours after he had delivered the note to Fenech. Upon hearing knocking on his door, stricken by fear, Vella’s initial reaction was to call Schembri, the doctor said.
“I called Keith, I told him there were many people behind the door. There were noises from everywhere. I thought someone was coming for me. I was scared, I didn’t know who it was – if there was something I needed I thought he could help me. I call him regularly,” he said, adding that he thought the knocking could have been linked to the note.
Questioned by Chief Inspector Keith Arnaud, Vella said that prior to his call, he deleted Whatsapp and switched off his phone. He had called Schembri from his daughter’s phone, as she also had Schembri’s number on her phone. Vella said that once he told Schembri it was the police behind the door, Schembri advised him to open the door.
Asked by the magistrate why he had deleted the app, Vella replied that it was because he had personal information on it. He added that he wouldn’t talk to Schembri on Whatsapp but used Signal, another app safeguarding the privacy of messages through encryption.
Doctor had suggested his friend’s fishing boat for Fenech’s escape
Vella was also questioned about a trip to Gozo with Fenech days before the latter’s arrest. The doctor said he was called to assist Fenech, who was extremely agitated. At this point, the public and members of the media were asked to leave the room.
Upon re-entering, Vella was asked whether Fenech’s agitation was linked to the case. Vella replied that he thought Fenech’s state was caused by the “narcotics” he took, and that the two didn’t speak about the case. Due to Fenech’s serious state, Vella suggested going to his farmhouse in Gozo where Fenech could rest.
Information on Fenech’s use of narcotics is not new. In December, The Shift had reported that Fenech was charged with possession of cocaine in the US months prior to his arrest in Malta.
“He wasn’t well,” Vella said. Upon arrival in the farmhouse in Għajnsielem, Vella gave Fenech a high dosage of Ativan, (an anti-anxiety drug), and left him alone.
The next morning Fenech’s brother, Franco, went to see him at the farmhouse. “His brother is an expert of what we mentioned behind closed doors. If there’s someone who could help him in that state, it’s his brother,” the doctor said.
Montebello then asked whether Vella had participated in the conversation the brothers had at the farmhouse. He said that the two had mentioned leaving on a private jet, and debated whether they could leave legally. Vella insisted that Fenech did not want to leave Malta despite Franco telling Yorgen to leave.
The doctor’s version of events changed multiple times, with the magistrate having to ask Vella specifically what his role was in these discussions. The doctor insisted that he was not understanding what was being asked, to which the magistrate replied: “You are understanding. You are understanding well. What you are not understanding is that you’re under oath and you have to say the truth”.
Eventually, Vella said that he had suggested to the two that his friend has a fishing boat, and added that he “probably” even called the friend in front of the brothers to ask him about it.
During the court session, the court also issued a decree upholding the defence’s request from last week to appoint a psychiatrist to assess Melvin Theuma. She appointed doctor Joe Cassar.
Times of Malta journalist testifies
In another testimony on Tuesday, The Times of Malta photographer Matthew Mirabelli was questioned after Logan Wood, the captain on Fenech’s yacht, mentioned the journalist in the last court session.
Mirabelli said that on the night of Fenech’s departure aboard his boat ‘Gio’, he had received a call at 7pm to head to Portomaso and keep an eye on a boat docked at the marina. He was sent a picture of the boat by his editor and was told that a journalist would be joining him later.
Mirabelli was called to testify on allegations that journalists could have been tipped off about Fenech’s impending arrest at Portomaso marina.
One of the last calls Fenech made before he sailed out of Portomaso marina aboard his yacht last November was to Schembri.