Former deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta felt obliged to answer to former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri on investigations into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, in a manner unseen under previous administrations.
The Board of Inquiry investigating the circumstances into Caruana Galizia’s death asked Valletta why, in November 2018, when Yorgen Fenech was exposed as being the owner of Dubai-based company 17 Black, the police had begun to make their way to the murder suspect’s home but turned back upon learning that Fenech was unwell.
Valletta revealed that he had received a call from Schembri that day. “Is this what you do? Investigate from allegations on a newspaper?” Valletta recalled Schembri asking him over the phone.
The board, together with family lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia, raised concern about Schembri’s call.
“So the chief of staff was superior?” the lawyer asked.
“He was the chief of staff of the prime minister. I had to answer him and give him the information he was asking from me,” Valletta replied.
“Did you never tell him that you were the police and it is not his business?” asked Judge Abigail Lofaro, in disbelief. “You said you had to answer him, that shows you gave him a certain importance,” she said.
Comodini Cachia asked whether such calls were regular and whether Schembri ever enquired about investigations into other individuals such as former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and former Minister Konrad Mizzi. Valletta said that was not the case.
Comparing testimonies by Valletta and the former Head of the Economic Crimes Unit Ian Abdilla, the Board of Inquiry pointed out that one of them was committing perjury.
“Ian Abdilla told us twice that it was you who informed them (that Fenech was sick). Someone is lying, and it is either you or him,” said Judge Abigail Lofaro.
Lofaro also asked Valletta whether it was normal that the chief of staff of a prime minister to call a police commissioner. “In your 20 years of experience, did you ever see this happen with other commissioners under (Eddie) Fenech Adami or (Lawrence) Gonzi?”
“No,” Valletta replied. He also said it was the first time briefings at Castille were requested.
Board’s disbelief at close friendship with murder suspect
The Board expressed disbelief at the extent of Valletta’s friendship with Fenech, even following knowledge of Fenech’s alleged ties with 17 Black.
Valletta’s close relationship with Fenech occurred while his wife, Justyne Caruana, was Minister for Gozo.
The former deputy police commissioner was asked by the Board why he allowed Fenech to take him to Kyiv to watch a football match in September 2018.
Valletta said the had offered to pay Fenech back but he refused. His reason for going was “so that [Valletta] wouldn’t give anything away”.
This shocked the Board.
“Didn’t you see this was ugly?” Lofaro asked. “You went, and let him pay for you. Do you know what the English say? ‘There isn’t such a thing as a free lunch’. I’m sure you know what that means after 20 years in the CID”.
“This isn’t just a friendship, it shows something more profound,” Judge Michael Mallia added.
This is not the first time Fenech’s lavish gifts have been made known to the public. Fenech had gifted Muscat with three bottles of wine worth €5,800 as well as a Bvlgari watch with an estimated value between €12,000 and €17,000.
Valletta said he got to know Fenech in 2016 through a social activity organised by a mutual friend, the Fenech’s family doctor Adrian Vella. Since then, Valletta has gone to a farmhouse in Zebbug owned by Fenech approximately six times.
Valletta saw nothing wrong with this at the time, he said.
“When it comes to the murder, the information I knew was that Fenech had a problem with (middleman Melvin) Theuma”. He also justified retaining the friendship because Fenech “never brought up 17 Black or the murder”.
“Because Yorgen Fenech never asked me about certain cases, it never passed through my mind that he could have been involved in the murder,” he said.
“Did you never think about public perception?” asked Lofaro.
“With hindsight, I made a mistake,” Valletta said.
In previous testimonies, self-confessed middlemanTheuma had told the inquiry that it was Valletta who passed on information on the ongoing case to Fenech. Yet Valletta denied this. “How could I have? I was not on the case,” he said.
In June 2018, the Constitutional Court ordered his removal from the murder case. He remained in the police force until November 2018.
Valletta was ‘unaware’ that Ali Sadr left Pilatus Bank with luggage
At the beginning of the sitting, Valletta was also asked by the board about the lack of action taken by the police following Caruana Galizia’s allegations that the offshore company Egrant belongs to Muscat’s wife, Michelle Muscat.
Echoing the testimony by former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, Valletta said that former Attorney General Peter Grech had advised him twice against starting an inquiry.
Valletta said that Grech told him they could not open an inquiry “based on a blogpost”.
What startled the Board the most was when Valletta said he was unaware that former Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad had left the building with a suitcase.
“I did not know he ran out with a bag. No one told me he left with a bag,” he said.
“It was public!” Judge Lofaro exclaimed.
As the Judges questioned his actions at that time, Valletta reiterated that he “did not know”, a reply which has become commonplace at each sitting in the inquiry.