It was the first time that the courtroom heard state witness Melvin Theuma’s voice since he was found stabbed in his Swieqi home last July. With a lack of information surrounding the incident, the public was left to guess the extent of Theuma’s injury and whether he would be able to provide testimonies in court.
The first glimpse we got was on Wednesday, when almost seven months following the incident, a seemingly more frail Theuma took to the witness stand again to be cross-examined in the compilation of evidence against the suspected hitmen in the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination case – Vince Muscat, and George and Alfred Degiorgio.
The change in Theuma’s voice was most noticeable as he answered questions after listening to the clips played in the courtroom. The booming voice in the recording stood in stark contrast to the voice of the man who replied to questions in the courtroom on Wednesday.
Theuma, who was given a presidential pardon to reveal all he knows about the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, provided evidence in the form of recordings of conversations with a number of people, the majority of which were with prime murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.
On 21 July, merely hours before he was due to appear in court, Theuma was found with severe injuries, including a slit throat and several stabs to his abdomen while he was in police custody. Questions regarding the motive remain. With Theuma’s role involving thorough explanations to the court on each recording, concerns were raised about whether he could proceed with his testimony in different court cases related to the assassination.
Dressed in a collared shirt and tie, which covered any potential scarring, Theuma seemed to have to focus in order to speak. His voice was hoarse and strained, he occasionally coughed, had mints to soothe his throat, and would get breathless by the end of a long sentence.
Expressive hand gestures helped Theuma explain his replies. At one point, Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit suspended the session to give Theuma a break to rest his voice, and on a number of occasions, Theuma was asked to repeat his replies.
Throughout most of the testimony, he stood leaning slightly on the witness stand with his hands closed and fingers intertwined, as the paper cup on the stand next to him was repeatedly refilled by a court official.
Following the incident in July, the police had promptly issued a statement that said: “The first indications show that it was self-inflicted”. Members of the public had questioned the speed with which the police had arrived at their conclusions, with foreign forensic experts also telling The Shift that conclusions on whether his injuries were self-inflicted could not have been drawn before Theuma had even arrived at the hospital.
Chief Police Inspector Keith Arnaud had said Theuma had told him, first through the tapping of his eyes in the presence of paramedics at the scene, and a few days later through a handwritten note to the magistrate, that there was no third party involvement and that Theuma had ‘stabbed himself’ because his evidence in the murder case was being doubted.
In January, the police told The Shift that the magisterial inquiry is still ongoing. Meanwhile, information regarding Theuma’s health has not been forthcoming, with the police citing data protection and leaving questions lingering.
‘I don’t understand English’ – Melvin Theuma
During the sitting on Wednesday, Theuma also revealed that he “doesn’t understand English”, raising questions as to how he would have communicated with Dutch national Julian Hofstra who, according to two ‘exclusive’ reports in different media, could be in the possession of recordings where Theuma allegedly details the potential involvement of former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Theuma also told the Court that Schembri had “turned cold” when Fenech told him about the murder, saying “(he) had no other way”.
Theuma said Fenech had also told him: “It’s me who has to worry since I am the mastermind (mandant)”.
Theuma recalled an incident when Fenech had gifted Theuma with a large piece of meat. This was at a time when Theuma had started to become increasingly suspicious that Fenech would “put him away or kill him”. Theuma said that he had called his partner to tell her that he would be discarding it as his suspicions about Fenech were growing and he thought the meat may have been poisoned.
According to Theuma, Fenech confronted him about it a few days later. “Who had told Fenech? My partner? I don’t think so!”
Throughout the sitting, on several occasions, Theuma reiterated how he believed that former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri was somehow involved. Yet it was based on what Fenech had said, so Theuma told the court that he “cannot confirm under oath that he (Schembri) was (in the picture)”.
Theuma also said that Fenech would tell him that it was Schembri and former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta passing on information to him.
Referring to the recordings, Theuma also revealed that Valletta had met Fenech to drink whiskey at the same time that the Caruana Galizia family were attempting to remove Valletta from the murder case due to a conflict of interest. Valletta is married to Minister Justyne Caruana. Valletta was removed following a court decision, and revelations on the close friendship between Valletta and Fenech were uncovered some months later.
On Wednesday, Theuma also said that he believes Fenech was the ‘partner’ of Schembri’s former personal secretary Charlene Bianco Farrugia. Theuma said that he once drove the two to the airport and that Fenech would tell him to speak to Bianco Farrugia regarding property issues.
Bianco Farrugia had accompanied Fenech on a trip to Las Vegas together with former MFSA CEO Joseph Cuschieri.