What began as luxurious gifts and favours from a friend turned into what was perceived as objects of potential peril from a conspirator, according to self-confessed middleman Melvin Theuma’s testimony in court on Friday.
Theuma was being cross-examined by parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi who asked Theuma to elaborate on gifts which he had received from Fenech at the time.
Fenech is being accused of masterminding the 2017 assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Theuma was speaking about a specific time period after Vince Muscat – one of the three alleged hitmen on trial for Caruana Galizia’s murder – started speaking to the police, which consequently made Theuma start to “fear” Fenech. Theuma detailed how he had become “suspicious” of Fenech’s gifts when he felt that he wanted to “get rid of him”.
“So, what made you scared was that if you were taken out of the picture, Fenech wouldn’t get caught?” asked Azzopardi. Theuma agreed, adding that it was he who had the recordings (which could incriminate Fenech) after all.
The more suspicious Theuma became of Fenech’s motives, the less appealing and more perilous his luxurious gifts became, according to the middleman.
Theuma said that in 2019, not long after Vince Muscat began opening up, Fenech had gifted him a bottle of wine which he did not drink. “I was scared and thought it was poisoned,” he told Magistrate Stafrace Zammit.
Two days ago, Theuma narrated a similar incident that he said caused him concern – a “large piece of meat” gifted by the murder suspect. Theuma 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.
On another occasion, Fenech offered Theuma a trip to France to watch horse racing. Theuma said he did not accept it, fearing something might happen to him. His refusal, Theuma said, “made him (Fenech) annoyed”.
How this ties into what we know so far
In September 2020, The Times of Malta had reported that US investigators had traced online searches for a deadly poison back to a device owned by Fenech. Sources had told the newspaper that an FBI investigation last year had flagged online searches for a poison known as potassium cyanide, by Fenech, just a few months before he was arrested for commissioning Caruana Galizia’s death. Lovin Malta had later revealed that Theuma is believed to have been the target of the cyanide plot.
Despite his fears and suspicions that Fenech wanted to “get rid of him”, Theuma spoke about being adamant not to let Fenech off the hook. He recalled a specific moment when he did not take his own life just because by doing so “Yorgen would have been free”.
Almost a year ago, Theuma admitted to Magistrate Rachel Montebello that he had felt “reeled in” by the gifts and favours. Among the gifts which Theuma, a former taxi driver, had accepted were a Rolex watch, a prized parking slot at the Hilton and five paid trips abroad.
“Fenech had reeled me in so close to him that I couldn’t see,” Theuma had told the court. “I only got to learn about the mistake that I had made later on”.
Theuma is not the only person who was at the receiving end of Fenech’s lavish gifts. Last year, it was revealed that Fenech gave then prime minister Joseph Muscat a limited edition Bvlgari watch worth around €20,000, three bottles of Petrus wine worth around €5,000 in total, and another watch that cost €2,000.
Former deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta also allowed Fenech to take him to Kyiv to watch a football match in September 2018.