‘A simple double click’: Middleman’s recordings and the lag in court procedures

Arguments with regards to the accessibility of files by the defence teams of the men charged with the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia faced an anticlimax on Tuesday when a court-appointed expert said the files could be accessed with a mere “double click” on his laptop.

The files in question, some eight recordings by self-confessed middleman Melvin Theuma, were deemed “inaccessible” by William Cuschieri, the lawyer of alleged hitmen George and Alfred Degiorgio.

In a separate compilation of evidence, the lawyers of suspected mastermind Yorgen Fenech had accused the prosecution of having “hidden” the same files. The prosecution’s case rests heavily on Theuma’s recordings, of which there are over 130.

On Tuesday, Keith Cutajar, a court-appointed technical expert, told Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit that the files could be accessed easily on his laptop through Windows Media Player and without any special configuration. He said he would be able to  change the file formats to make it easier for the defence teams to access them.

Superintendent Keith Arnaud then commented, “we were told elsewhere that we were hiding them,” a statement to which parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi added, “maliciously”.

Charles Mercieca, one of Fenech’s lawyers, who had just sat down to observe the case, stood up to comment, but Stafrace Zammit quickly brought his explanation to an end, ordering that he has no locus standi (right to intervene) in this case.

Endless delays

In the compilation of evidence against the Degiorgio brothers and hitman Vince Muscat in February, one hour of the sitting was taken up by attempts to access the same eight files.

It is not the first time that court hearings have been taken up by long periods of arguments by the defence teams related to issues with the recordings. Fenech’s team has also often spent long periods in court in legal wrangles about the obtaining and presenting of the files.

In February 2020, the recordings, which Theuma had taken using a recording function on a mobile phone hidden in his sock or his car, had been posing technical issues from merely weeks after the court case kicked off.

Not long after the recordings started being played last year, transcripts of the recordings had to be redrafted after the prosecution team alerted the court about “inaccuracies” in the transcriptions.

Journalists present for the cases often experienced difficulties understanding what was being said in the recordings as they were blasted through speakers in the courtroom. In June 2020, new recordings were discovered, and in that same month, some 133 recordings were also optimised by an IT expert in order for the audible information to be “cleaner”.

The recordings were also cast in the spotlight last October and earlier this year, when the court registrar filed a case charging university lecturer Simon Mercieca and newspaper Malta Today with contempt of court after they published extracts of the recordings that had only been heard behind closed doors.

The playing of the recordings in court was paused until February, after Theuma was found stabbed in his home in July, as he was unfit to appear in court to be consulted on the contents.

                           
                               
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