A conversation in which self-confessed middleman turned State witness Melvin Theuma speaks about offering money to former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar was heard in court on Thursday, with Theuma saying under oath that the monetary offer was actually a lie that he invented.
Today’s court testimony was expected to happen eight months ago, but merely hours earlier Theuma was found stabbed in his home last July and he was unable to testify for months due to his injuries.
Over the months, these hidden recordings, which had a different format from the others, and were found in a different digital location, were at the centre of hype, court delays and allegations, as the defence team of suspected mastermind Yorgen Fenech had accused the prosecution team of ‘hiding’ the recordings. The saga led to an anti-climax a few weeks ago when a court-appointed expert said that he managed to open the recordings on a normal laptop “with a simple double click”.
The suspects are undergoing proceedings in relation to the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia by a car bomb on 16 October 2017.
On Thursday, those present in the packed courtroom throughout the five-hour-long sitting listened to three recordings: two between Melvin Theuma and Johann Cremona, and one between Theuma and Mario Degiorgio – the brother of the two suspected hitmen Alfred and George Degiorgio.
One of the main highlights – and points of concern – featured in the recordings ridden with swear words was a conversation where Theuma told Cremona that he was paying Cutajar €15,000, which he would give to him in instalments of €5,000.
Asked for an explanation on this by Inspector Keith Arnaud, Theuma said it was all a bluff. He described it as an attempt to show that he has “power”.
“I did it to pretend the (Police) Commissioner is helping me… I wanted to tell Johann so that he would tell Yorgen.. wasn’t Johann the postman?” he said. “I bluffed a lot about the Commissioner… I invented that I went to the Commissioner to tell all”.
Magistrate Rachel Montebello, questioning this reply, asked why, if it were all bluff, Theuma would feel the need to go into detail and say that he would be paying it in instalments.
Theuma, whose testimony was interrupted by bouts of rough coughing and breathlessness, said he just made it up and reminded Montebello about his state of mind at the time.
“So on oath, you are saying that you were lying?” the magistrate asked.
“Yes, exactly,” said Theuma.
Yet the Magistrate had more questions, saying his replies were not consistent or convincing.
She asked Theuma why, if it were the case that he was seeking an upper hand, did he keep on going to Cremona for information.
“To show him that if he isn’t telling me the truth, I will find out anyway. I doubted whether what he was saying was the truth,” he said.
Charles Mercieca, one of Fenech’s lawyers, also argued that the testimony is inconsistent. Arnaud asked the court for the recording to be taken within its context – one recording from many over two years.
Johann Cremona’s questionable information
Cremona, a friend of both Theuma and Fenech, had been providing information to Theuma about his impending arrest, which it is believed he obtained from OPM security Kenneth Camilleri and former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri.
Theuma told the magistrate that Cremona had promised the middleman a document listing locations for his potential arrest, and a document with the questions which were going to be asked upon his arrest.
“He said that if I don’t like a question they can cross it off so they won’t ask it,” said Theuma.
He added that Cremona told him that policeman Raymond Aquilina would be interrogating him and that he should not be worried, and that even Fenech had mentioned that Theuma would not have problems with Aquilina.
Theuma said all this never happened in the end. “In this scene, I was like a (foot)ball, how many times does it go from one side to another? That’s how I felt with all this information,” he said.
Theuma also explained how Cremona had told him of an attempt to bribe both a magistrate and Inspector Arnaud. He did not name the magistrate but said it was not Montebello since she was not involved in the case at the time.
“All I can say is that when they were mentioning money and magistrates, I said that I went to the Commissioner and gave him money as well,” he said.
Schembri’s name repeatedly crops up in testimony
Schembri’s name was once again repeatedly mentioned during Theuma’s testimony. In most of the instances, Theuma would refer to him indirectly. In one instance in the recording, Theuma was heard saying “I don’t trust them” – referring to Fenech and Schembri.
He said that he would suggest Schembri’s involvement to Fenech.
“He knew you were referring to Keith Schembri… did he ever deny it?” the magistrate asked Theuma, but she did not get a direct reply. “He (Fenech) never told me that Schembri was involved,” Theuma said.
“He never said anything?” asked Montebello. “No, never,” Theuma replied.
In another part of the recordings, Theuma refers to Schembri’s connection with the Malta Security Services. “Isn’t the secret service Keith Schembri?” he asks Cremona.
Theuma told the magistrate that he had heard that Schembri selected people for the service, and they are therefore like “his children”.
When the questioning turned to Schembri, Theuma repeatedly said that he used to think Schembri was involved but that he could not say this under oath.
“In fact, in a recording, Yorgen says that when he told Keith Schembri (about the murder), he turned cold”, Theuma told Montebello to prove his point.
The magistrate deemed this irrelevant: “This doesn’t have anything to do with it.”
Featured image: The scene outside Melvin Theuma’s apartment on the night in July 2020 he was found with a slit throat and severe wounds to his abdomen.