Magistrate Rachel Montebello had to intervene several times in court on Thursday to rein in Yorgen Fenech’s lawyer Charles Mercieca who accused the son of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia of “playing the victim card”.
The magistrate called out Fenech’s legal team towards the end of the sitting by asking “this is a cross-examination and you’re trying to attack his credibility, is this your defence?”
In a tense, three-hour exchange between Fenech’s lawyer and Matthew Caruana Galizia, testifying in the compilation of evidence against the man accused of murdering his mother, Mercieca defended his client by arguing that he never directly threatened Caruana Galizia in emails related to the Electrogas leaks.
Fenech had said the journalist’s writings were mere “hogwash” in an email responding to questions from other shareholders about what Fenech had done to draw Caruana Galizia’s attention towards the Electrogas deal. This occurred a few days after the journalist had penned a piece titled ‘Trouble Brewing at Electrogas’.
The Electrogas data cache, which Caruana Galizia insisted was sent over in batches via email to his mother and immediately transferred to an external hard drive, was one of the key subjects of Matthew Caruana Galizia’s testimony on Thursday.
Mercieca repeatedly asked questions about the provenance of the data, at one point accusing Caruana Galizia of having committed a criminal act in the process of obtaining what Mercieca described as “stolen data”. Mercieca also accused Caruana Galizia of having hidden his mother’s laptop from the authorities, a claim the witness denied.
Caruana Galizia refused to answer questions that he felt could reveal the sources responsible for the leak, with police superintendent Keith Arnaud, Caruana Galizia’s lawyers and even the magistrate herself intervening to block Mercieca’s questions when necessary in order to protect the witness’ sources.
Her remark about attacking Caruana Galizia’s credibility was specifically related to Mercieca’s insistence on determining why the witness had given information to the police on 18 June 2018 about 26 investigations his mother was working on before her murder but chose to omit information such as the external hard drive on which the Electrogas data was stored.
In his answer, Caruana Galizia argued that the family, throughout the “very difficult process” of compiling information on 26 leads which his mother was working on, was mostly based on trying to “whittle down” possible figures who had a motive to order the assassination.
As for the hard drive containing the data, Caruana Galizia rebutted: “Why would I give that to the police? At the time (former deputy police chief) Silvio Valletta, Yorgen Fenech’s friend, was still on the investigation”.
Middleman Melvin Theuma had told the court that Fenech was receiving inside information about one of the men on trial for the killing journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia from former chief of staff Keith Schembri and Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta.
The same tactic was re-used with handwritten notes Daphne Caruana Galizia had kept. When asked why he had not given the notes to the police, Caruana Galizia said: “I didn’t give the notebook to the police for the same reason I wouldn’t give my Playstation to the police, it’s not relevant”.
While around 75 different people were featured on the list that was given to the police, a list which included names such as former prime minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and former economy minister Chris Cardona, Fenech had always been on top of the list, Caruana Galizia said.
By the end of the sitting, Fenech’s defence team stated that it wanted to continue the cross-examination of Matthew Caruana Galizia on 20 September at 10am.
Murder middleman Melvin Theuma, who had admitted his role in the murder upon receiving a presidential pardon to tell all about what he knew, will also be cross-examined by the defence team on 30 September at 10am.