The judge overseeing a bail request filed by accused murderer Yorgen Fenech’s legal team has decided to deny the request filed on Wednesday.
Fenech, who is accused of having commissioned Caruana Galizia’s murder, had his legal team arguing that the accused had gone over the legally prescribed limit of 20 months under arrest. Fenech’s lawyers also played down fears of the accused escaping the country and tampering with evidence.
Judge Giovanni Grixti denied the bail request due to a high risk of fleeing the country as well as the possibility of further crimes or evidence tampering being committed, according to Malta Today.
Grixti also disagreed with the argument made by Fenech’s lawyers in their bail request. The judge decreed that the accused had not, in fact, gone over the prescribed 20-month limit due to the fact that the process had been interrupted three times by legal filings made by the same lawyers.
Throughout the bail hearing, the court also heard the State prosecutor’s arguments about how five of Fenech’s cryptocurrency wallets were linked with purchases of weapons made by Fenech in November 2018, the same month in which he had been outed as the owner of offshore company 17 Black.
Using the dark web, a part of the internet that is only accessible with specialised browsers and renders users difficult to trace, Fenech had attempted to buy two grenades, two pistols, two machine guns, two assault rifles and 800 rounds of ammunition.
The attorney general cited Fenech’s attempts at buying such a dangerous stash of weaponry, along with other attempts at buying cyanide poison through the dark web, as another reason to deny the request for bail.
17 Black was the Dubai company linked with the Electrogas deal that Fenech was spearheading. 17 Black was meant to funnel up to €5,000 a day into separate offshore companies owned by the former prime minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and former energy minister Konrad Mizzi.
Quoting prosecution arguments, Grixti added that the bill of indictment was issued before the bail request was filed, rendering it invalid under Chapter 475 of the Criminal Code, Article 10, which states that a request for bail shall not be granted if an indictment was filed at the time the request is made or within a week thereafter.
The bill of indictment, filed yesterday by the attorney general, serves as the legal notice which informs the accused that the compilation of evidence stage of the proceedings is terminated and will move on to a trial by jury.
The attorney general is seeking life imprisonment for Fenech’s role in masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia as well as an additional 20 – 30 years for criminal association.
The charges being put forward by the State prosecutor are based on Fenech’s communication with murder middleman Melvin Theuma in April and June 2017 and Fenech paying for the legal defence of hitmen Vince Muscat and brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio up until Theuma was arrested in November 2019.
The bill of indictment states that Fenech had set the wheels in motion when he asked Theuma to find someone to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia in April 2017, referring to George Degiorgio as a possible starting point.
After disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat had called a snap election in May 2017, Fenech had contacted Theuma in June, temporarily putting the murder plot on hold.
By the end of that month, Fenech, who in turn claimed Keith Schembri had coughed up €80,000 as part of the total €150,000 paid to the triggermen for the assassination, ordered Theuma to resume with the plan, culminating in the journalist’s murder by a car bomb on 16 October 2017.
While Fenech had been outed by Reuters as the owner of 17 Black in November 2018, Daphne Caruana Galizia had referred to 17 Black before the election.
The public inquiry board investigating the State’s role in the journalist’s assassination had concluded that the plot to murder the journalist was linked with the articles she was writing shortly before her murder.
The bill of indictment also states that until Theuma was arrested on 14 November 2019, Fenech was paying thousands of euros for the legal defence of the Degiorgio brothers and Vince Muscat. There is now a 30-month window in which Fenech must face a trial by jury.
International press freedom organisations have welcomed the progress in the case, although they cautioned that the fight for justice was not over yet.
Judge Giovanni Grixti, was heavily criticised earlier on Thursday morning when it was revealed that Grixti had bought a yacht from Yorgen Fenech’s father, George, in 2008.
Grixti’s association with the Fenech family also led to questions about a series of decisions taken by the judge after he was promoted by Joseph Muscat amid a flurry of judicial appointments in the first years of his administration.
In 2013, Grixti had personally signed a request for a pardon for former mayor of Żurrieq Ignatius Farrugia after overseeing a trial in which Farrugia was found guilty of having led a mob to harass Caruana Galizia shortly after Labour’s electoral victory.
While Farrugia was supposed to have spent four days in prison, he was released after only two hours, ostensibly as a result of Grixti’s personal intervention via petition to the Head of State.
Additionally, Grixti had thrown out then-opposition leader Simon Busuttil’s request to investigate Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi for money laundering after two offshore companies linked with Schembri and Mizzi were exposed by the Panama papers leak.
Grixti had also thrown out another magistrate’s ruling following an appeal from former Labour ministers Konrad Mizzi, Edward Scicluna and Chris Cardona in 2019. The appeal challenged the magistrate’s decision to open an inquiry into the hospitals’ deal.
In his decree, Grixti had claimed that news reports outlining irregularities in the deal were not enough evidence to warrant the investigation since they were based on unnamed sources, ignoring the known practice of source protection in journalism.
More recently, Grixti breached court protocol when he informed minister Carmelo Abela of a police request for testimony Abela had given in connection with the HSBC bank heist that occurred in 2010.
Instead of handing the testimony record to the police upon request, Grixti had taken the highly unusual decision to inform the minister of the police’s request.