Something’s afoot in the land of misrule. Again. (And again, but never mind that for now.) Newspaper reports yesterday announced that the State Advocate has been fined €500 euros for contempt of court for having filed an appeal against a decision taken by Judge Wenzu Mintoff ordering the police to produce the data from Keith Schembri’s phone.
The police have been resisting handing over the phone data since it first emerged that they were in possession of the device. This reluctance is extraordinary. What are they hiding, and for whom, exactly, are they hiding it?
Accused money launderer and fraudster Keith Schembri, the former chief of staff in the office of the disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, acquired a new phone after ‘losing’ his previous one just before he was arrested on 26 November 2019.
The ‘lost phone,’ which was last turned on in the vicinity of Schembri’s own home just 30 minutes before police arrived to take him into custody, has never been found. Schembri was released after two days on that occasion but was then arrested again briefly a year later, and charged with an array of financial crimes in court in March 2021.
In the meantime, his replacement phone was seized by police and remains in their possession. This is the phone that Judge Mintoff decreed must be produced, in a court case filed by Yorgen Fenech who is accused of commissioning the journalist’s assassination.
Schembri’s first arrest came days after the man charged with organising the brutal killing was caught leaving the island on his yacht in the early hours of 20 November 2019. Fenech had told police in his early interrogations that Schembri was the actual instigator of the plot to murder Caruana Galizia.
Backing up these claims is a letter allegedly from Schembri to the incarcerated Fenech with instructions to blame it all on then-Economy Minister Chris Cardona (later alleged to have instigated a separate plot to murder Caruana Galizia that was never fulfilled). The court heard how the letter was handed to police by Fenech’s doctor who’d been recruited by Schembri to pass messages back and forth between the two after Fenech’s arrest.
In the wake of these tumultuous events, the government fell apart. Joseph Muscat, Chris ‘Acapulco’ Cardona, Konrad Mizzi of Panama Papers (and much else) fame and Keith Schembri resigned or ‘self-suspended’. But Schembri, after two days in jail, was released. And, naturally, he replaced his ‘lost’ phone with a new one.
Fenech, who has never yet formally repeated the accusations he made against Schembri in those early days, is nonetheless very keen to get his hands on the data contained within that replacement phone.
It’s also worth remembering that Fenech isn’t the only person to have implicated Schembri in the murder – confessed middleman Melvin Theuma and other witnesses have also said, in court evidence, that Schembri was involved in the heinous plot.
Fenech has so far failed to unequivocally point the finger at the shamed former chief of staff. This may be because he’s still hoping one of the many recipients of his former generosity might be able to get him out of jail without his having to use his trump card against Schembri. It may be because he’s plain old terrified of Schembri’s wrath. It may be because he doesn’t feel he has enough evidence to prove his claims. It may be because at the compilation of evidence stage, he has not yet had his say since the trial has not yet started.
Fenech’s legal team – and therefore we must assume Fenech himself – appear desperate to get their hands on the data from Schembri’s second phone.
For an observer with access only to the scant information reported in the press, none of this makes any sense.
First, the original phone itself may be ‘mislaid’ but the data shouldn’t be. It’s all still available, or should be, on the servers of the carrier or whichever cloud service Schembri may have used. I’m sure the Maltese police force is just as aware of this as any of the public, so the fact that an attempt to access it doesn’t appear to have been made is puzzling – and worrying – in the extreme.
Second, Schembri’s convenient misplacement of his phone just before he was arrested suggests he’s very aware that incriminating data on a phone could be very uncomfortable for him. Therefore, how likely is it that there’s anything on his second phone, that he didn’t conveniently ‘lose’ just before the police knocked on his door, that he doesn’t want anyone else to see?
And, regardless, why would the police be trying so desperately to stop the information reaching the courts, whatever it consists of? They claim there’s nothing relevant to the investigation on the phone, but their desperation to keep it under wraps suggests that there probably is something very relevant, if not to Fenech’s case, then certainly to the case the entire country should be mounting against Schembri.
We on the outside can only imagine, based on what we already know, the level of blackmailing, horse-trading, appealing, threatening and bullying that went on behind the scenes between all those involved in the Labour government under Joseph Muscat in the months between Yorgen Fenech’s arrest and Schembri’s third arrest in March 2021.
At this point, with the reputation of the police force, the entire government, the Attorney General and the State Advocate all in absolute tatters, we can only deduce that there’s a reason the police are attempting to conceal this information. We’ll only be able to work out what that reason is when we, or a judge on our behalf, is allowed to see the data.
But until then, all we have to go on is the fact that there are secrets on Schembri’s phone that he and the police are desperate to keep. The police would do well to remember that very few truths remain entombed for long – especially when it’s so obvious that they’re doing their damnedest to bury them.