The Malta Independent 15 July 2020, Wednesday

Yorgen Fenech lawyers mulling new pardon request under new Prime Minister

Rachel Attard and Neil Camilleri Sunday, 12 January 2020, 09:26 Last update: about 7 months ago

The lawyers representing Yorgen Fenech are mulling the idea of filing another request for a presidential pardon for the 17 Black owner, this time under a new Prime Minister, sources close to the case have told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

Fenech is charged with promoting, organising or financing a criminal association with the intention of committing criminal offences; with actively participating in criminal association; with being complicit in the voluntary murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia; with associating with persons in Malta or abroad with the intention committing a crime. He is pleading not guilty.

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The former Tumas Group member has twice asked for a presidential pardon in return for spilling the beans, but both his requests have been denied.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat turned down the first request after consulting with the investigators, the Attorney General and the Police Commissioner.

A second request was turned down by Cabinet in late November, during a meeting that lasted until 4am.

Muscat had told the press that the Cabinet had been briefed by the Attorney General and the Police Commissioner but said he had not taken part in the decision. Muscat said he had taken a step back because of the alleged involvement of his close friend and former chief of staff Keith Schembri.

Fenech has claimed that Schembri would keep him informed with details from the investigation. It later emerged in court that the two had a 24-minute phone call on the day before Fenech tried to flee the country by boat.

Schembri told a court he had urged Fenech not to leave the island but admitted that he had not informed the police about Fenech’s plans. Schembri later told the police that he had “lost” the phone he had used to speak to Fenech. The device has still not been found.

On the same day of the cabinet meeting, Fenech’s lawyers had filed a constitutional case against lead inspector Keith Arnaud, claiming that his ‘close’ friendship with Keith Schembri made his role untenable. The lawyers, Marion Camilleri and Gianluca Caruana Curran also wrote to President George Vella asking him to bypass cabinet and grant their client a pardon. Legal sources had explained that the President does not have the power to do so.

They have also filed a legal challenge in court, in a bid to have the November cabinet rejection of the pardon declared null.

Fenech’s legal team had been hoping that a pardon would be granted. If this failed, they mulled asking for a plea bargain, where Fenech would be offered a lesser sentence in return for his admission and cooperation in uncovering more about the murder and the people who commissioned it.

Sources said, however, that the lawyers feel they have a better chance of securing a pardon for their client under a new Prime Minister. The chances of Fenech getting a pardon under Muscat are “practically non-existent”, a source said, adding that Muscat would likely not risk being exposed further through the alleged actions of Keith Schembri.

“Things might soon change, however, and a new Prime Minister might be more open to the idea of granting a pardon so that all those involved in this crime are exposed and brought to justice,” one source said.

On 29 December, after his requests for a pardon had been denied by the PM, Cabinet and President, The Malta Independent on Sunday had reported that  Yorgen Fenech and his lawyers were still hoping for immunity but that, should this fail, a plea bargain would be put forward. Legal sources said that immunity for Fenech would mean that he would be in a better position to give more details.

Over the past two months, the court has heard how Fenech allegedly asked middleman Melvin Theuma to task brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat to murder Daphne Caruana Galizia. The journalist, who had received hundreds of thousands of leaked Electrogas documents, was blown up in a car bomb on 16 October 2017.

The suspects were arrested on 4 December 2017 and are waiting to face a trial by jury. Melvin Theuma was arrested in mid-November and Fenech was arrested on 20 November, after he tried to flee the island on his yacht.

The middleman has claimed under oath that Fenech gave him €150,000 for to give to the suspects for their “services.” He said Fenech had, at one point, told him to suspend the plans but told Theuma that the plan was back on shortly after Labour won the 2017 election.

Theuma has claimed that Schembri was also involved in the case, and was leaking police information to Fenech, who was relaying it to him. Theuma told the court that he had feared that Schembri and Fenech would get rid of him or put him in prison. He had written a letter to Fenech, in which he mentioned Schembri, as a sort of “insurance policy.”

He has also claimed that he had been approached by a man called Kenneth Camilleri, who was previously in Muscat’s security detail. The middleman also made a number of recordings of conversations he had with Fenech.

Yorgen Fenech has also claimed that Schembri was informing him about the investigation. It has been reported that Schembri used to attend Malta Security Service briefings about the murder investigation.

Schembri was also made to testify in December, telling a court that he had spoken to Fenech the day before his attempted escape. He said he had told Fenech that “this was not the right time” to leave the country. The former chief of staff said he had not informed the investigators about the call and Fenech’s escape plans.

More details of the close relationship between Fenech and Schembri emerged in the following weeks, including a report on how Fenech had paid for Schembri’s cancer treatment abroad.

It has since also emerged that Fenech had given gifts to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. These included a Bulgari watch worth an estimated €20,000, and three bottles of French wine worth more than €2,000. The bottles were given to Muscat as a birthday gift during a party held at Girgenti Palace in February. No cabinet members were invited for the event.

At the time Muscat knew that Fenech was being treated as a suspect in the murder.

The Office of the Prime Minister recently claimed in a statement to The Times that the Malta Security Services had told Muscat the Fenechs should not be excluded from the list of invitees, presumably so as not to raise suspicions that he was being investigated.

Muscat says he did not keep the gifts and that they went to the state.

 

 

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