The Malta Independent 3 June 2020, Wednesday

Daphne murder: Police chief says Keith Schembri present for briefings on investigation

Tuesday, 14 January 2020, 10:03 Last update: about 6 months ago

Police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar told a court today that former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri used to attend briefings regarding the police investigation into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

He was testifying before Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff in a sitting in the constitutional proceedings filed by murder suspect Yorgen Fenech this morning.

Fenech had filed the proceedings in an attempt to remove lead investigator Police Inspector Keith Arnaud from the murder investigation into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

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Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect Yorgen Fenech had filed a constitutional application which described Arnaud’s investigation into Keith Schembri’s possible role in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination as ‘careless, approximative, if not amateurish’.

In separate criminal proceedings, Fenech is being charged with being an accomplice in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Lawyers Marion Camilleri and Gianluca Caruana Curran are appearing for Fenech.

Follow minute-by-minute proceedings below - please refresh for latest updates

12:08 The case continues on 11 February at 9am.

12:02 Further examination has been reserved. Arnaud steps off the stand. 

12:02 “We are exploring all options,” Arnaud says. 

12:00 To date the FBI's offer has not been taken up. 

12:00 “It is being explored, your honour,” Arnaud says, adding that investigations are ongoing. 

11:59 They had discussed how to utilise the FBI’s tweeted offer to help but this was held up by the fact that Europol was investigating the data, Arnaud replies. 

11:58 The judge asks Arnaud whether the FBI had been asked to help locate Keith Schembri's mobile phone. 

11:56 Arnaud says that apart from the two times he spoke to Fenech at the lockup, Fenech always had a lawyer present whenever he spoke to him. 

11:55 Arnaud says that from the recordings it appears that Yorgen Fenech had spoken to Melvin Theuma about the pardon and mentioned Arnaud. 

11:53 He hadn't. “To the contrary I had been praised by Peter Caruana Galizia, who said that he wanted him to continue.” 

11:53 Buttigieg asks him if he had received any complaints from the Caruana Galizia family. 

11:52 Before October, Arnaud says that he had held a couple of meetings with the Caruana Galizia family about the Degiorgio cases. They were also updated on the progress of the investigation in October. “We had said we would keep them abreast of any developments.” 

11:51 Arnaud says that as far as he knows the investigation into the leaks is still ongoing. 

11:47 Arnaud says that from 15 November a lot of information had come in and the task force was expanded to include the Economic Crimes Unit that are investigating a number of things, including the leaks. 

11:45 There is a reference to a meeting with Vince Muscat and with the minister. 

11:43 Arnaud says there was no mention of dates in the recordings. 

11:40 State Attorney Victoria Buttigieg asks about the date of the arrests as mentioned in the recordings and the leaks.

11:39 Sitting has resumed. 

11:25 Court is in recess for five minutes. 

11:24 “Yes. We also updated the magistrate. The Times story came out after the police had contacted Europol with their plan to go down the money laundering route. We contacted the newspaper and said that they were going to damage the investigation.”

11:23 The judge asks: “Was this mentioned at the Castille meeting?” 

11:23 The article had mentioned a "prominent businessman" and suspicion had fallen on Yorgen Fenech. The prime suspect at the time was Melvyn Theuma but police had thought of Yorgen Fenech as the next level, Arnaud explains. 

11:19 “There were other leaks before that. The Times had leaks on our meetings with Europol. It was no big deal. On the October leak, I had met with the Times to prevent possible disruption to police work.” 

11:17 The judge asks about a leak to The Sunday Times in October 2018. 

11:16 He recalls that the Prime Minister once told them to do all they could to strengthen the information at hand. 

11:16 On the meetings at Castille, Arnaud says that these were on operational aspects. The Attorney General was also present, and Justice Minister Owen Bonnici also once or twice. 

11:14 Arnaud says that a meeting took place with the security service before the December arrests in the presence of AFM officials. 

11:10 Arnaud says that since Theuma was being investigated by Economic Crimes Unit, he wasn't present at first during his interrogation. Theuma had been arrested as part of a money laundering and illegal lotto bust. 

11:09 “Basically, we disclosed the contents of Melvin's box,” the inspector says

11:08 Arnaud tells the court that a copy of the letter found at Yorgen Fenech's house and a photo of Keith Schembri with Melvyn Theuma were also given to Fenech

11:07 The court hears how Fenech added to the list of persons he mentioned and gave more information about Theuma. Arnaud says that he felt it was “quite strange” that Fenech did not tell the police everything from the start. 

11:05 Fenech kept adding to his initial version of events, Arnaud says. “I regularly visited him in lock-up and asked him ‘do you have anything else to add?’” the inspector recalls.

11:03 Arnaud says Fenech first corroborated what Theuma said, then started mentioning Keith Schembri after his first request for a pardon was turned down. 

10:55 Arnaud continues: “We spoke to Melvyn Theuma over a period of six sessions and he was mentioning Keith Schembri all the time. He was being investigated at the time. We didn't arrest him before gathering evidence.” 

10:53 “I'm not trying to twist the facts. There is a logical sequence of events and I haven't yet come to it,” the inspector says. 

10:52 Fenech’s lawyer, Caruana Curran says it is not right that Arnaud is not mentioning the timing of the pardon. The media does not know about this, says the lawyer. 

10:50 Arnaud is giving an account of when he had spoken to Fenech about the letter found in Theuma's possession, which mentioned Keith Schembri. 

10:47 “What we did with Melvyn, was also done with Yorgen. We went through the recordings with him too,” Arnaud says. 

10:46 He explains the analysis of the Theuma recordings: “We went through the recordings with Theuma, piece by piece, asking him what they meant, especially with regard to Keith Schembri as his name cropped up a lot. This happened over a period of days.” 

10:45 Arnaud says he had given then duty magistrate Anthony Vella a video presentation during a briefing on phase one and later updated his successor, Magistrate Neville Camilleri on phase 2. “The police had only used the recordings Theuma had in his possession after his arrest,” Arnaud says. 

10:44 State Attorney Victoria Buttigieg asks whether Arnuad was updating the inquiring magistrate with developments. 

10:43 Arnaud adds: “Could I go and arrest Yorgen Fenech on the basis of someone mentioning his name on the phone? The police had held meetings with Europol about Theuma and opened a new line of investigation into money laundering.” 

10:42 “The task force was made up of between eight and 10 people. There was Europol with us who would come for a few days at a time. We would provide them with translations of intercepts. There was another phase where we were informing the inquiring magistrate about the investigations. The key player in all this was Melvyn Theuma. We believed that if we could get him we could get who was above him.” 

10:40 Arnaud says there was a Maltese task force working from his office and the Malta Security Service.

10:38 Arnaud continues: “On our part we made a parallel investigation to Europol on the data. The investigation is ongoing.” 

10:35 Arnaud says that the FBI sent their CAST team (Cellular Analysis team) to Malta. “They helped us with the gathering of the cell tower data. Afterwards it was Europol who helped analyse the data.” 

10:34 He is now asked about the participation of the American FBI in the investigation. 

10:33 "No. But they would know we were updating the PM. We were also present at meetings at The Hague. They also assisted us in the decision on the pardon. 

10:33 Arnaud is asked by the judge whether Europol officers would attend the OPM meetings.

10:24 Arnaud says that there were some changes but Europol were always present in Malta assisting the investigation. 

10:23 He is asked whether it was always a team of investigators who conducted the investigation. “Yes. It was mainly me and Mr [Kurt] Zahra who were main leaders on the investigation at first and then there were others who assisted us.”

10:22 Inspector Keith Arnaud takes the stand now. He already testified in December.

10:22 The interviewing board was made up of Henry Attard, Christine Friggieri and Marthese Zahra.

10:21 She says that the JobsPlus call was open for seven eligible people. “None of them applied. There was subsequently an open call. Among the applicants was a person who we are not allowed to name. An interview before a selection board took place. The person was eventually employed.”

10:20 She is asked about the recruitment process for officers at IM. 

10:19 Rachel Powell, a lawyer from Infrastructure Malta, takes the stand. 

10:19 The witness says he's not in a position to give that information. 

10:12 He asks whether Arnaud's visits would be logged. 

10:11 Gianluca Caruana Curran cross-examines. 

10:08 Police Constable Victor Gafa from the police lockup takes the stand to present evidence about the times Fenech spent in the lockup. He presents five pages of evidence relating to the arrest of Yorgen Fenech.

10:07 The court says the State Attorney is to file an application, requesting the inclusion of the transcript and explaining its relevance

10:06 The judge says the best way around the problem is to have Theuma testify again viva voce and not to present a document

10:06 Buttigieg: “He testified more before the other court and left things out in here. I cannot expand on his examination.” 

10:05 Judge: “In that case it is to be presented provisionally and if not deemed relevant, removed.”

10:04 “I am asking the court to evaluate whether it is relevant or not,” Camilleri says. 

10:03 Fenech’s lawyer, Marion Camilleri objects, asking why was there the need for the transcript when he had testified before this court. 

10:03 State Attorney Victoria Buttigieg is filing some documents. Among them is the transcript of Theuma's testimony in the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech. 

10:02 Cutajar has finished testifying. He steps down from the stand. 

10:02 “At the beginning the task force was run by the homicide squad. Kevin Farrugia was a superintendent at the time not an assistant commissioner. Because the investigation was started by two superintendents, when Valletta resigned, the investigation continued. I felt that Arnaud and Zahra should continue to liaise with the assistant commissioner who would liaise with Europol.” 

09:59 It is suggested that two assistant commissioners were helping Valletta and whether it was strange for him to go to an inspector. 

09:59 He is asked about the recordings on ‘Kenneth from OPM’. “Those recordings came later… We got to that thanks to the recordings we found in possession of Melvyn Theuma.” 

09:58 Cutajar adds: “I don't believe I had a recording between Fenech and Schembri.” 

09:57 The judge asks Cutajar whether he knew about phone taps on Yorgen Fenech. “I did not at the time,” he replies. 

09:55 Fenech’s lawyer, Gianluca Caruana Curran says that he [Schembri] would be present at briefings and they would talk openly. The Commissioner replies in the affirmative. "Normally we'd give him the information on what was happening logistically. The most we gave information was about the pardon request by Vince Muscat." 

09:54 Cutajar says that the investigators never gave him feedback that Keith Schembri was a person of interest in the investigation. 

09:52 “Your honour, the way I work is to leave my investigators work in liberty. I don't listen to all the tapes. There was Europol, Malta Security Service... I wouldn't listen to phone calls.” 

09:52 Cutajar is confronted with tapes of phone calls where Schembri's name comes up often. 

09:51 Cutajar says that Keith Schembri’s name had not cropped up yet. “Schembri's direct involvement in the murder came up later.”

09:51 The lawyer asks: “Were you aware that Schembri was being investigated at the time?” 

09:50 Cutajar is asked who used to be present in the meetings at Castille. “Normally, the Prime Minister, Keith Schembri, once Owen Bonnici...” 

09:49 The witness is being evasive, protest Fenech’s lawyers. 

09:49 He adds that the investigation was carried out principally by Keith Arnaud and Kurt Zahra. 

09:48 Cutajar says that a large part of the investigation into Yorgen Fenech was carried out by Inspector Kurt Zahra and this was where the leaks were." 

09:47 “By Keith Arnaud and Kurt Zahra," Cutajar replies. The judge interjects: "So, Arnaud investigated himself?" 

09:46 Camilleri asks: “In what way were they [the leaks] investigated?" 

09:46 The lawyer and witness talk over each other excitedly and are brought to order by the judge. 

09:45 Cutajar replies: “During the investigation I can confirm that there were leaks, which we tried to resolve but we didn't find out where they were from. That is the truth. What I know is that where there were leaks, I told the investigators to have a look. There were also live leaks.” 

09:44 She asks: “Was there a leak of information?” 

09:44 Lawyer Marion Camilleri steps up to cross examine Lawrence Cutajar. 

09:43 Cutajar says that in 2018 there was the decision to have deputy police commissioner Valletta step aside from the investigation. “In order not to burden superintendents I decided to give logistical support myself.” 

09:42 Cutajar adds: “Although I'm still suffering the weight of that decision.” 

09:41 Cutajar tells the court that he took the responsibility of making the decision to delay the searches and arrests and involved the Economic Crimes Unit to investigate Melvyn Theuma on money laundering. “I reasoned that if the searches turn up nothing at least we'd have something in hand to investigate this person. I was proved right.” 

09:40 “It was decided that we continue to gather data and information. In March 2019 Europol gave us a copy of their report. In May, we gave an update to the duty magistrate. This was a crucial point. Not everyone was agreeing on the way forward. In the task force, there were some who were of the opinion that we should arrest and search at that time. If we did this and find nothing the case would have been prejudiced irremediably. I don't know what we would have done after that,” Cutajar says. 

09:39 Cutajar says the meetings were mostly about the pardon for Vince Muscat, who stands accused along with two others of carrying out the murder. 

09:38 “I was present at meetings with OPM attended by the Prime Minister, Keith Schembri and sometimes Justice Minister Owen Bonnici. They were meetings about the pardon. Inspector Keith Arnaud's input was important and he was also present,” the Police Commissioner says. 

09:36 The police would also keep in touch with Europol. 

09:36 Former deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta would give Cutajar regular updates, the court is told. 

09:35 Cutajar tells the court that for the Caruana Galizia murder, he created two squads; one analysing information from the public and another to investigate people who may have a connection to the case. In both cases, investigations are still underway, he says. 

09:33 He explains that then the Criminal Investigation Department and the homicide squad are called in. “There will also be the magisterial inquiry, court experts and in this case [Daphne Caruana Galizia murder] Europol and Dutch experts as well.” 

09:32 The Police Commissioner says that normally the field officers, the Rapid Intervention Unit, the district police, go on the scene. “They preserve the scene of the crime and make preliminary investigations.” 

09:31 Cutajar takes the witness stand and is asked what happens when police investigate a homicide. 

09:30 Buttigieg tells the court that she has evidence to produce. The first witness is the Commissioner of Police Lawrence Cutajar. 

09:30 Fenech’s lawyer Marion Camilleri has declared that she has no further witnesses to produce. 

09:29 State Attorney Victoria Buttigieg is opposing the constitutional challenge. She is assisted by Maurizio Cordina. 

09:29 We are here for another session in the constitutional case filed by murder suspect Yorgen Fenech to remove the lead investigator in the Daphne Caruana Galizia case.

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