The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

Yorgen Fenech case - Testimony about reference to corruption 'behind closed doors'

Monday, 22 June 2020, 14:29 Last update: about 3 years ago

Former OPM security guard Kenneth Camilleri has chosen not to testify in the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, charged with complicity in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The court then heard the testimony of Kurt Zahra, prosecuting inspector, who gave details about the day of the murder and the police investigations.

Part of his testimony related to the investigation was heard behind closed doors.

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The court, presided by Magistrate Rachel Montebello, earlier heard the three-hour testimony of former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.

It later heard the testimony of police inspector Kurt Zahra, who gave a detailed account of the day of the murder and police investigations which led to the arrest of three men accused with the crime.

Please refresh for latest updates:

5.52pm: The case has been put off till 30 July at 10am for Dr Adrian Vella to testify.

5.49pm: We're back in the courtroom after a short refreshment break, where lawyer Charles Mercieca is dictating a note to the court about the fact that Fenech is still in custody in prison despite being presumed innocent. Mercieca is also complaining that lawyer-client privilege is breached by the fact that phone calls to prison are all recorded.

5.11pm: The court rules that the testimony about the reference to corruption is to happen behind closed doors as it could damage the investigation.

5.10pm: The court suspends Zahra’s testimony.

5.09pm: Defence lawyer Marion Camilleri asks the court to order the press out of the courtroom to explain the reason for the defence's resistance.

5.06pm: Arnaud clarifies that the lawyers had been advised to speak to Ian Abdilla, who heads the economic crimes unit. The police had wanted Fenech to give his version on video but he had refused too.

5.04pm: The magistrate asks the defence lawyers whether they take responsibility for these statements. “Yes,” they reply.

5.03pm: Inspector Arnaud says he is ready to swear too that he had done the same and told the lawyers to speak to ECU. But Caruana Curran accuses the inspector of lying again.

5.02pm: Defence lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran accuses the inspector of lying under oath and a shouting match ensues. The court says this is not the way to allege perjury.

5.01pm: Zahra: “We had told Fenech’s lawyers to speak to the ECU… all they had to do was cross the corridor.”

4.59pm: Zahra testifies that Fenech was told that he should speak about those cases with the Economic Crimes Unit. But after he was charged with the murder, Fenech declined to talk to the police on those cases.

4.55pm: Prosecuting inspector Keith Arnaud says that Fenech had told police he could give information on another issue. The lawyers are bickering over whether this information could be revealed. 

4.52pm: Defence lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran had passed on the letter to the police together with a second letter. 

4.51pm: ahra says that after his second request for pardon was made, the police were informed that Yorgen Fenech and his team, whilst at his residence on police bail, had received a letter from Keith Schembri that was passed on by Adrian Vella, a medical doctor. 

4.49pm: On 25 November 2019 Fenech’s lawyers had asked for disclosure of information. They asked to hear the recordings. Zahra explains that the law states that after being arrested for 48 hours, a person has to either be charged or released. Fenech had been given police bail multiple times after his request for a pardon was refused, Zahra says. 

4.46pm: Zahra: “After hearing the first versions of Yorgen Fenech, we had investigated... on 24 November, he was questioned and asked whether he had anything to add for the purposes of his pardon. Fenech had a lot of contact with his lawyers. He was eventually arraigned 11 days after his arrest. The lawyers were allowed free access to the depot.” 

4.44pm: Zahra is now talking about the questioning of Fenech after the arrest. He explains that as part of the disclosure procedure, he was allowed to hear three recordings “to get the gist” of what was being said against him. 

4.35pm: Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca interrupts: “He was going abroad. He was not escaping.”

4.34pm: Zahra: “Our plan was never to have Yorgen Fenech arrested on 20 November. The investigation was tackling the issue of the middleman at the time but the circumstances developed in such a way as to make this necessary.”

4.32pm Inspector Zahra: “Meanwhile, on 20 November 2019 the police received information that Yorgen Fenech was planning to escape from the country.” The defence and Fenech pipe up: “Le, le, le, ma jistax.”  The court overrules the objection, saying that the witness can testify as to what he was told by lead inspector Keith Arnaud.

4.31pm: Zahra says something about police having Signal chats mentioning ‘dak ta’ Ħal Luqa’, asking that his wife and children aren't involved in the police investigation. The reference is probably to former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, who lives in Luqa and the case is probably linked to the money laundering investigation, which Theuma feared would involve his partner and her daughter.

4.26pm: Zahra tells the court about Melvin Theuma’s reference to Kenneth Camilleri. Camilleri was at one point part of Joseph Muscat’s security detail. Today, Camilleri availed himself of his right not to testify so as not to incriminate himself. 

4.18pm: Theuma had told police that he became obsessed by the fear that Fenech would murder him or have him thrown in jail. 

4.16pm: Inspector Zahra says Theuma had been on the brink of suicide but realised that if he did kill himself he would only be fulfilling Yorgen Fenech's wishes as he was the only link between the murder and Fenech. 

4.15pm: Yorgen Fenech gave Theuma €150,000 in an envelope as he left to airport. “This was the price for the murder,” Zahra says. 

4.14pm: Zahra has continued to detail what Theuma told the police. He now indicates pictures of messages between Fenech and Theuma which were found in the box Theuma gave the police. The Fenech family, sitting behind the press, are, judging by their mutterings to each other, not at all convinced at this evidence.

4.09pm: The sitting is dragging into its sixth hour. It's nothing like the nine hour sitting from last week yet, but these marathon sittings are becoming a standard fixture for this case. The courtroom is a bit more sparsely populated than earlier this morning, and those remaining inside are simply looking on silently. Some people in the courtroom, including the defence, prosecution, witness, and some family members have also abandoned their face-masks or visors.

4.03pm: Zahra says that Theuma had said that on the Thursday before the raid on the potato shed, which was then held on the 5 December, Fenech said he knew there was going to be a big police raid to catch the hitmen. The raid ultimately took place on 4 December.

3.59pm: Theuma said that the day after the murder, he went to Portomaso where he found him with a number of people. From there, Theuma and Fenech went into a private room, where Theuma said he told Fenech that he was afraid.

3.51pm: He details how Theuma had allegedly met Fenech, who told him that he had asked him if he knew Alfred Degiorgio as he wanted to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia because she had a story about his uncle Ray. He recounts how Theuma had contacted Degiorgio, recounted about his phantom government job, how he had met Keith Schembri twice - once at the ranch, and once at Castille, and about how he was told to stop everything before the 2017 general election which he said "he knew the date of long before it was announced".

3.46pm: It was a long process and everything Theuma said had to be investigated, Zahra says before recounting the version which Theuma had given them.

3.43pm: Zahra says that Theuma expressed his wish to talk about the case on the condition of a presidential pardon.

3.40pm: He says that Theuma was arrested on money laundering charges. "As soon as the police went up to him, he had a plastic box which he said he would only open in front of the Police commissioner or Arnaud", he testifies. The box was opened in the presence of the inquiring magistrate, the police commissioner and his lawyers.

3.38pm: Mario Degiorgio would go to Theuma for money, and ask for 100 euro for each of the trio per week. The magistrate points out that most of this has already come through Arnaud's earlier testimony, and asks to skip past it. Arnaud now asks Zahra to fast-forward to the day when Melvin Theuma was arrested, and asks him to detail the plans from that day.

3.34pm: Zahra says that they had discovered a call where Theuma said he was arguing with someone and had recorded him. "Dak tat-torri" was how he was referred to. However, Police did not know of the actual existence of these recordings and hence did not want to show their hand. Zahra says that it is now clear that the person in question was Yorgen Fenech. One of the people Thuema spoke to was Edgar Brincat 'il-Gojja'.

3.32pm: This became clearer when Theuma, through third persons, paid 15,000 euros in bail money for George Degiorgio's partner Adelina Pop in another case.

3.30pm: Zahra explains that there was also a call between Mario and George where someone "with a name starting with M" was mentioned. This was taken in the context that Vince Muscat had started to open up to the police, Zahra said.

3.29pm: He says that the Degiorgio's calls from prison were being monitored. In one telephone call between George Degiorgio and Mario Degiorgio, George was heard asking whether "they had met him" yet. There was then a telephone call later where it was said that someone wanted to speak to Alfred Degiorgio. Fast forward a day, the phone call happened, and Mario Degiorgio passed the phone on to another man who passed courageous words to Alfred. Suspicion was raised, and surveillance was done on Mario Degiorgio to see who this person was. Melvin Theuma was identified as a result of this surveillance.

3.27pm: He says that he then had to continue working on other murder cases, but that Arnaud would keep him updated throughout. He then came back onto the case almost two years later when Melvin Theuma was arrested.

3.25pm: Europol continued to assist in the case as the search was mounted for people involved beyond the arrested trio. In the first phase, Europol were appointed as purely experts, but afterwards also began to help in terms of police work. "Everything we saw, Europol saw", Zahra says.

3.23pm: After the trio were charged, the second phase of the investigations began, Zahra said.

3.18pm: Alfred and George Degiorgio and Vince Muscat were arrested in the potato shed. Zahra said that they offered no resistance to arrest.

3.15pm: A Europol member was placed to work with some police squads. They were responsible for preserving any evidence which was found. Searches were done only when Europol members were present.

3.12pm: Zahra's account moves to the raid on the potato shed, which took place in December 2017. He said that nine people had been arrested. These were people of interest whom the police wanted to establish their involvement in the murder or otherwise. However, Zahra says, they were fairly certain of the involvment of the two Degiorgios and Muscat.

3.09pm: At the time of the detonation, George Degiorgio's mobile received a top up which was then transferred to one of the three burner phones used to carry out the murder.

3.04pm: He states that they had previous investigations had shown that the potato shed was frequented by persons known to the police, and that the people who frequented the area where known for a certain type of crime. He says that they had a strong suspicion that the two Degiorgios and Muscat may have been involved in the murder.

2.59pm: Zahra now delves into the message used to activate the bomb. He says that the bomb was activitated through a SIM Card, through a message which read "REL1 = ON". He says that the SIM card was first activated at the beginning of 2017. The investigations later led to the Marsa potato shed, where the Degiorgio brothers and Muscat were arrested.

2.56pm: A reminder that Keith Schembri this morning testified that he had called the US Ambassador Mark Shapiro for help on the case within five minutes of him first being informed of it. Schembri said that Shapiro had told him that there was an FBI team in Rome which could be of service.

2.54pm: Zahra says that the FBI arrived in Malta on 19 October 2017 - the team's specialisation was on mobile data and devices. He said that at this stage him and Arnaud split the work; Zahra handled fieldwork, Arnaud handled data analysis.

2.53pm: Zahra says that no statements, besides those of the family, were taken on the day of the murder because of a request by the family for duty magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera to recuse herself from the case. Then-magistrate Anthony Vella took the case over from Scerri Herrera.

2.48pm: He says that close by, a brick was found under a tree which was a good vantage point. Several cigarette butts were found, and taken by forensics.

2.47pm: Zahra states that they had spoken to a neighbour who had seen a small white car with QZ in the number plate for three weeks observing the valley. He said that he had spotted the vehicle twice on the day of the murder; once at 9:30am and the other at 2:30pm.

2.45pm: Both Peter and Matthew are in the courtroom today - they are both looking on stoically as Zahra gives the all too familiar narrative of the day.

2.43pm: He recounts how he had spoken to Matthew Caruana Galizia, who had identified the car as being the car his mother was using, which was later confirmed by Peter Caruana Galizia, Daphne's husband.

2.42pm: The car was identified through its number plate as being a rental car. Zahra said that Caruana Galizia had been using a rental car since February 2017, and had been using the car she was using in October as from 18 June.

2.40pm: He saw the car's smoking hulk in the field adjacent to the road, with debris and human remains strewn across both the road and the field.

2.38pm: He begins by giving an account of the day of the murder - 16 October 2017. He says that he was first informed of a car bombing, before then being phoned again while he was driving to be informed that a person was dead, and that this person was probably Daphne Caruana Galizia. He says that by the time he arrived, the scene was already cordoned off by the police with a number of police personnel present.

2.36pm: Zahra states that the investigation was split in three phases: the first when the executors were arrested, the second when Melvin Theuma and Yorgen Fenech were arresetd, and the third after that which is still ongoing.

2.35pm: Inspector Kurt Zahra now takes the stand. He is giving his testimony on the investigation.

2.34pm: Camilleri chooses not to testify. And just like that, Camilleri departs the courtroom.

2.33pm: Kenneth Camilleri now takes the stand. Arnaud states that, like Schembri, they cannot exclude that criminal proceedings against him will not be taken. Camilleri is told that he has the right to silence, and hence not to testify.

2.30pm: Before we get going again, the defence asks the court to verbalise its opposition to not being allowed to cross-examine Keith Schembri earlier today.

2.28pm: Magistrate Montebello returns to the courtroom.

2.25pm: We will soon be back underway again. Kenneth Camilleri is waiting outside, curiously flanked by Neville Gafa. Camilleri used to be a security guard at the Office of the Prime Minister, and middleman Melvin Theuma has mentioned him more than once throughout his testimonies as the person seemingly working on an effort to get bail for Alfred Degiorgio, George Degiorgio, and Vince Muscat - the three who stand accused of carrying out Caruana Galizia's murder.

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