The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

Keith Schembri, Joseph Muscat, Adrian Delia: the key points from Thursday’s court sitting

Albert Galea Friday, 28 August 2020, 15:20 Last update: about 3 months ago

It was another stunning day of court action in the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, who stands accused of being the mastermind behind the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination, on Thursday.

A variety of points – some more shocking than others – emerged throughout the sitting, which took up the whole morning and the best part of the afternoon.

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The Malta Independent has analysed the proceedings, with the below being the key points which emerged from the eight-hour session.

Fenech pins the murder on Keith Schembri

Without a shadow of a doubt, the most shocking information which emerged is what Yorgen Fenech told police about the murder.

Investigator Kurt Zahra recounted Fenech’s statements to police – which were given after he was refused a presidential pardon, which he had asked for in return for information on the murder and several high-profile corruption scandals.

In his statement to police, Fenech said that the idea to kill Caruana Galizia was Keith Schembri – the long-time chief of staff of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat – on the basis that the journalist was a lot of trouble. 

Caruana Galizia had been a big critic of Schembri’s – her last article before her death, titled ‘That crook Schembri was in court today, pleading that he is not a crook’, was in fact focused on him.

Fenech told police that Schembri would tell him every day that Caruana Galizia needed to be killed, and that they had ultimately hatched the plan – together with the now self-confessed Melvin Theuma – during a dinner at his Zebbug residence.

Fenech had recounted to police how when asked about the plan Schembri had said "Mexxi, mexxi, mexxi (go ahead)", Zahra said.

The alleged mastermind told police that Schembri had actually paid up to €80,000 to Theuma in funding for the murder, and that he had called Fenech some 30 times when Theuma was arrested.

Schembri himself has already testified in this compilation once – though he is yet to be cross-examined by the defence.

In that two-hour or so testimony, Schembri had denied absolutely everything related to any alleged involvement in the murder. 

He is yet to issue any reaction to what was said in court on Thursday, though, and has yet to be summoned by police.

Yorgen Fenech and Joseph Muscat

In his statement to police, Fenech also made several mentions of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat – who resigned very soon after Fenech’s arrest and the protests that subsequently followed.

Inspector Zahra testified that Fenech had told police that he had spoken to Muscat twice - once at Castille where he was asked about Melvin Theuma and a second time at Girgenti.

Fenech said that it was Muscat who had told him that a raid was going to happen on Melvin Theuma around the beginning of summer – although Zahra himself cast doubt on this claim, saying that as far as he is aware, no raids were planned for that period.

Zahra said that in Fenech's mobile, chats were found with Joseph Muscat, in which Fenech was invited to Muscat's birthday party in Girgenti. The party was held at the start of 2019.

"In it Fenech says that he had not spoken to him [Muscat] much because he was 'shy'," Zahra testified.

Zahra said that Fenech had also told police that Muscat – along with Adrian Vella and Johann Cremona – had known that Keith Schembri had hatched the plan for the murder.

The allegations are major – but Muscat himself issued a statement denying them and pointing out several contradictions in what Fenech said to the police.

He pointed out how Zahra himself had said that no raids were planned for the period which Fenech had mentioned, and also noted that the phone transcripts showed that Fenech hadn’t actually spoken to Muscat at his birthday party in Girgenti.

Still, it hasn’t stopped the PN – through embattled leader Adrian Delia – from saying that the day’s proceedings make the involvement of Muscat’s office in the murder clearer than ever.

Yorgen Fenech and Adrian Delia

What Adrian Delia failed to mention during his press conference on Thursday night was how Inspector Keith Arnaud confirmed the existence of Whatsapp messages between him and Yorgen Fenech.

Much has been made of Whatsapp chats between the two – with several stories making headlines in recent months.

Just yesterday, before the court session began, MaltaToday reported that a short conversation between the two, which took place in February 2019, had been retrieved by Europol and Maltese IT experts.

The short conversation sees Fenech send Delia a satirical map of Europe as seen through the eyes of the Maltese, to which Delia replied with “sadly true”.

Fenech continues by asking how the PN leader is holding up, and saying that he thinks about him a lot but does not want to bother him or put himself on the list of people who bother him.

Delia, it seems, did not reply.

Lead inspector Keith Arnaud was asked about the leak when the compilation of evidence against Fenech resumed on Thursday. The police officer said he had reported this to the magistrate looking into the leaks. He said he had spoken to people in the task force and expressed his dismay at the leaks.

Pressed on the matter, Arnaud said that, “in respect of the opposition leader, that was the exact text.”

The matter is significant not necessarily because of the contents of the messages – in fact the contents are, in the grand scheme of things, quite menial.

However, Arnaud’s confirmation of the messages exposes Delia’s previous statements – Delia had first said that he had never communicated with Fenech after he was exposed as the owner of 17 Black, although that then became that he had no communication of “relevance” with the businessman.

He had also suggested that the messages were fabricated.

The PN leader has repeatedly insisted that his chats with Fenech no longer show up on his phone, suggesting that the police might have deleted the records. He had even said this in a recent interview with The Malta Independent. 

Their actual existence now, though, is no longer in any doubt.

France or Tunisia – Fenech’s alleged planned escape route

Yorgen Fenech was arrested last November after he went out on his yacht – the Gio – in the early hours of the morning. The yacht was guided back into Portomaso Marina, where Fenech was apprehended.

Fenech has insisted that he was not attempting to escape the country, but Zahra’s testimony indicates otherwise.

Zahra testified that chats showed that Fenech was looking at escaping to Tunis or France and had said he would miss his family. The chats are yet to be exhibited in court, but are with family members, in which Fenech speaks of meeting with lawyers. 

"What I saw as suspicious is a chat between Yorgen Fenech and the captain where Fenech is insisting on the captain to turn on the tracking transponder. This was to a captain who had been working with him for years. Wood told Fenech that it would be better to leave in the morning as it 'looks less fishy'”, Zahra said.

This is notable because the captain – Logan Wood – had refuted suggestions that the yacht was going to make an escape, although he admitted that he did not know what Fenech had intended to do.

Indeed, the court noted that what Zahra had said has not been mentioned by any witness.

Furthermore, parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi quoted from the interrogation transcript, where Fenech said "Huma xtaqu jħarrbuni jumejn qabel (They wanted me to escape two days before).”

“Huma” [they] in this case, refers to Adrian Vella and Keith Schembri.

The point continues to raise questions over Fenech’s actions on the day of his arrest – whether he did indeed try to escape, and, more importantly, what prompted him to try and escape.

The compilation will continue next Monday - the final sitting before the case goes back to the Attorney General. 

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