The Malta Independent 2 March 2021, Tuesday

How new recordings, Dutch inmate controversy could jeopardise case against Fenech

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 24 January 2021, 08:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Secretly recorded conversations between Melvin Theuma and a Dutchman, in which the pardoned middleman made statements that “contradict” some of the evidence he gave in court are being sought by both Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers and the prosecution.

If the recordings prove to be authentic, they could possibly dent Theuma’s credibility and damage the case against Fenech, The Malta Independent on Sunday has been told.

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Sources said the Dutchman, Julian Hofstra, recorded at least five conversations he had with Theuma in 2018. Hofstra, described as an internet con artist, is currently serving time in an Amsterdam prison.

Theuma was granted a presidential pardon in return for spilling the beans on his role, and that of others, in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Former Tumas Group head Yorgen Fenech stands accused of masterminding the murder.

This newsroom is informed that two of the lawyers representing Fenech, Charles Mercieca and Gianluca Caruana Curran, recently visited Hofstra in the Netherlands and were given access to the recordings. The police are also trying to obtain a copy, but this newsroom is informed that they have so far been unsuccessful in their attempts.

The Dutchman had befriended Theuma when the latter was still working as a taxi driver at the Hilton.

Theuma had eventually opened up to the Dutchman about his concerns, including his fear that former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri wanted to kill him. It is understood that these references to Schembri are included in the recordings.

 

Attempts to find ‘dirt’ on Fenech

But there is more. It is also alleged that Theuma had asked the Dutchman to send phishing emails – something the youth specialised in - to email addresses belonging to Fenech and other people in the Tumas Group.

Phishing is the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information or data, such as usernames, passwords and credit card details or other sensitive details, by impersonating oneself as a trustworthy entity in a digital communication. It is typically carried out by email spoofing.

The aim was to try and find something Theuma could use as “insurance” in case he was targeted, and also information he could use in his bid to obtain a pardon.

This newsroom was told that Theuma would pay the Dutchman €2,000 for each email sent. It is unclear whether Theuma actually managed to obtain any information through this way.

The Malta Independent on Sunday has so far been unable to verify these claims.

It is unclear whether the police have issued a warrant to obtain the recordings. Legal sources explained that the Dutchman would have to hand the recordings over if he was faced with a warrant.

 

Court case in jeopardy?

It is also believed that the defence will be summoning Hofstra to testify in the case against Fenech.

The fact that the defence team travelled to Amsterdam for the recordings and the likelihood that it will summon Hofstra to Malta gives some credence to the allegation that Theuma made contradictory claims in his conversations with the Dutchman.

The case took another twist yesterday when a police inspector was suspended after allegations that he had passed on internal documents to lawyer Charles Mercieca.

The police are looking into whether Inspector Elton Taliana leaked documents related to Hofstra from the police database. He has denied the claims.

Mercieca was also reportedly questioned under arrest.

Legal sources explained that the existence of ‘contradictory’ recordings, together with this latest incident, could possibly damage the case against Fenech.

 

Up to jurors to decide

A seasoned criminal lawyer said that the compilation process will likely continue. “While new evidence could impinge on the credibility of Theuma’s testimony, it will not automatically eliminate it. Then it will be up to jurors to decide whether to believe Theuma’s testimony.”

Theuma is considered to be the star witness in the case against Fenech and much of the case rests on his testimony.

“At the start of the trial, the judge will ask the jurors to forget everything they heard and take a decision based solely on the evidence presented during the trial. But at the end of the day everyone is human, and these incidents are likely to have an effect on the jury, especially in a case that is so publicised,” the lawyer said.

The legal source explained that Theuma was granted a pardon in return for telling the truth “in court, not in the recordings.”

In fact, any contradictory evidence will also not automatically lead to a revocation of his pardon. “On the other hand, if he is found to have lied and the prosecution loses its case, there is a possibility that Theuma will lose the pardon and face prosecution, not only over his alleged role in the case but also for perjury.”

 

Theuma’s testimony

Theuma has claimed that he was asked by Fenech to act as the middleman in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. He was asked to approach the three men accused of the murder – brothers Vince and Alfred Degiorgio, and Vince Muscat.

He has said he believes that Keith Schembri knew everything about the murder plot.

He has often said in court that he suspected that Fenech and Schembri wanted to get rid of him.

He had also said that Fenech had claimed Schembri was leaking information from the murder investigation, and that Schembri and former Police Deputy Commissioner Silvio Valletta had tipped Fenech off about Theuma’s impending arrest in November 2019.

Theuma had also recorded several conversations he had with Fenech after he grew suspicious of a plot to eliminate him. These conversations, which are unrelated to the ones of his conversations with the Dutchman, are believed to have been the main reason why he was granted the pardon.

The middleman had met Schembri at the Office of the Prime Minister and took of photo with the then chief of staff, before he was given a phantom government job.

Last August, Theuma was hospitalised in critical condition after an apparent suicide attempt.

Fenech’s legal team had later asked the court to appoint a team of psychiatrists to evaluate Theuma’s mental state. The findings of the psychiatric report were presented in court this week but the court banned the media from reporting the findings.

It is believed that Fenech’s lawyers will use the psychiatric report, together with the new recordings, to try and discredit Theuma.

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