The Malta Independent 14 April 2021, Wednesday

Keith Schembri, Johann Cremona will face cross-examination by Yorgen Fenech's lawyers

Thursday, 8 April 2021, 09:19 Last update: about 5 days ago

Keith Schembri, Johann Cremona, Melvin Theuma and Europol experts are to be cross-examined by Yorgen Fenech's lawyers during one of the upcoming court hearings in the case against the businessman over the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Forensic experts and specialised army divers testified on their work in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation when the case against Yorgen Fenech continued on Thursday.

The court heard the experts confirm the reports they had submitted to the different inquiring magistrates.

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Forensic pathologist Dr Ali Safraz said the autopsy on Daphne Caruana Galizia confirmed she had died from “multiple blast injuries”.

The journalist was murdered on 16 October 2017 when a bomb placed inside her car was detonated just after she left her Bidnija home.

Fenech is charged with having masterminded the murder.

An explosives expert said that swabs collected from a farmhouse in the limits of Mosta found traces of TNT. The farmhouse belongs to Jamie Vella, who stands accused in separate proceedings with others, of having supplied the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia.

Specialised army divers testified about the searches they conducted on the seabed next to the potato shed in Marsa, where they recovered several mobile phones.

These had been passed on to the police.

At the end of the sitting, the defence said it still had to cross-examine some witnesses such as Europol experts and Keith Schembri.

Earlier, Magistrate Rachel Montebello rejected a request by the defence find the media in contempt of court over the publication of WhatsApp exchanges between Fenech and third parties.

She dismissed the request since what was claimed did not result from the acts of the case.

Superintendent Keith Arnaud and Inspector Kurt Zahra are prosecuting, aided by Deputy Attorney General Philip Galea Farrugia.

Fenech’s defence lawyers are Marion Camilleri, Charles Mercieca and Gianluca Caruana Curran.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are appearing parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family.

13:24 Proceedings for today have come to an end. 

13:20 The defence wants to cross-examine Europol experts, Melvin Theuma, Keith Schembri amongst others, Mercieca says.

13:18 The lawyers and court are thrashing out how to go forward.

13:17 Zahra says Theuma might testify if he is medically fit to do so. Mercieca says there are a number of cross-examinations which the defence wants to carry out.

13:16 The next sitting is on Wednesday 14 April at 10am.

13:15 This concludes the witness testimony for today, Zahra says.

13:15 Said says he passed the things he found to the police. The witness steps off the stand.

13:14 Inspector Kurt Zahra asks him about his briefing. "We were to search for weapons, bombs, and related materiel. I found some of the mobile devices," Said tells the court.

13:13 The next witness is Stephen Said, an AFM diver. He took part in the searches near the Marsa potato shed.

13:12 Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca asks him whether he was consulted on some notes of his on Monday. He replies that he hadn't and had only received a summons.

13:11 Another witness, Ivan Falzon an ex-AFM diver takes the stand. He was Sgt Chant's dive buddy. He repeats what we've heard already. Falzon says he found a Nokia phone on the seabed and also passed it on to the forensic expert.

13:10 Only two divers would descend at any one time, he says. The court asks if he had kept a record of what he had found. "There was a paper... We would pass them on to the police immediately," he replies, adding he would not keep records or notes. He adds that there was someone, possibly a police officer, who would take notes.

13:05 Chant says several mobile phone batteries and a sim card holder had also been recovered from the seabed.

13:03 He cannot recall how many phones he collected from the seabed. There were several dives, he tells the court. However, he points out that he had been present for the discovery of at least six mobile phones.

13:01 Chant: "We collected a Samsung and Nokia in the first dive. In another dive, four phones were collected from the sea bed. There were batteries and the back panels of the mobiles too."

13:00 He tells the court that he had been instructed to search the seabed near the Marsa potato shed in December 2017. "They didn't tell us what to look for. You look out and if you see anything suspicious you pick it up," he replies to questions by the prosecution.

12:59 Mario Chant takes the stand next. He is a former AFM Sgt and was stationed in the bomb disposal unit. He was a specialist diver.

12:58 The lawyer asks him how he had identified the police officer who had access to the records. The AFM personnel were in uniform but some of the police were in plain clothes.
The witness cannot recall all their names since there were around 50 people at the initial briefing.
The lawyer suspends his questioning.

12:57 Mercieca asks who passed on the phones to the police. The witness says the logs didn't record that level of detail. All they had was that the phones were passed on to the police.

12:56 Asked by Mercieca, the officer explains the Standing Operating Procedures relating to logbook keeping.

12:54 Sant explains that the divers would dive for an hour before surfacing and telling another soldier what they found. This would be officially logged. "Normally it is the highest ranking soldier who would compile the report," he says, adding the logbook was stored at Mosta Fort."

12:51 He is asked when the document he is using as an aide memoire was prepared. "This Monday," he replies. The army officer says that his team went through the reports from the time of the searches and gathered them into the document he has with him.

12:48 Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca cross-examines the witness. He asks how many mobile phones were recovered from the seabed. "Six were found in all," he says.

12:47 The divers operate in two-men teams, he says and it was his buddy, Sgt Mario Charles, who found and handled the mobile phones.

12:46 The army divers were initially asked to search for anything related to explosives, bombs and so on. He says mobile phones were found and they were sealed in evidence bags and handed to the police.

12:45 Capt. Matthew Sant, a commanding officer from the AFM testifies that he was commander when the searches were carried out on the seabed near the potato shed in Marsa. The order was given by the commander of the AFM, he says.

12:44 Inspector Kurt Zahra says no more forensic officers are left to testify. Now, four divers will take the stand, he says.

12:42 Another officer from the police forensic section takes the stand and exhibits a report.

12:40 He returns a short while later.

12:39 Yorgen Fenech asks to be excused and is escorted out of the hall.

12:34 Another two police witnesses share the podium. They present results of searches of a desk of a Go Mobile HQ employee, a vehicle parked at the GO headquarters and a garage in Marsaskala. The searches took place in December 2017

12:27 Three reports compiled by the police, this time about searches at a garage in Żebbuġ, a place in St Paul's Bay and the St Joseph Farmhouse in Mosta, are exhibited. The searches took place in December 2017 as part of an inquiry led by Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit.

12:21 More witnesses are brought forward to testify.

12:19 They confirm their report and say the exhibits mentioned were already exhibited before Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit.

12:18 Two officers from the forensic and scene of crime units testify together now.

12:18 The inspector testifies about a separate episode when he was summoned and handed an exhibit in Hall 7. The exhibit was a telescope.

12:09 Armed Forces of Malta EOD personnel assisted the police in this part of the investigation, retrieving items from the sea bed near the potato shed. The inspector emphasises that the AFM personnel were always under police oversight at all times.

12:06 The experts had examined the vessel Maya and the Kugen, which were near the Marsa regatta club as well as garages and vehicles in the area. From previous testimony in other court sittings, we know that George Degiorgio had been on the Maya out at sea when he sent the SMS that triggered the bomb.

12:03 Four more witnesses take the stand. Their testimony relates to work done at the Marsa potato shed, where the Degiorgio brothers and Vince Muscat were arrested in December 2017.

12:01 Matthew Caruana Galizia arrives and sits down next to his brother.

12:01 More police officers take the witness stand. After being administered the oath they are asked to confirm their report. They had been appointed to take explosive samples to the Netherlands forensic institute. One of the sergeants who have just testified will now testify again on another report.

11:47 The witness says he was also asked to assist a Europol expert in carrying out forensic examinations on the Peugeot 108 at the police impound yard.

11:46 Another witness takes the stand. He is shown a report he had made before Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit on a Peugeot 108 rented from Percius Car Hire. Caruana Galizia had been driving a Peugeot 108 when murdered. He had filed the report in the case against the Degiorgio brothers and it contained photographs of the vehicle.

11:42 Some exhibits were consigned to Europol in the Netherlands for analysis, he says. It is not clear to journalists, which exhibits he is talking about.

11:40 Casha presents another report. He had another appointment in the inquiry, to extract DNA samples from Alfred and George Degiorgio. Mouth swabs were taken and handed to Dr Marisa Cassar, who is the court-appointed DNA expert.

11:37 Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca reserves the cross-examination of the witnesses.

11:36 Yorgen Fenech leans over to speak to his lawyers.

11:35 Inspector Charlo Casha and another officer stay behind because they have another report to submit to the court.

11:32 The witnesses step down and file out of the courtroom.

11:31 The DVDs contain drone footage and footage from handheld cameras. Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca asks to see the report and is handed the thick file. The court asks if he wants to cross-examine the witness but the defence says it is reserving this for a future date.

11:27 The inspector is specifying file names for the submission forms. The court interrupts, asking if the folder has a reference number. It does, he says. There are another five DVDs.

11:22 The witness gives a rundown of evidence collected. There were several DVDs containing photos and a folder of 24 submission forms for evidence. The witness says there were four evidence bags containing 495 photos on one DVD, another 67 on another DVD, 113 photos on a third DVD and, 1,224 photos on a fourth.

11:19 Today's sitting is dominated by a string of forensic experts and police officers who presented their reports to the magisterial inquiry. They are being asked to confirm these reports on oath.

11:17 Once again, the witnesses are shown a number of documents that they had presented to the inquiry and confirm them on oath.

11:16 Another group of experts is administered the oath. Inspector Charlo Casha from the Forensic Unit, together with some eight police officers testify jointly.

11:09 Three witnesses now take the stand together. The witnesses are police officers Jesmond Cassar, Jonathan Attard and Alamango. They are shown a document from the magisterial inquiry.

11:09 The explosives expert, Daniel Vella, says he used laboratories at the University of Malta to carry out the tests. He says the samples were taken from a farmhouse in Triq Tagliaferro. The farmhouse purportedly belongs to Jamie Vella, one of the suspects, believed to have supplied the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia. Vella and brothers Adrian and Robert Agius, known as Tal-Maksar, are facing separate proceedings on the case.

11:02 An explosives expert is called into the courtroom next. He is testifying on samples which were tested for explosive. Some of the samples had TNT, he says. The samples were taken from swabs of surfaces at St Joseph Farmhouse in Mosta.

10:56 Dr Mario Scerri takes the stand next. The forensic expert is referred to his report and he confirms it on oath and says he has nothing to add to it.

10:53 The defence asks to be shown a copy of the report. Lawyer Marion Camilleri is looking at the volume of evidence containing the report, while lawyers Gianluca Caruana Curran and Charles Mercieca talk to Fenech.

10:50 He says the conclusion of his report was that Daphne Caruana Galizia's cause of death was "multiple blast injuries".

10:48 The next witness is forensic expert Dr Ali Safraz.

10:47 Vassallo translated Matthew Caruana Galizia's testimony into Maltese from English. She presents the court with a copy of her work.

10:46 The other sittings are finished and the Yorgen Fenech sitting begins. Fenech sits in the dock, following the proceedings. The first witness is Dr Katya Vassallo.

10:42 A knock on the door and the magistrate emerges from chambers. She will deliver three judgments in unconnected civil cases before the Yorgen Fenech sitting continues.

10:17 Proceedings are being moved to a different hall. We'll be back shortly.

10:12 Today we are expecting some 33 forensic experts to testify in the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech. The business magnate is charged with masterminding the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017.

10:10 Montebello says that in coming up with the decree, she had also examined the minutes of the sitting of 5 March before the board of inquiry, which presumably is the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry.

10:02 "In any case, the court had already pronounced itself on the alleged breach of its orders in a decree on 26 March. It rejected the request for contempt of court proceedings to begin and abstained from the request to give further remedies," she says.

10:01 Magistrate Rachel Montebello dismisses a request by the defence for contempt of court proceedings to be filed against journalists who reported on WhatsApp chats between Yorgen Fenech and several others. The magistrate says that it "did not emerge from the acts that effectively what was alleged in the application had taken place".

The hearing is expected to start at 10am today.

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