The Malta Independent 26 May 2024, Sunday
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Was Keith Schembri covering for OPM insider who was involved in Caruana Galizia murder? – Cassola

Sunday, 19 March 2023, 11:14 Last update: about 2 years ago

Independent candidate Arnold Cassola on Sunday questioned why former chief of staff Keith Schembri was “trying to frame other” for the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and whether he was trying to cover for someone from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

Cassola mentioned how it has become apparent that Schembri already tried to frame ex-PL Minister Chris Cardona, but on Sunday referred to a story carried by the Times of Malta where suspected fuel smuggler Darren Debono accused Schembri of trying to pin the assassination on him as well.

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“The question comes up spontaneously: why was Keith Schembri trying to frame outsiders for the assassination? Was it to cover up for some insider in the OPM's office who was actually involved in the assassination?” Cassola questioned.

In the months following the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, media reports suggested that her death may have been related to fuel smuggling rings – of which Debono was allegedly a part of – operating in the Mediterranean.

However, the 2021 public inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s murder revealed that it was the OPM which pushed the narrative that fuel smugglers might be involved in the murder, in an attempt to spread fake news or pervert investigations.

It was business tycoon and Electrogas power station CEO Yorgen Fenech who was ultimately arrested and charged with masterminding the murder, an arrest which subsequently led to then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s resignation.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Debono said that this attempt to frame him came “from the very top.”

“This was all coming from the Office of the Prime Minister [OPM]. From Keith Schembri. From the most powerful people in Malta,” Debono told the newspaper.

Three days after the murder of Caruana Galizia, Debono was arrested in Sicily for suspected fuel smuggling, and this case is still ongoing. At the time, he was not ruled out as being a suspect in the assassination.

Debono said that when he was arrested, the police immediately asked him whether he was involved in the murder, which lead him to question whether the “whole thing was pre-planned.”

Debono further said that particularly, co-owner of MaltaToday Saviour Balzan was trying to push this narrative and therefore confronted him at MaltaToday’s offices unannounced in San Gwann in July 2019. Former editor-in-chief Matthew Vella was also present during this confrontation.

Debono said that in response to him speculating that the OPM is behind this, Balzan allegedly responded “Do you think I am going to believe you instead of Keith Schembri.”

In an interesting turn of events, after the Times published this story, Vella responded on his blog by saying that “it is totally untrue that Saviour Balzan told fuel smuggler Darren Debono that he believed Keith Schembri’s false narrative over him.”

Debono’s request was that he wanted a message to be sent to Schembri and disgraced Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to stop pushing the narrative that he was involved in the assassination. However, this was during a time when the case was pointing towards Melvin Theuma and Yorgen Fenech.

Debono arrived at the offices in July 2019 unannounced after the MaltaToday published the story Americans told Debono to reveal Malta smuggling networks. The story revealed that the Americans were offering to lift OFAC sanctions on him if he revealed the requests the Russian government made to the Maltese government to secretly refuel their warships.

Vella clarified that MaltaToday was definitively not pushing the narrative, with Balzan even testifying in Caruana Galizia’s public inquiry saying that Castille attempted to spin the narrative. MaltaToday only wanted to know what the Americans had on the Malta government with regards to secret refuelling.

Therefore, Vella said that Balzan told Debono “We need factual details, that give insight into what was happening, so that we report this story factually… but we cannot publish anything that cannot be shown to be true. What we need is to listen to you… we cannot write one-sided things. You must tell us, off-record… you were in the know about these things. My job is to write stories, to write them as good as possible, I have no other agenda.”

Vella wrote that he had been informed by co-accused and former footballer Jeffrey Chetcuti intercepted Vella during his lunch break in 2018, asking him to not write about Debono and the fuel-smuggling case.

Later in 2018, Vella received a photo of him and his daughter from Debono. When Vella challenged him, Debono said “Oh, I don’t mean anything by it...”

When the Times contacted Joseph Muscat for a comment in relation to the story, he denied pushing any particular storyline and pointed out several Italian media outlets were pushing the theory that fuel smugglers were behind Caruana Galizia’s murder.

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