The Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination middleman testified in court on Wednesday detailing how he had been directed by Yorgen Fenech to commission the hit with the words "get on with it. I want to kill Daphne".
Melvin Theuma recounted the sequence of events leading up to and after the October 2017 murder, including how he arranged payments to the three men alleged to have carried out the car bomb that killed the 53-year-old journalist.
In his testimony, the Birkirkara taxi-driver said he hadn't been paid "a single cent" for his own part as the middleman. His "friend", multi-millionaire Tumas Group magnate Fenech, was the "only mastermind", he said.
He also described meetings with various members of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's staff, including his chief aide Keith Schembri, and Head of Customer Care Sandro Craus, who he claims arranged for him to get a government job.
Theuma detailed how a third member of Dr Muscat's staff, named Kenneth, visited him after the murder and attempted to get him to pass on information to the alleged killers, including a promise that they would be paid €1million.
Theuma was giving his testimony as part of the compilation of evidence against brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat, who all stand accused of the killing.
Here are the sequence of events, according to Theuma's testimony:
Months before June 2017 election: a meeting outside the Blue Elephant
The plot began on an undisclosed date in the months before the June 2017 election when Theuma received a phone call from Fenech. They met outside the Blue Elephant restaurant, in the Hilton, St Julian's where Fenech told Theuma to find Alfred Degiorgio “because I want to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia”.
Theuma told the court that Fenech had said that the journalist was going to publish information about his uncle, Ray, chairman of the Tumas group.
The next day, at a potato shed in Marsa, Theuma told Degiorgio that a man wanted the journalist killed. “But does this guy pay?” he asked.
Two days later, Theuma and Degiorgio met again, at the Busy Bee coffee shop in Msida, where Degiorgio said he wanted “€30,000 up front and €120,000” afterwards as his fee for the killing, Theuma said.
The terms were relayed back to Mr Fenech “either at Yorgen’s Farmhouse in Zebbug or Portomaso”.
A job offer from the Office of the Prime Minister
Theuma then said he received a call from Sandro Craus, Head of Customer Care at the Office of the Prime Minister, who said he had an appointment with the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri.
“I was taken aback,” Theuma told the court, “I had never been to Castille before”. Theuma went to the Auberge de Castille, where he said he was met by Schembri, who ordered him a coffee before handing him over to Craus.
The latter then told him he was being offered a government job at the ministry “opposite the old theatre”.
It was the second time Schembri and Theuma had met, Theuma said, detailing a meal he had enjoyed with the Fenech family in the past, for which Mr Schembri was present.
Theuma said he began to receive a monthly cheque for this job, even though he never reported to work. “I had told them I was a taxi driver,” he recounted. The cheques stopped arriving after the June 2017 election.
An election announcement in May and a warning to 'stop everything'
In the days after the election was called on May 1, Theuma said he received a phone call from Fenech who said he wanted Degiorgio to “stop everything”.
Theuma says he met with Degiorgio, again at Busy Bee, to relay the message and that Degiorgio responded by saying he hoped somebody else hadn't been commissioned for the job.
Election Sunday, June 4, and the hit is back on
Malta’s 2017 General Election was held on Saturday June 3. By election Sunday, the hit was back on, after a phone call from Fenech to Theuma.
"He told me, ‘to get on with it. I want to kill Daphne”.
Afterwards, Fenech called Theuma and asked him to drive him to the airport, where he then give him €150,000, telling him it was "for the assassination”.
Of this, Theuma gave €30,000 to Degiorgio and placed the remaining cash in either a Bank Of Valletta safety deposit box or at home.
From then onwards, Theuma said Fenech “bombarded” him with calls, wanting to hurry the hit along and fearing that the information would leak.
Theuma said it was during this call that he got the impression that the information Fenech was fearing would be published by the journalist was about him and not the uncle.
“He once told me, ‘Let’s make sure it doesn’t end up like Bone’s’”, a reference to Romeo Bone, who lost both his legs but survived a botched car bomb explosion.
In turn, Theuma says he put pressure on Degiorgio and his brother George, and gave them details supplied by Fenech about places Ms Caruana Galizia liked to visit, including a coffee shop in Naxxar and a restaurant in Rabat.
A visit to Daphne Caruana Galizia's home
Theuma went on to describe how he once went to Bidnija, where Ms Caruana Galizia lived, accompanied by Alfred Degiorgio, who showed him her home, and the fields where she would eventually be murdered in a car bomb.
He said Degiorgio had called him at one point to tell him they planned to kill her but had to abort the plan due to an unexpected road block.
The date of the assassination was unknown to him, Theuma said, but that around four or five days before it happened, he could not reach Degiorgio on the phone he used to communicate with him, which Degiorgio had given him.
Theuma said that he had been told that the bomb had been manufactured by tal-Maksar.
The day of the murder: October 16 2017
Theuma said he only knew the murder had happened when he arrived home from work and saw it on the news.
“From that moment, I was overcome by fear,” he said. “I feared everything”. He called Fenech and the next day they met at a private room in Portomaso, he said.
“Fenech told me, ‘what are you afraid of? It's the local police who are going to investigate, anyway,” Theuma recalled. Some time later, according to Theuma, he met Degiorgio and paid him the €120,000 balance as well as a further €5,000 for the cost of binoculars and rental cars.
Around a month after the murder, Theuma said he drew up a will and named his partner as his heir.
An advance warning of a December police raid
Fenech warned him later that the killers were in trouble because of a “big raid” planned for “December 5” and that he passed on that information to the Degiorgio brothers. The raid happened on December 4, 2017 and the men were arrested.
Afterwards, Theuma continued to pay the men €300 weekly - €100 each - by sending them money through a third party, who would in turn send the money to Vincent Muscat’s daughter and the Degiorgios' brother, Mario.
The money was coming from his own pocket, he said. “They needed money to get by, and I was worried they would reveal everything,” he said.
A holiday and a flurry of payment requests
Theuma said that he started drinking heavily and swallowed sedatives and that Fenech, noticing the change, gave him €5,000 to “go on holiday with my family”.
After the holiday to the UK, he got a call from the Degiorgios' brother, who he met in Ħamrun, and who told him they needed €30,000 to pay their lawyer.
Fenech paid this and a further €25,000, Theuma told the court.
There were more requests for money and each time, Theuma would go to Fenech, get the money and relay the payments through Mario Degiorgio, including, at one stage, buying him a dog costing €5,000.
Other payment requests, including money for bail, for family abroad, for school fees and for household repairs was always paid, Theuma told the court.
At one point, when Fenech was being treated for a cocaine addiction in the UK, Theuma paid around €20,000 to the Degiorgio brothers himself.
Asked by the prosecution what he received for the murder, Theuma replied: “Not a single cent." Asked why he was paid so little, he said: “Because he had befriended me so much beforehand. It was only later I realised I had made a mistake.”
A meeting at home with 'Kenneth from OPM'
The relationship between the pair soured soon afterwards Theuma said. Fenech called him and told him that Vincent Muscat was giving information to investigators and that he should warn the Degorgios through their brother, Mario. Theuma said he refused to take Fenech’s phone calls or answer his messages.
Then he received a phone call from a man called Kenneth, who said he worked at the Office of the Prime Minister and was going to come over to his place to have a word.
Kenneth came to his house accompanied by another man named Johann Cremona, Theuma recalled.
During the visit, Kenneth called somebody. “I suspected he was calling Keith Schembri”, he said.
After the call, Kenneth told Theuma to tell the three murder suspects, who at that point were behind bars at Corradino Correctional Facility, they would be getting bail “on the 22nd, plus one million each”.
He relayed the message but the men grew nervous when days went by and bail was not granted. Theuma then confronted Fenech about ‘Kenneth’ demanding to know if he had been sent by Schembri. Fenech did not reply, he said.
“I told him that if it was Keith (Schembri), I would take Mario Degiorgio right behind his front door in Mellieha,” Theuma told the court. Fenech’s response was to tell him to fear “those inside, not the ones outside.”
“That’s when the fear really kicked in,” he told the court. “I started to record Yorgen. I feared they were plotting to kill me.”
Secret recordings and a letter
Theuma said he began making secret recordings of Fenech: in his car, at Level 21 in Portomaso and at Fenech’s Żebbuġ home. He copied the recordings on a pen drive, wrote a letter and passed it together with a pen drive to Fenech.
Asked about the letter which was found at Fenech’s home, and implicated Schembri in the murder, he said he named Schembri "because the promise of bail for the three murder accused had come from ‘Kenneth’ who worked at the OPM."
“But I swear I only met Keith twice, as I explained before,” he said.
His testimony was suspended so that the recordings are exhibited and the case adjourned until December 12, with a following session scheduled for January 7.