Former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri testified in court on Monday morning in the compilation of evidence against Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect Yorgen Fenech. 

In a Facebook post one day earlier on Sunday, Schembri said the time has finally come to speak out and "the truth will come out".

His testimony - one of the most anticipated court hearings in the case to establish who was behind the murder of the journalist in October 2017 - lasted for roughly two hours and was stopped before the former political operative could be cross-examined. 

Prosecutors say they intend to summon Schembri again and defence lawyers have made it clear they intend to question him.

Fenech is charged with being the mastermind behind the assassination, but the businessman has implicated his old friend Schembri in the crime. 

In his testimony, Schembri said: 

  • Fenech never spoke to him about the murder;
  • Joseph Muscat had urged him to speak to Fenech days before his arrest, to stop him from leaving Malta;
  • He was not privy to the terms and conditions of the presidential pardon for Melvin Theuma;
  • He listed Fenech's company 17 Black as a target client because Fenech was a good friend;
  • Opposition leader Adrian Delia once went to ask Fenech for €50,000 to be used against David Casa’s re-election. 

Schembri also denied: 

  • Handing over a document to Yorgen Fenech through his doctor;
  • Sending Kenneth Camilleri to meet Theuma regarding bail for the Degiorgio brothers;
  • Summoning Melvin Theuma to Castille;
  • Knowing the alleged Caruana Galizia murder hitmen.

Prosecutors also summoned Kenneth Camilleri to the stand, but the man who middleman Melvin Theuma described as "Kenneth from Castille" chose not to testify to avoid self-incrimination. 

Inspector Kurt Zahra was the third and final witness. He went over the police investigation from the day of the murder and then spoke about the recordings Theuma had provided following his arrest. 

In one recording, Zahra said, Fenech could be heard saying "the guy who arranged all this has fewer problems than the guy who carried it out" [Min irranġa l-affari m’għandux problemi daqs kemm min għamilha].

Both Theuma and Fenech were seeking pardons, Zahra said. In the end, police decided the former was more credible: Theuma's testimony was corroborated by evidence, while Fenech's was not, he said. 

As it happened

Case to resume on July 30

5.50pm The case is now being sent to the Attorney General’s office – it’s a normal court procedure known as the rinviju. It will be sent back to the magistrate’s court for a hearing scheduled on July 30 at 10am – almost six weeks from now.

Zahra will continue where he left off today and the court might hear from Adrian Vella, the doctor who was initially rumoured to be appearing as a witness today. 

Fenech, surrounded by security guards, is taken out of the courtroom. 
After almost seven hours, the court is adjourned. 

This live blog will end here. Thank you for having joined us. We will have a summary of the day’s key claims available at the top of this article soon. 

A seat with Fenech's friends

5.42pm Mercieca is still arguing his point and saying Fenech's rights are being breached. 

The magistrate has told him that the court can only take note of the matter and cannot rule on it.

It however orders that the lawyer's observations be communicated to CCF director Alexander Dalli [who is in the room, metres away from Mercieca] and gives him one week to reply. 

Meanwhile, another of Fenech's lawyers, Gianluca Caruana Curran, pops to the back of the room and takes a seat alongside Fenech's friends.

Lawyers demand access to Fenech in prison

5.28pm One of Fenech's lawyers, Charles Mercieca, is asking the court to order the director of prisons to give Fenech’s legal team access to their client in person.

He says the CCF director is doing his best to help, “but given the facilities available we cannot advise our client over the phone.”

“Prison lines are tapped, we cannot pass on certain documents to our client. His rights are being breached,” Mercieca says.  

“We need a room where we can consult with our client in peace and pass on confidential documents without them being vetted”.

The magistrate tells Mercieca to draw up an application to that effect and is allowed to minute the request in the records of the case. 

While you wait

5.12pm Not sure what Zahra and Arnaud were referring to when they said they referred Fenech to the economic crimes unit? 

Read our exclusive, published last week, about how Fenech clammed up once murder charges were filed against him.

Other cases of corruption

5.10pm Arnaud says he was present when Zahra had suggested going to Ian Abdilla at the economic crimes unit on November 25. It was not recorded formally when taking Fenech's statement on November 29.

"That’s enough," the magistrate orders, telling the defence to take up such matters at the appropriate forum once the inspector has finished testifying.

Zahra explains that Fenech had wanted to speak about other cases of corruption and his team was advised to go to the economic crimes unit.

Lawyer Marion Camilleri stands up.

"I don't wish to talk too much but if the court would order everyone out, we could explain some things in more detail."

The press is ordered out of the court room.

Defence lawyer hits out

5pm Inspector Zahra says he had advised Fenech's lawyers to speak to economic crimes unit about other cases of corruption he wanted to reveal.

Fenech's lawyers hit back, insisting this is not true. 

Arnaud takes offence at the fact that lawyers are implying that Zahra is lying.

Context: Times of Malta reported last week Malta’s most senior financial crimes investigator Ian Abdilla says he was only informed Fenech wanted to speak to him about major corruption scandals after the businessman had already been charged and was no longer willing to speak.

But lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran is adamant.

"I’ll take responsibility for that, the court may fine me if it deems fit," he says.

A doctor's letter, and a second longer one 

4.54pm Zahra: Fenech told police about a letter he had received from doctor Adrian Vella, which allegedly originated from Keith Schembri. 

One document was typed in large font and was scribbled over in biro. 

There was also another letter, says Zahra. It was a longer one. 

Vella confirmed to police that he had handed over the first one to Yorgen Fenech but could not confirm about the second one. The doctor told investigators that Fenech had allegedly grabbed the paper and started scribbling onto it. 

Pardon for Theuma, but none for Fenech

4.47pm Zahra says that on November 24 – four days after his arrest – Yorgen Fenech had indicated to police that he had more to add to his statements. 

The inspector says that Fenech had a lot of contact with his lawyers during his time under arrest, as they had free access to him. 

Zahra: Fenech had told police that he had more to disclose “at the same level as myself”. 

His lawyer Caruana Curran had quickly said “at a higher level”. 

Ultimately, police concluded that while Theuma’s version of events was corroborated with evidence, Fenech’s was not. 

So Theuma was granted a pardon and Fenech’s request was turned down. Zahra says investigators had drawn up a report about this and handed it to the prime minister.

Interrogations and recordings

4.41pm Zahra is testifying about the handwritten letter Theuma wrote in which he named Fenech and Schembri as the murder masterminds. Theuma referred to the letter as “the contract” [il-kuntratt]. Theuma had written that Schembri and Theuma were working to “get rid of me too”. 

Zahra says that on November 21, 2019, Fenech’s lawyers Gianluca Caruana Curran and Marion Camilleri had gone to police headquarters and requested disclosure (of evidence). The police had played them “a substantial number” of recordings. 

Defence lawyers disagree with Zahra’s description. They say it was “three or four” recordings, with the others being “all repetition”. 

Zahra continues: he says Fenech’s lawyers later filed a request for a pardon and had objected to police recording their client’s statements. Those statements were taken in the police commissioner’s office. 

An attempted escape or a trip abroad? 

4.35pm There’s some commotion in the courtroom: Fenech shouts out “le, le, le” after Zahra says that police received news of Fenech’s attempted escape. 

That prompts inspector Arnaud to protest, and the magistrate to order Fenech not to comment. 

Zahra continues. “Fenech was about to leave the country aboard his yacht,” he says. 

“Go abroad”, Fenech insists again. 

Discussing the raids

4.31pm Zahra says that Fenech could be heard making various comments in the recordings, which he says he will not delve into. 

In a Messenger chat between Theuma and Fenech, Theuma asked Fenech to make sure that “the women” [relatives of Theuma’s] were spared. This showed that Theuma knew abourt the impending raids, Zahra says. 

Theuma asked Fenech to pressure people to fix bail for the Degiorgios and suggested he speak to judge Antonio Mizzi or the prime minister. 

In a chat on messaging app Signal, Theuma asked Fenech to speak to ‘the guy from Luqa’ [Dak ta’ Ħal-Luqa]. 

[This was a reference to former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar]. 

Fenech also told Theuma to “clear everything” [eħles minn kollox], and not just that linked to money laundering. 

'The guy who arranged this has fewer problems' 

4.23pm Zahra is now speaking about a recording in which Theuma had told Fenech about the promise of bail for the Degiorgios together with “one million each”. 

He says Theuma told investigators about Kenneth Camilleri and Keith Schembri. 
Theuma “assumed that Schembri could help with bail since he knew that Fenech and Schembri were friends.” 

In one of the recordings, Fenech could be heard saying “the guy who arranged all this has fewer problems than the guy who carried it out”  [Min irranġa l-affari m’għandux problemi daqs kemm min għamilha]

How did Theuma know that Koħħu was collaborating?

4.15pm Zahra says that Theuma had panicked after learning that il-Koħħu (Vince Muscat) was speaking with the police. 

The magistrate asks how he got that information. 

Zahra says he cannot recall offhand - "I spent many hours talking to Theuma" - but that he has a note at hand saying that Fenech had told Theuma that. 

The magistrate asks that the notes of the case be added to the court record. 

A call from Mario Degiorgio

4.10pm Theuma had told investigators how, after the December raids, he had been handed a phone by a man known as Gandhi while at a tea shop in Ħamrun. 

It was Mario Degiorgio (a brother of the Degiorgios) on the line, telling him that from that point on, he would be the one getting in touch with him. 

Zahra says Theuma was stressed and desperate. He told investigators that he had decided against killing himself because he thought to himself “that would suit Yorgen Fenech fine”. 

As the inspector says that, Fenech runs a hand across his head.

Tip-offs about police 

4.06pm Theuma told investigators that he had gone to Germany. When he returned, Fenech told him that there was trouble looming: police had deciphered the message that had detonated the bomb. 

Theuma also said that Fenech had given him warning about the December 5 raids to arrest the hitmen, Zahra tells the court. 

“The plan was actually to carry out the raids on December 4, not 5,” he says. 

€150,000 in cash

4.03pm Theuma told investigators that he had gone to visit Fenech at Portomaso. The businessman was with a man named ‘Turab’ [Musayev]. 

Fenech and Theuma had a private word in another room. 

When Theuma drove Fenech to the airport, Fenech gave him an envelope with €150,000 in it – the cash for the murder.

Fenech 'knew of election day'

3.59pm Theuma told police how he had met Keith Schembri at Castille and at Fenech’s Zebbug ranch, and that Fenech had told him to stop the hit when the 2017 election date was announced.  

Zahra says that Fenech later said that in fact he had known the election date way before. 

Fenech had not mentioned the murder when Theuma brought him €300,000 in winnings from a bet he had placed on the election result. But later, as Theuma drove Fenech to the airport, the tycoon had given Theuma money for the hit. 

Zahra says Theuma told investigators that after that, Fenech began pressuring Theuma to get the murder done, warning him “make sure it doesn’t work out like Romeo Bone!”

[Bone survived a car bomb blast in February 2017]. 

Zahra: Theuma said that he had asked Fenech about Daphne Caruana Galizia’s favourite spots and was told that she regularly visited a coffee shop in Naxxar and restaurant in Rabat.

Retelling Theuma's testimony

3.50pm Zahra asks the court whether he should go over all that Theuma said.
“If you were involved, yes,” the magistrate replies. 

Zahra: “It was a very long process, it would go on for hours on end. Whenever he mentioned someone, the police would summon that person to check out what
Theuma said. His version had to be corroborated.”

The witness now describes what Theuma told police [and has since told the court multiple times]: how he was approached by Yorgen Fenech to have Daphne Caruana Galizia killed, how Theuma met Alfred Degiorgio and agreed on a €150,000 price with €30,000 up front as a deposit. 

Zahra then touches on Theuma being given a phantom job after meeting Keith Schembri at Castille. He says that there’s an ongoing magisterial inquiry into that. 

Theuma's pardon 

3.46pm When police arrested Theuma, the middleman had a plastic box which he insisted on opening in the presence of the court and police. 

Zahra says that the police commissioner, Theuma’s lawyers and forensic officers were present when the box was opened. The procedure was filmed and items were handed to Europol for data extraction. 

Zahra says Theuma wanted to tell all about the murder, provided he got a presidential pardon. 

He says that he (Zahra) was not present when an MOU about that pardon was discussed. 

Theuma was granted a pardon on the condition that he revealed everything he knew. Zahra says this was a new situation for the investigators: neither he nor Arnaud had handled a person granted a pardon before.


€100 payments in jail

3.40pm Zahra says Theuma had spoken with others including Edgar Brincat, better known as il-Ġojja.  Theuma was upset when the Degiorgios failed to make bail. 

At this point, Fenech’s lawyers object. They say their client knew nothing about all this and add that Zahra’s colleague, inspector Arnaud, has said all this in previous testimony. 

Zahra says that Mario Degiorgio would give each of the Degiorgios €100 each from Melvin Theuma. Payments to Vince Muscat were stopped. 

[Theuma has previously testified that he was passing money to the alleged hitmen and that he stopped payments to Muscat after his (Muscat's) wife started asking questions about the money.]

Theuma's argument with 'the tower guy'

3.35pm Zahra says it appeared Theuma had argued with someone who he referred to as “the tower guy” [dak tat-torri] and said he was recording him. This was a clear reference to Yorgen Fenech, Zahra says. 

[Context: Fenech’s family owns the Portomaso tower].

Zahra says police were wary about the way forward. What if they tried to find Theuma’s recordings and didn’t find them? 

Portomaso tower, which is owned by the Fenech family. Photo: ShutterstockPortomaso tower, which is owned by the Fenech family. Photo: Shutterstock

Listening in on calls from jail 

3.33pm Zahra tells the court that the alleged hitmen’s calls from jail were being monitored.

“One day, George asked his brother Mario whether they had “spoken to that one (dak),” Zahra says. 

Another time, a man took the phone off Mario and told one of the brothers to take heart and have courage. He promised to have food taken to the brothers in jail. 

There was another call between Mario and George Degiorgio, Zahra says. In it, they made reference to “that guy whose name starts with ‘M’”. That was Melvin [Theuma], he says. 

“It became clear that Melvin Theuma had some interest in the case and was involved in the murder”. 

Zahra's two-year pause 

3.28pm Inspector Zahra says he left the case to inspector Arnaud soon after that, as he had other crimes to lead within the CID [Criminal Investigation Department]. Inspector Arnaud would keep him updated on developments. 

Zahra says he was brought back into the picture in November 2019, after Melvin Theuma was arrested.

Europol saw 'every single thing' 

3.25pm The arrests brought down the curtain on what Zahra calls “phase one” in the investigation. We’re on to “phase two” now. 

Once Anthony Vella was made a judge, the inquiry was handed over to Neville Camilleri. 

Zahra: “Every single thing we saw was also seen by Europol”. 

Silvio Valletta's involvement

3.19pm  Zahra: "The suspects must have spotted our approach. I began to communicate with the police operations room. [Silvio] Valletta and someone else were at that end."

He says the suspects offered little resistance and obeyed police orders.

Zahra says that as the Degiorgio brothers lay on the floor, police noted that George Degiorgio had his partner’s mobile number written on his hand.

But their phones were not found.

"That was somewhat strange," Zahra says.

A burner phone used by George Degiorgio was later found in the sea. 

December 2017 raids

3.15pm Zahra is now speaking about the December 2017 raids. 

Intelligence pointed towards the three men who now stand accused of the crime, Zahra says. Their arrest was a turning point, he says. 

He adds that the FBI had explained the process to magistrate Anthony Vella, step-by-step.

On the day of the raid, investigators had met at 4am close to the police depot. They had backup from the police’s air team and were accompanied by Europol. 

Zahra says he and fellow inspector Keith Arnaud handled the raid at the Marsa potato sheds: Zahra led the sea approach while Arnaud was in charge of that from land. The raid was to begin as soon as the suspects reached the site.

Burner phone movements

3.05pm The burner phones tended to move in tandem with the suspects' own phones, Zahra says. 

Police intelligence also indicated that the suspects made use of a boat. Footage that boat showed it sailing back to Marsa as the bomb was detonated. 

Police also found communication between George Degiorgio's person phone and one of the burner phones.


If this all sounding familiar...

3pm ... it's because similar testimony has already been given in the court case against the alleged hitmen.

Zahra is tells the court how the SIM cards which fell under police suspicion were bought in 2016 and activated early the following year. 

He says police then traced numbers linked to a nearby antenna in Mosta and identified the burner phones used. There were three in all and they stopped being used after the day of the murder.

Europol analysis

2.58pm When foreign experts arrived, they immediately set about getting to grips with local antennae and telecoms systems, Zahra says. The FBI, NFI and Europol were all involved and a task force which included them and local police was set up. 

Europol members were present for the subsequent raids, Zahra says, and their experts seized devices for data analysis. 

Weeks later, the text message that triggering the bomb was deciphered.
It was sent at around 3pm and read “rel1=on”, Zahra says. 

Combing through camera footage

2.55pm Days later, the police and a new inquiring magistrate – Anthony Vella – went to the Caruana Galizia home to speak to the family. [Scerri Herrera was swapped out following a request for her recusal by the Caruana Galizia family].

Zahra tells the court that a court expert lifted footage from security cameras in the area and tracked down all vehicles which had dashcams and had driven through the area. Police also checked cameras on buses and spoke to neighbouring farmers.


Who kept the magistrate updated? 

2.51pm  Zahra tells the court that using that information, police tracked down similar cars and swept the area. They lifted cigarette butts from the site, close to a tree. 

Lawrence Cutajar [who was police commissioner], Silvio Valletta [who was deputy commissioner] and other forensic officers kept the magistrate who was initially appointed to lead the inquiry, Consuelo Scerri Herrera, updated. 

Zahra says the  Netherlands Forensic Institute was then called in. 

A suspicious car 

2.48pm  Daphne Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew and sister Corinne Vella were at the site, Zahra says.

Zahra spoke to Matthew and then to Daphne’s husband, Peter. 

He tells the court that police scouted the area and spotted higher ground, strategically positioned for a spotter. 

Police spoke to a person who lived close by, who said that he had noticed a small, white car with a sticker at the back there in the prior weeks. Its number plate featured the letters ‘QZ’. 

The man had seen the car there on October 16 at 9am and then at 2.30pm. The person usually inside it was absent. 

The murder scene

2.43pm Zahra thinks back to the day of the murder. 

He says he drove there and was told as he was driving that Daphne Caruana Galizia may have been the victim. 

He spotted the smoking vehicle as he drove downhill towards Bidnija. An ambulance and police officers were on site. The blown up car was in a field, its number plate lying by the wayside. 

Zahra tells the court that the car was a lease from Percius car hire and was swapped on June 18, 2017. 

Zahra on the investigation

2.39pm Zahra divides the murder case into three phases. Phase 1 was from the murder up to the December 2017 arrests. Phase two ran until the arrest of Yorgen Fenech in November 2019. Phase three began after Fenech's arraignment. 

Inspector Kurt Zahra to testify 

2.37pm Inspector Arnaud says (in response to a question from a defence lawyer) that Adrian Vella - the doctor known to both Schembri and Fenech - is not in court. 

Instead, Arnaud's investigating partner, inspector Kurt Zahra, is called to the stand. 

Kenneth Camilleri chooses not to testify

2.36pm Kenneth Camilleri takes the witness stand. 

He’s told that he he has right to remain silent and choose not to testify, as he may face criminal charges. 

And immediately, Camilleri says he chooses not to testify and walks off the stand. 

Malta Today issues denial

2.33pm Meanwhile, MaltaToday has issued a statement denying a claim Schembri made while testifying - that its managing editor Saviour Balzan had advance warning of December 2017 raids which led to the alleged hitmen being arrested. 

Here it is: 

"MaltaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan denies ever having had any prior knowledge of the police raid on the men charged with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Keith Schembri’s assertion in court that MaltaToday was aware of the raid is untrue. Conversations were held with several individuals including Schembri after the raid took place in the course of gathering more detailed information on the investigation". 

Details of cross-examining Schembri

2.31pm Kenneth Camilleri is due to testify. But before that happens, Fenech's defence lawyers make it a point to note that they reserve the right to cross-examine Keith Schembri at a later stage. 

With that point duly noted, the next witness can be summoned. 

Court back in session

2.29pm The magistrate reenters the courtroom and the hearing can continue. 

Recap of Schembri's testimony

2.24pm Just joining now? Here's a recap of what Keith Schembri said during roughly two hours of testimony this morning. 

Schembri said: 

  • Fenech never spoke to him about the murder;

  • Joseph Muscat had urged him to speak to Fenech days before his arrest, to stop him from leaving Malta;

  • He was not privy to the terms and conditions of the presidential pardon for Melvin Theuma;

  • He listed Fenech's company 17 Black as a target client because Fenech was a good friend;

  • Opposition leader Adrian Delia once went to ask Fenech for €50,000 to be used against David Casa’s re-election. 

Schembri denied: 

  • Handing over a document to Yorgen Fenech through his doctor;

  • Sending Kenneth Camilleri to meet Theuma regarding bail for the Degiorgio brothers;

  • Summoning Melvin Theuma to Castille;

  • Knowing the alleged Caruana Galizia murder hitmen.

Close to resuming

2.18pm The hearing should resume within minutes. Yorgen Fenech is back in the courtroom, with six guards watching over him as he confers with his lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran.  

We spotted Kenneth Camilleri, who is due to testify next, speaking to Neville Gafa outside. 

Here the two men are as they entered court earlier this morning. 

Kenneth Camilleri walks into court on Monday morning, accompanied by Neville Gafa (right). Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaKenneth Camilleri walks into court on Monday morning, accompanied by Neville Gafa (right). Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Kenneth Camilleri in 15 minutes 

1.53pm Schembri will be cross-examined at a later date. 

The court has now called a 15-minute recess. Kenneth Camilleri is expected to testify when the hearing resumes. 

Reminder: Camilleri was a member of Joseph Muscat's security detail who was mentioned in testimony by Melvin Theuma and Johann Cremona. Both men said that Camilleri met with Theuma after the murder.

Theuma has claimed that Camilleri spoke to him about bail for the Degiorgio brothers.

Read more about the upcoming witness.

Schembri leaves the stage

1.50pm That's it from Schembri today. 

As he walks across the room, Schembri looks in the direction of Fenech who is looking in another direction.

Fenech's lawyers keep up their pressure.

"It’s not fair that some have been arraigned fast while others have not," lawyer Marion Camilleri remarks.

And with that magistrate suspends the sitting for a short break.

The weekend before the arrest

1.45pm Arnaud is asking Schembri questions. He asks whether he had asked Fenech to get rid of Theuma when the Degiorgios were arrested.

"How could I? I didn't even know Melvin."

The inspector recalls Fenech saying that Theuma could not be eliminated because he was not alone.

Arnaud asks where Fenech was in the weekend before his arrest.

"In Gozo," Schembri replies. 

Arnaud: "How do you know?"

Schembri: "Because the doctor told me. Apparently, Fenech needed some quiet time. I spoke to Yorgen when he came back."

As defence lawyers raise objections, Arnaud says these are all allegations the police had received about the witness.

A question is asked about Schembri's lost mobile phone but the magistrate considers it as not important. 

Muscat told Schembri to speak to Fenech 

1.35pm Arnaud: "Who told you that Fenech was leaving Malta?"

Schembri: "I was informed".

Magistrate: "Who told you?"

Schembri: "It was the prime minister who told me to talk to Yorgen Fenech to tell him not to leave Malta."

Magistrate: "And how did the prime minister know? Who told him? Did you ask?"

Schembri: "I didn't ask him."

Schembri next denies that he passed on some €75,000 in a Reebok bag to Fenech for the crime.

Schembri says he was at Castille when the Degiorgios were arrested.

"Were you his friend at the time?"

Schembri: "Yes. But I wasn’t with him when the hitmen were arrested."

Not privy to pardon's terms and conditions

1.30pm Fenech told Schembri that he had spoken to his lawyer who told him that it was OK to take the boat to Italy. 

Schembri says he advised him to the contrary.

Fenech asked Schembri if he had been granted a pardon. And Schembri answered that he hadn't. At that time, Theuma was already arrested.

And Fenech's name had already been connected to the murder for about two to three months.

"All Malta knew. And other people were mentioned too, some have been revealed, others have not."

Schembri insists that he was not privy to the terms and conditions of the presidential pardon for Melvin Theuma. 

"I had no idea what was discussed. I knew that there were different versions of that pardon. I guess others knew too. The leaks to the media were incredible," he adds.

Warned not to leave the country

1.20pm The focus turns to Schembri's contacts with Fenech on the eve of his arrest. 

Fenech had sent him a message about an article that said Theuma was to receive a presidential pardon.

Arnaud: "Fenech begged you to help him and not abandon him."

Schembri said Fenech sent him a message saying: "The Times are after us".

Schembri: "Today I know he said that because of tip-off messages he was getting from (former Times of Malta journalist) Ivan Camilleri. People got to know of movement close to the marina."

Schembri was told to contact Fenech and tell him not to wander far.

That call lasted 24 minutes. Schembri told him it was not wise to go away from Malta.

"Don’t leave. Don’t put the spotlight further on you," Schembri had advised Fenech.

Is everyone lying?

1.10pm Schembri says Dr Adrian Vella had visited him on a Sunday and had brought some prescriptions for his wife.

"He came to my home and we had a drink."

Arnaud: "The doctor said that you handed over a document for Yorgen Fenech."

Schembri: "That’s not true. Certainly not."

The magistrate warns him about the consequences of lying under oath and asks if all these people were lying.

Schembri: “Sorry! Has the doctor testified here?”

Magistrate: “You don’t ask questions!” 

Shown the letter, Schembri says that “it could be the one” he allegedly handed over to the doctor.

Arnaud: “The doctor said that you gave it to him".

Schembri: “Certainly not."

That doctor's letter

1.05pm Schembri insist that Fenech never spoke to him about a bail request (for the Degiorgio brothers).

Arnaud intervenes and says that the recordings state otherwise. 

The former chief of staff is also asked about a reference to former judge Antonio Mizzi. 

Context: In the recordings, Fenech claimed that Schembri had spoken to "Mizzi" to urge him to grant the suspects bail.   

Schembri insists that he never spoke to any judge about the case. 

Arnaud asks Schembri how he knows Adrian Vella.

"He is our family doctor. He sometimes travelled abroad with me. He had been recommended by the Fenech family."

Schembri insists that the letter forwarded to Fenech was not written by him or sent out by him.

"At the depot I was shown three letters. One was a 4-5 page handwritten letter.  But it was not written by me, nor originated from me nor did I give it to anyone."

Step into fire? Not for this!

12.48pm Schembri is shown a paper, which prompts him to nod in recognition.

Arnaud: "Melvin Theuma alleged that you and Yorgen Fenech ordered him to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia."

Schembri: "I deny that categorically. I never knew about this letter."

Background: The letter, hand-written by Theuma, the middleman granted a presidential pardon by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, claims both Mr Fenech and Mr Schembri ordered and funded the October 2017 car bombing.

Schembri insists that Fenech never spoke to him about the case.

The magistrate cuts in: "Even though you met frequently and were friends?"

Schembri: "No I never discussed it with anyone, not even with my wife!"

Arnaud: "But Yorgen's voice in the recording says that “he (Keith Schembri) would step into the fire for me."

Schembri: "It’s true that I would step into the fire for Yorgen, but not about this case. In fact when police were closing in on Yorgen Fenech I had to put on a straight face. And if I may add, on the eve of the arrests, media outlet Malta Today was aware of the raid."

He says that managing editor Saviour Balzan had called him to say he could have told him that there was about to be a raid.

"They knew that if there was going to be a raid of this importance I would know but Malta Today didn't publish the story.”

Notices of a raid

12.40pm Schembri says there were times when he was asked to leave the room during security briefings. But he confirms he was present at the meeting that discussed the fact that suspect Vince Muscat was talking about the murder details. 

Arnaud would sometimes ask him to fix an urgent meeting, to brief on important developments.

"But I was not present for high-level meetings, attended by some four people," he says.

Schembri says he was aware of the date of the raid on the suspects as well as the arrest of Melvin Theuma.

"As for the other arrests, I knew that date. I was present with you in the same room," Schembri tells Arnaud. "It was a Saturday and the raids took place on Monday."

Schembri confirms that "dates" had been mentioned in earlier briefings, but the final go-ahead happened just two days before the actual raid.

Pierre Portelli denies payment claims

12.35pm Meanwhile, Pierre Portelli has just denied Schembri's claims in court. He's published a copy of an affidavit he signed last week to that effect.

We'll have a separate story about that shortly.

Muscat 'wanted to leave no stone unturned'

12.30pm Schembri says the OPM was never privy to details that Vince Muscat, il-Koħħu, was prepared to divulge details about the murder.

"Not me, nor the prime minister, nor Bonnici [Owen]. I was never privy to info (re: il-Koħħu.)

He says he heard about them when police played out recordings under interrogation.

But magistrate asks if he was present at security meetings.

"Yes, but we were not informed of all the steps. Not all the way. And certain details in the recordings, we did not know of."

He says Joseph Muscat used to tell them that he wanted to solve this case, leaving no stone unturned.

'Fenech never told me about murder'

12.25pm Arnaud refers to one recording where Fenech tells Theuma that he had spoken to Schembri about the bail issue.

"Fenech had said that you had sent Kenneth Camilleri with the bail promise."

Schembri: "I deny that. That’s not true. There’s so much confusion and bluff in those recordings..."

The magistrate asks Schembri if he had listened to the secret recordings.

Schembri: "Yes, they were played out to me... Fenech never told me that he committed this murder, he never mentioned this murder. Never, never."

Fenech's lawyers whisper in the suspect's ears.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in October, 2017. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaDaphne Caruana Galizia was killed in October, 2017. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

'I don't know the alleged hitmen'

12.15pm He is asked about Kenneth Camilleri, who was detailed as a security officer at OPM between 2013 until his retirement around 2018.

Schembri insists he never discussed Melvin Theuma with Camilleri. He says he thinks Fenech did not know Camilleri. 

He categorically denies knowing the alleged hitmen Alfred and George Degiorgio or Vince Muscat.

Arnaud asks: "Did anyone ever mention them to you? Did someone approach you on their behalf?"

Schembri: "No, never, thank God."

Arnaud: "Did they know you?"

Schembri: "Why should they?"

Arnaud: "What about allegations about bail for Degiorgio brothers?"

Schembri: "Definitely not. It makes me laugh when I hear something of the sort."

Arnaud: "You were mentioned with Kenneth Camilleri in the context of bail for Degiorgios."

Schembri: "I have no connection to this."

PN leader 'asked for money' against Casa's re-election

12.05pm Schembri says he was aware that politicians had visited Fenech's ranch but not in his presence.

"Before all this, Fenech was a very highly regarded person in society. Afterwards, all those linked were demonised. Fenech told me that a politician used to go to his ranch, eat with him, leave drunk and then ask him for money."

"Fenech told me that before there used to be politicians who lunched with him. The opposition leader once went to ask €50,000 to be used against (David) Casa’s election. And he used to send (then head of media) Pierre Portelli to collect €20,000 every month. This happened on a regular basis. They sometimes waited for one hour to wait for the money."

He says Portelli was spotted at a Portomaso reception waiting before the 2019 MEP election.

Last week, Portelli said he had written to the PN to back calls for an independent inquiry into claims that the PN received money from Fenech. 

David Thake, who is now a PN MP, had made a similar claim in June 2019 and singled out Portelli as being especially close to Fenech. 

Portelli served as the PN’s head of media until the end of that month, following a bitter spat with some of the party’s MPs.  

Open-door policy

12pm Schembri insists he didn't send for Theuma and he couldn’t have just walked into his office.

"He must have spoken to someone. I used to have such visits, 5-10 daily. We practised an open-door policy. The list was prepared by my secretary."

Theuma had said the other meeting took place at Fenech's farmhouse, but Schembri says he cannot confirm that.

"But certainly, Theuma was not present for the meal at Fenech's ranch. Theuma might have dropped by at the ranch and said he saw me. I don’t remember seeing him at the ranch."

Schembri's relationship with Theuma

11.50am Schembri says he met Melvin Theuma twice, once at his office at Castille. He said he cannot recall the date but it was some time after he came out of cancer treatment.

"Thanks to COVID-19 I spent time thinking. Today I’ve convinced myself that Theuma was sent to Castille by nobody.

"He came to my office for the job. We made some small talk and then handed him on to others. He asked if he could take a photo. He wanted a photo in front of a framed picture of PM to give to his mother,” Schembri says.

Then Theuma asked to see a picture of Dom Mintoff.

"But that was all, the last I heard of him. I don’t know if he got the job, or went for it. I wasn’t informed. I didn't put in any recommendation for the job. I just put him through to customer care.

"But afterwards, I wondered after Melvin Theuma was arrested, he had that photo, a copy of the contract, USB sticks and letter in his plastic box which he gave to police. I guess that’s why he wanted that photo!"

The magistrate tells him that’s an assumption.

"Don’t assume," she says.

Keith Schembri and Melvin Theuma pictured at Castille.Keith Schembri and Melvin Theuma pictured at Castille.

The news of the bomb blast

11.45am The focus turns to Caruana Galizia's assassination. He was at OPM with Joseph Muscat and Kurt Farrugia, when the former Mater Dei Hospital CEO called to inform them there was an explosion at Burmarrad.

Muscat had called to check on his father who had a fireworks factory in the area. Soon there was a second call saying it was a bomb and the victim was likely to be Caruana Galizia.

"In spite of all that was said in media, I immediately called an official from the US embassy and told him that we might need your help."

Schembri says he was glued to his seat when the news emerged.

Schembri on why draft plans with 17 Black  

11.40am Schembri says he was advised to sue Caruana Galizia for libel but he held back because it would take long for a judgment, and he would remain hanging on.

"There are another 12 other blog posts which would write the same fantasies," Schembri says.

He says that after 2013, three persons had told him that the PN had access to the information about his trust in New Zealand. He says he opened the trust in New Zealand on advice because he couldn't trust local banks. 

New Zealand advised him to open a company in Panama because it was the fastest. He says he listed 17 Black as a target client because Fenech was a good friend.

"Just because I was Keith Schembri didn’t mean that all my affairs should end up in the media.

"I was advised to have target company. It was meant to be a temporary set up. Yorgen Fenech was my friend. He was one of most highly-esteemed business people in Malta. It was prestigious to do business with him. But there was no other business between us," he concludes.

Tension in court room

11.35am Schembri says he explained to colleagues that Caruana Galizia's blog was based on reality and fiction. He says he answered all questions sent by journalists.

There's tension among the lawyers and voices are raised. 

Magistrate issues first warning about such remarks and interruptions. If these go on the sitting will be suspended and parties rapped for contempt of court, she says.

The impact of Daphne's blog

11.30am He is asked about the impact of Caruana Galizia's writings about him.

"When I was new to public life, it used to get to me. Then as I grew tougher, I got used to it. I was more bothered because of my family," he adds.

Arnaud turns the focus on secret company 17 Black (in which he was named alongside Fenech and Konrad Mizzi). 

The defence lawyers interrupt, saying they disagreed with the questions. Magistrate allows Arnaud to carry on.

Schembri replies: "It was like other malicious posts about me. But as I said in the Egrant inquiry, I took it in my stride. It hurt me when she wrote about my cancer and my daughter came and asked if I was going to die."

"I didn’t speak to anyone about it but others did talk to me. Journalists asked about it. I also spoke to persons at OPM."

Fenech spent nine months abroad

11.25am Schembri says they never had a business venture together but Fenech did buy things from him.

Businessmen, politicians, police officials would all go to Fenech's farmhouse, Schembri says.

"Today our friendship has changed," Schembri says.

Before last November, Fenech was travelling a lot, and sometimes they wouldn't talk for three months.

"Sometimes he didn’t answer my calls. But Yorgen has a habit of doing that. Last year, Yorgen spent some nine months abroad.

"He never told me why he travelled so much. He detached himself from friends, from us, people in the same circles. He might have had health problems but he never told us."

Schembri says he met Johann Cremona (Fenech's associate) at Castille once. It was a 10-minute talk about ways to improve business.

Friends since their teens

11.20am Keith Schembri tells the magistrate he wants to testify. He looks down, casting sideways glance but no eye contact with Yorgen Fenech. 

He takes the oath, swears to say the truth.

Schembri says he has known Fenech since he was around 16 or 17. They then drifted apart before becoming very close again around 2010.

"There are friends you take inside, others to the hall, others to bedroom. I was comfortable taking Fenech into my home... I was a workaholic, and I cherished his friendship.

"There are people you hit off with. He was a humble person, easy to get along with. It's difficult to explain certain things."

Keith Schembri and Yorgen Fenech.Keith Schembri and Yorgen Fenech.

Schembri takes the stand

11.15am Magistrate minutes that at this stage the prosecution cannot exclude that the witness might be subject to criminal prosecution about the same crime.

Schembri has just been called into the courtroom. He will be cautioned and given right to choose not to testify.

Schembri is a 'person of interest'

11.12am Magistrate says that if Schembri is treated as suspect, he has a right to remain silent. 

Arnaud replied: "It was never my idea to summon him today. I cannot say that he is not still a person of interest."

Schembri's lawyer hits back: "But they’re throwing away the witness’s rights."

Arnaud explains that the police had intended to leave similar witnesses of interest “for the end”.

Fenech's lawyer says it was not fair to keep putting off Schembri's testimony, which means the defence cannot put forward its questions.

Still subject to investigation

11.10am Schembri's lawyer Edward Gatt said his client is here to testify.

"He had been arrested and questioned by police. Up until last week we asked police if he was still under investigation. We were told that police were still analysing data. This puts our client in a rather anomalous position."

The magistrate says that today, at this stage, Schembri is here to testify.

Arnaud says that the task force has been at work since 2017, and has expanded since November. The data is voluminous and the analysis still ongoing.

"I do not wish to step into matters still subject to investigation."

Is Schembri a witness or suspect?

11.05am Arnaud informs the magistrate that the investigation is still ongoing. So questions to witness may be suspended if they concern matters still subject to investigation.

"It wouldn’t be just, since we are not even sure what material is available. It might even prejudice the investigations," he warns.

Magistrate asks: "Is he a suspect or a normal witness?"

Arnaud replies: "I would certainly advise caution."

Court in session

11am Magistrate Rachel Montebello is presiding. 

Criminal courts registrar Eunice Fiorini takes the oath, presenting copies of CDs and the accused’s statements.

There was a "fault" in one of them, she says.

Inspector Kurt Zahra takes the oath. He presents a CD with a copy of Fenech's interrogation. 

Inspector Arnaud says Keith Schembri and Kenneth Camilleri will be testifying.

Fenech escorted in

10.40am Yorgen Fenech has walked into the court room. There's very tight security in here. His wife stands right behind victim's sisters.

There's palpable tension.

It's a headache for the court officials, especially since people are still standing up.

Inspector Keith Arnaud is in court assisted by Philip Galea Farrugia and Nadia Attard from the Attorney General's office.

Several civil society protests were held at the end of last year. Another one is scheduled for Monday evening.Several civil society protests were held at the end of last year. Another one is scheduled for Monday evening.

No space in packed court room

10.20am The magistrate is still hearing another case. All the main players are in the law court corridors, bar Yorgen Fenech. It is packed. Everyone's wondering why the case isn't being held in a bigger court room.

Lawyer Jason Azzopardi says they asked the magistrate to move to a bigger hall upstairs. But court registrar Frank Mercieca declined the request.

"Today of all days," Azzopardi remarks, in frustration. 

Schembri, Gafà, Camilleri enter court

10am Keith Schembri has just arrived in court. His associates Neville Gafà and Kenneth Camilleri are also seen entering the court room. 

The magistrate doesn't want anyone standing in the court room. Priority is to be given to one representative from each media outlet and the victim's family. 

Kenneth Camilleri and Neville Gafa entering court. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaKenneth Camilleri and Neville Gafa entering court. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Good morning

9.45am Good morning and welcome to our live blog. The court room is fast filling up with reporters and family members, jockeying for a place.

We suspect it's going to be a long day.

Some of the main points in recent sessions:

  • Middleman Melvin Theuma feared Yorgen Fenech and Keith Schembri were plotting to eliminate him;

  • Recordings show he pressed Yorgen Fenech to put pressure on Keith Schembri to help get bail for Alfred and George Degiorgio;

  • 'Il-Biglee' named as a middleman between Cardona and one of the hitmen;

  • Fenech felt protected with the Labour Party in government;

  • Court orders the acting police commissioner to investigate his predecessor;

  • Theuma saw former police deputy commissioner Silvio Valletta at Fenech's house,

Who are the players?

Yorgen Fenech: A prominent businessman charged with orchestrating Caruana Galizia's murder.

Melvin Theuma: The self-confessed middleman in the murder.

Keith Schembri: Former OPM chief of staff also linked to the murder but never charged.

Adrian Vella: A doctor who allegedly passed on an incriminating note.

Vince Muscat (il-Koħħu) Alfred Degiorgio (il-Fulu) and his brother George Degiorgio (Iċ-Ċiniż): the three men charged with sparking the device.  

Johann Cremona: A business associate of Yorgen Fenech’s, with ties to the gaming sector. 

Kenneth Camilleri: Formed part of the OPM's security detail. Camilleri had allegedly visited Theuma with a message from Schembri promising that the three men accused of the murder will be granted bail.

Lawrence Cutajar: Former police commissioner.

Gianluca Caruana Curran and suspect Yorgen Fenech outside court last November. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaGianluca Caruana Curran and suspect Yorgen Fenech outside court last November. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Who are the lawyers? 

Yorgen Fenech has Gianluca Caruana Curran, Marion Camilleri and Charles Mercieca on his legal team.

Inspector Keith Arnaud is prosecuting. 

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Therese Comodini Cachia and Eve Borg Costanzi are appearing on behalf of the Caruana Galizia family.

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