The compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, the businessman who stands accused of Daphne Caruana Galizia's 2017 murder, continued on Thursday. The case against him rests heavily on testimony and recordings provided by Melvin Theuma, who secured a presidential pardon for his testimony. 

Highlights from Thursday's sitting:

  • Captain rejects reports that Yorgen Fenech was planning to flee the island, says the businessman assured him there was nothing to worry about;

  • Fenech boarded the boat around 1am on November 20, once the 'coast was clear' of journalists;

  • Defence want experts to analyse mental condition of Melvin Theuma;

  • Arnaud says playing certain recordings in public would endanger the lives of people mentioned;

  • Magistrate instructs police to take action against the source who leaked secret recordings online last weekend;

  • Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca lashes out at Attorney General, his former boss.

Doctor to testify at next sitting

12pm The captain's testimony comes to an end.

Arnaud says he spoke to Dr Adrian Vella’s lawyer yesterday afternoon to invite him to testify but it was too short notice. However, the doctor said is willing to attend at the next sitting.

Context: Vella was arrested in November on suspicion that he was passing Fenech messages from the prime minister's former chief of staff Keith Schembri. Vella is known to be close to Schembri and was the personal doctor of Fenech's grandfather, Tumas Fenech. 

The defence lawyers say they want Johann Cremona to testify at the next sitting. 

The magistrate says Cremona will testify once transcripts of recordings are ready so that the witness may be asked questions accordingly.

The case continues on Tuesday at 10am.

'Ridiculous' claims

11.55am Wood says he found claims that they were planning to flee the island as quite ridiculous.

"It’s a conspicuous vessel, around 25 knots speed. It’s a luxurious vessel. The AIS was switched on before we set sail."

As CID officials were seen close by, Fenech communicated with Wood and told him he had nothing to worry about as he had nothing to hide. 

A week earlier, Fenech was abroad and when he returned he asked whether he wanted to join him in Sicily.

Fenech had asked about distance on land between Sicily and La Spezia, the base of the agency of both Fenech’s yachts.

Journalists at the marina

11.50am The first one on site was Times of Malta photographer Matthew Mirabelli.

"I asked him what he was doing there. He said he got a tip-off that the yacht was going to leave," the captain says.

Others journalists were later on site. 

"It was not normal. I had never seen such media presence at the marina."

The defence lawyer asks if the area was barred from public access.

"Yes. The gates were closed and I believe press were not meant to be there. I realised there were others because they had cameras.

"I moved away and then saw them leave."

Matthew Mirabelli's statement: "I deny tipping off the boat captain on the night when I was asked to go to the marina by my editor. I entered the marina through the public area and I asked the captain (who I happened to know) whether he was planning on leaving the marina. The captain denied it. There were no other photographers or journalists on site when I got there.

"I am prepared to give my version of events that night to the police."

Times of Malta editor-in-chief Herman Grech backed Mirabelli’s version of events saying he had relayed the same information to him that November night.

'The coast is clear'

11.40am The captain admits that night he thought of switching off the vessel's automatic tracking device system.

"I had spotted media people. I happened to know one of them. That was around 10-11pm. He asked me if the persons on board the yacht were about to flee the island.

"The last thing we wanted was paparazzi to swarm around us. I had heard rumours on media at the time about Yorgen's alleged link to this case. I warned Yorgen about media presence. He told me to keep him posted. Later I informed him that the coast is clear."

Fenech boarded the boat around 1am. The captain's plan was to get to Sicily in time to catch the ferry back at 8.30am.

He is asked about Fenech's plans.

"We hadn’t talked about that. I didn’t ask him. Generally the Fenechs would stay on in Sicily. But I always came back. My job was to steer the boat to yard."

'They're just kicking up a fuss'

11.30am Arnaud presses the captain to explain the context of his conversation with Fenech then.

Wood: "I told him about the trip. He (Fenech) told me can we do it this week?”.

Arnaud: "So Yorgen Fenech suggested the date?"

Wood: "Yes we agreed on it. That day we messaged each other, we slept on board that night to set off early morning. That was normal... Yorgen joined me on the yacht around 1.30am.

"We set off. I called Valletta Port, who wished me bon voyage. No more than 5 minutes later, we saw police sirens. We were stopped. Some six to seven officers came on board. They searched and handcuffed us. I asked what had happened but I got no reply. Then after the search we were escorted inside. Later they removed my handcuffs and ordered me to steer vessel back to Portomaso marina."

The captain got a message from security at Portomaso around 3am warning them to be careful because there were CID around the boat.

Fenech told the captain not to worry.

"They’re just kicking up a fuss to say we’re escaping."

Yorgen Fenech pictured last November. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaYorgen Fenech pictured last November. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Why November?

11.25am The captain says he has been in the trade for more than 20 years and is employed by the Tumas Group. He is asked for his recollection of events on that night on November 20.

"We set sail from Portomaso marina early morning. I slept on board before the trip to Sicily. There were two other crew members. But on the trip it was just me and Mr Fenech. I didn’t need other crew on that small vessel. It was normal procedure to take the yacht to Pozzallo over the past nine years, once a year between November and January.

"It was not always the same person who came along with me to the yard. I would ask family members to come on the 2/2.5 hour trip. Then we caught the Virtu ferry back home.

"That night I had spoken to Yorgen beforehand. I was in contact with him and the yard because the weather was unstable. Yard told me to make it by 7am on the 20th."

The captain has a copy of the email from the yard confirms their request. And the yard’s reply in the affirmative. There was a similar exchange every year, he says.

Arnaud points out that request had been to leave between December and February. There was no mention of November.

Wood explains: "I had some plans for December and after speaking to Yorgen Fenech we decided to go in November once weather was permitting."

The Gio after it was intercepted at sea.The Gio after it was intercepted at sea.

Captain to testify

11.15am Captain Logan Wood, who steered Fenech's boat on the fateful night he was arrested last November, is to testify.

But defence counsel butt in again.

Prosecution was meant to summon Johann Cremona (Fenech's business associate) to play the recordings to him in the absence of Theuma. He was meant to confirm his voice in the recordings.

But Galea Farrugia from the AG's office puts his foot down. The summoning of witnesses is a prerogative of the AG.

Should defence want, they may file an application and the AG will handle within 24 hours.

Assess Theuma's mental condition, defence says

11.08am Defence lawyer Marion Camilleri stands up and asks for the appointment of an expert to assess the current mental condition of Melvin Theuma, in view of his recent stabbing incident. It is in the interests of all parties, she insists.

The court says it expects Theuma to continue to testify but Galea Farrugia intervenes, saying not yet.

Theuma has just been released from hospital after being treated in intensive care. 

A psychiatric expert will assess Theuma in view of the July 21 incident.

Camilleri says that allowing more time to lapse would be detrimental. One has to understand under what condition Theuma gave his testimony in court. 

Magistrate says that in fact Theuma's testimony-in-chief had been concluded. How he will testify in future stands to be seen, she says.

Mercieca says this is a procedural issue which could possibly impact the defence's case.

The court will decide upon this request after today’s sitting.

Playing recordings in public would endanger people

11am Galea Farrugia from the AG's office stands up to make his point. He insists that investigations are still ongoing, even those which the defence lawyer has claimed were not. 

Inspector Keith Arnaud says he is willing to play the recordings in public, but that would mean potentially endangering the lives of people mentioned in them.

“I can declare that I have no problem with it being played in public but the person who said the words on tape should be reproduced to testify about what they said.”

As for the defence lawyers alleging that the recordings were “hidden”, Arnaud says  there was a technical issue to access them, as confirmed by the court itself.

'Offensive and insulting'

10.50am Mercieca questions the wording used by the Attorney General in his application.

"Never in my practice have I come across such language which is offensive and insulting," he says.

The crux of the defence’s argument is that the AG and the prosecuting officers failed to take action in respect of other far more serious allegations.

Some context here: Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca used to work in the Attorney General's office. So he is effectively lashing out at his former boss.

The magistrate takes note of his submissions.

Lawyer lashes out at investigation proceedings

10.45am The defence lawyer says there was no urgent investigation over allegations of money exchanged for a presidential pardon. Yet, urgent investigation over these leaks and other matters, go slow, Mercieca says.

"How is Arnaud mentioned in these tapes? How often? In what context? How did Theuma get hold of certain documents? How much money was truly exchanged for this murder? Were there any urgent investigations about all these matters? No. And yet there was urgent investigation about the leaked tapes in contempt of court."

Melvin Theuma (right) entering court earlier this year. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaMelvin Theuma (right) entering court earlier this year. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

What's the AG afraid of?

10.40am Before we move on to witnesses, Mercieca says he wishes to address the preoccupations by defence, and those issues they would have expected the Attorney General to tackle.

He says that there are far more serious offences that the AG has failed to look into. 

"What is he afraid of? Is he fearing that the prosecuting inspector might be mentioned in these tapes? Why hasn't he rushed to investigate other matters like he did over these leaked tapes?"

"The hidden recordings, and I insist they are hidden, are still not in the records of the case. Is it incompetence in failing to find these tapes... or... I dare not continue the sentence," Mercieca says. 

Take action, magistrate tells police

10.35am The magistrate is clearly not happy with the leaks. She says such an act was condemnable and a direct affront to court authority. Besides being in contempt of court, it was also a criminal offence. Even their publication by news sites was a breach of court order. She ordered her minutes to be notified to the police commissioner to identify the persons involved and the nature of the source.

She orders criminal action against all those concerned. She instructs the court registrar to institute court action against those responsible for republication of the recordings on news sites.

Fenech's lawyers wish to clarify certain issues before the hearing continues.

They tell the court that the defence has been asking for an investigation into leaks from the very beginning.

Leaked recordings are contempt of court

10.20am Magistrate Rachel Montebello has entered the chamber. Fenech has just handed over a folded paper to his lawyers.

The magistrate speaks about the anonymous publication of some of the secret recordings on Reddit. 

She says a copy of those recordings had been given to the parties and court experts and their publication was banned. 

She reaffirms that order and takes it as contempt of court. She says those recordings were among those played behind closed doors.

Five clips of exchanges between a business partner of murder suspect Yorgen Fenech and Melvin Theuma, who admits arranging the murder, were uploaded over the weekend.

The 20- to 30-second clips were posted by an anonymous account created on Saturday. 

Fenech enters the chamber

10.12am Fenech has just been escorted in under usual tight security measures through a door at the back of the hall. The set up here is different from other halls, with six prison officials present.

His lawyers - Gianluca Caruana Curran, Charles Mercieca and Marion Camilleri -  approach him as he takes his place at the dock. 

As we wait...

10.10am We're in hall 22, that's the large chamber where trial by juries are normally held. Among those in the hall are lead investigator Keith Arnaud, deputy attorney general Philip Galea Farrugia, parte civile lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia.

Benches for the public are split in two rows, one side taken by Fenech's relatives, the other by Caruana Galizia's sisters and her son Paul.

Good morning

9.55am Witnesses, lawyers and family members are gathering in the court room.  

In the last sitting on July 22, prosecutors and lawyers representing Fenech spent hours discussing the recordings and how to best present them in open court. 

But at the eleventh hour, the court upheld a request by lead investigator Keith Arnaud to keep the recordings private, given that certain people mentioned in the clips had yet to be investigated.

That sitting was held on the morrow of a dramatic development when Theuma was found critical, bleeding at his home, in what the police said was an act of self-harm. He has since been discharged from hospital

Theuma had told a court that he believed Fenech was the only mastermind behind the murder, despite him having written a handwritten letter in which he also named former chief of staff Keith Schembri as a co-conspirator.


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