Yorgen Fenech bought grenades, poison, machine guns, pistols and around 800 bullets more than one year after Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered, a court heard on Wednesday.
The business mogul, who will face trial for complicity in the journalist’s 2017 murder, made the weapons purchases on the dark web and paid for them using cryptocurrency Bitcoin, deputy attorney general Philip Galea Farrugia said.
Galea Farrugia said Fenech had bought “two grenades, two Glock pistols, two machine guns, Scorpions [a type of rifle] and some 800 bullets,” along with silencers for the pistols.
In another, separate purchase, Fenech received an email assuring him that a 20-gram shipment of potassium cyanide – a chemical that releases a highly toxic gas – had been shipped to him that morning, Galea Farrugia said.
The purchases were made in November 2018 – the same month that Times of Malta and Reuters revealed that Fenech was the owner of secret offshore company 17 Black.
Caruana Galizia was the first person to reveal the existence of 17 Black, which a leaked email has revealed was named as the source of funds for offshore companies belonging to former minister Konrad Mizzi and former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Deputy attorney general Galea Farrugia listed the dark web purchases as he made arguments against granting Fenech bail, saying they were sufficient grounds to fear [granting Fenech bail].”
The dark web is a part of the internet that is not indexed by search engines and requires special software to access.
Fenech’s lawyer Charles Mercieca objected to the list of weapons purchases being cited, arguing that the prosecution had not presented any proof that Fenech had bought those items.
Police are known to be investigating five different Bitcoin wallets linked to Fenech and which were used to make purchases from a now-defunct dark web marketplace. Sources have said that at least one such purchase was addressed to Fenech’s Portomaso address.
Times of Malta reported in September 2020 that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation had flagged online searches Fenech made to buy poison online, months before he was arrested in November 2019.
Local law enforcement has also testified that a gun, bullets and silencer ordered online were to be delivered to Fenech’s deceased father, George, at a Portomaso address. The delivery never happened as the dark web marketplace where it was bought was shut down by Italian law enforcement.
Bill of indictment issued
Wednesday’s court session was overshadowed by news that prosecutors had filed a bill of indictment against Fenech, citing him for complicity in that murder as well as criminal association.
Prosecutors are requesting a life sentence for murder as well as a sentence of between 20 and 30 years in prison for the second charge.
Arguments for and against bail
Fenech has been in police custody ever since he was arrested in November 2019.
During Wednesday’s bail hearing, his defence lawyers argued that Maltese law meant he was now eligible for bail, as more than 20 months had elapsed since he was taken into custody.
A legal argument brought forward by the prosecution in which they argued that the criminal court was not the competent court to decide on the bail application was dismissed immediately by judge Giovanni Grixti.
Prosecutors had argued in their written submissions that records of the case had not yet been sent back to the attorney general’s office, and that it was therefore the magistrates’ court that should hear bail requests.
Arguments over escape plans
Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca insisted his client had never intended to flee the island and had nowhere to run to, as his face had now been “splashed all over the world’s newspapers.”
The prosecution pushed back against that point, with Galea Farrugia reading out a series of text messages that Fenech, his brother and his boat captain exchanged in the days and hours leading to his arrest, in which they discussed plans to make it to Sicily and then France.
“To call this a trip for boat maintenance is to insult everyone’s intelligence,” he said.
Fenech’s mother, Patricia Fenech, told the court that she was willing to act as a guarantor for her son’s bail and would report him to the court if he were to breach even “half a condition” imposed on him.
“I am ready and willing to assume this responsibility,” she said.
Judge Grixti will decree on the bail request in chambers at a later stage.
Lawyers Charles Mercieca and Gianluca Caruana Curran appeared for Fenech. Deputy attorney general Philip Galea Farrugia represented the prosecution.
As it happened
Live blog ends
12pm This live blog will end here. Thank you for having joined us.
Check back shortly for a summary of the court session's key events.
Judge to decide on bail in chambers
11.58am Yorgen Fenech is escorted out of the courtroom. His lawyers pat him on the shoulder as he exits. The Fenech family follows him out of the courtroom, and relatives of the Caruana Galizia family exit too.
The judge will be delivering his decision on the bail decree in chambers later.
Where would Fenech stay?
11.49am Fenech says she has never had any run-ins with the law and could put up her son at a farmhouse they own or else at another residence. The judge orders a ban on the addresses of those houses.
Fenech's mother testifies
11.47am Yorgen Fenech’s mother, Patricia Fenech, is called to the witness stand.
Patricia Fenech is a fixture at her son’s court hearings. Earlier, the defence said that she was willing to appear as a guarantor for her son’s bail.
She tells the court that she is willing to report her son to the authorities, should he “intend to breach half a condition” imposed by the court.
“I’m ready and willing to assume that responsibility,” she says. She tells the court that she owns a home at Portomaso, has no debts and receives dividends as a shareholder of Tumas Group.
11.44am Mercieca says the prosecution has not presented any proof of payment to substantiate its claims about Fenech’s darkweb purchases of weapons.
Mercieca pushes back
11.41am There’s no love lost between defence lawyer Charles Mercieca – who quit the attorney general’s office to become Fenech’s defence lawyer – and his former boss, Galea Farrugia.
Mercieca lashes out at the deputy AG, and then pushes back against the prosecution’s claims.
“If Yorgen Fenech wanted to escape, why did he switch on his [boat’s] tracking system? A week before he had gone to France and Italy, and he did so by car. He didn’t go on foot. Renting a car is no offence,” he says.
Mercieca questions the timing of the bill of indictment issued against his client – read more about that here – and argues that the prosecution is changing its arguments to suit its case.
During the last court sitting in the compilation of evidence, Mercieca says, the defence had requested evidence from chat messages, his medical file and cross-examinations that showed his innocence.
“The AG is willing to turn this case into a political issue to ensure that that the case stops here. And yet he’s denying Yorgen Fenech all of this evidence, presenting a bill of indictment today,” Mercieca says.
Fenech's darkweb weapons arsenal
11.32am Galea Farrugia pokes holes in the defence’s claims that Fenech has an untainted criminal record.
He reads from an email sent to Fenech: “Sorry for the late reply. Your package left this morning, Ukraine time.”
That package was 20 grams of potassium cyanide, he tells the court.
In November 2018, Fenech placed another order for two hand grenades.
As the defence protests, the judge asks what the relevance is.
“A person who orders two hand grenades, two weapons with suppressors…that’s the relevance,” Galea Farrugia says.
He says Fenech ordered:
- Two grenades
- Two glock handguns
- Two machine guns
- A Scorpion pistol
- Around 800 bullets
And paid for them using Bitcoin.
"That to me is sufficient fear. This was in November 2018, when the murder had already been committed."
Suspended 20-month time limit
11.27am Galea Farrugia goes back to Mercieca’s arguments about the 1989 amendment introducing the 20-month limit.
The amendments also included a subsection detailing how that time limit could be interrupted, he notes.
“If we’re going to quote things, let’s quote everything,” he says. He goes on to list instances when the time limit in this case was suspended.
Fenech being investigated abroad
11.23am Galea Farrugia implies that Fenech is also being investigated overseas.
“When it comes to claims of him having no assets abroad, I have to tread carefully. I cannot divulge details but investigations are under way abroad too,” he says.
“I may say I have no assets in my name, but there may be against companies in which I hold an interest. That’s all I can say.”
'Tell Logan no crew, use WhatsApp'
11.20am Galea Farrugia reads messages that Fenech’s brother sent him.
“Let’s gain time. Listen to me, for once in your life.”
Fenech had replied: “Tell Logan no crew and to use WhatsApp.”
Galea Farrugia: “Was this the scheduled trip for yacht maintenance?”
He goes on to read other messages, in which Fenech directed to “use a car with no trace” and others in which there was talk of arranging for a place to stay in Nice, France, through the auspices of a horse trader named Suroy.
Fenech had many contacts there, Galea Farrugia notes.
Fenech's texts and escape plans
11.15am Galea Farrugia then tears into the defence’s arguments that Fenech was not trying to escape when he left Portomaso at the crack of dawn.
Testimony by Fenech’s boat captain, Logan Wood, was contradicted by documents that showed that boat maintenance was scheduled later than he claimed.
“On November 19, Fenech texted ‘Tell Logan to use WhatsApp to call…. prepare a car, we pay in cash. We can’t rent a car and run away with it’,” Galea Farrugia tells the court.
“His brother said ‘get away before it’s too late’.”
Galea Farrugia tells the court that the court is free to read these text messages – there are so many it would take hours to read them all.
The deputy attorney general goes ahead and reads others, anyway.
He says that ‘uncle Ray’ sent Fenech a report about the then-prime minister saying he wanted all the facts about the murder to emerge.
“That was on November 18. From that point on, Yorgen Fenech set out frenetically to escape,” he says.
Galea Farrugia notes how Fenech made enquiries to see if he could leave discretely through the airport, then tried to contact “a female lawyer”, with the gist always being that he needed to escape.
“’We need to gain time. They’re speculating in the press’,” Galea Farrugia reads.
“’I think it’s best if I do as you said and leave for good’.”
On November 19, just before 8pm, Fenech had said that he had arranged to hire a truck in Nice but that they would “still take the boat to Pozzallo [Sicily].”
“Saying that this trip was for maintenance is insulting everyone’s intelligence,” the deputy AG tells the court.
Deputy attorney general makes his case
11.08am Deputy attorney general Philip Galea Farrugia begins to make his case.He begins by brushing aside the defence’s arguments about Fenech having respected police bail conditions.
“He had police officers running around inside his home,” he says. “Could he escape?”
Furthermore, Fenech had a pending request for a presidential pardon at the time. [That request has since been rejected].
'Where can he escape to?'
11.05am Mercieca continues to make his arguments. Fenech can be given a curfew and made to sign a bail book; he can put up a personal guarantee and submit himself to police monitoring.
“And where can he escape to? His face has been splashed on all the world’s newspapers,” Mercieca says with just a touch of hyperbole.
The defence wraps up its arguments. The prosecution will now respond.
'20 months are up'
11am According to Maltese law, people facing criminal charges can be held in custody for a maximum of 20 months before being granted bail. The clock on that 20-month period has been suspended at times during the Fenech case, and inevitably both sides disagree on what stage it is at.
Defence lawyers say the 20 months are up and that Fenech must therefore be eligible for bail.
Mercieca launches into a monologue about the 1989 legal amendment that introduced that 20-month limit and heaps praise on its author, Guido de Marco, who happens to be the grandfather of his defence team colleague Gianluca Caruana Curran.
'Fenech had nothing to hide'
10.47am In previous hearings, prosecutors have laid out their case about how Fenech intended to flee the island prior to his arrest.
They cited messages which indicated Fenech had planned an escape route involving Sicily and France.
But Fenech’s lawyers insist that is not the case.
“Fenech knew that media was present and still decided to set sail. He had nothing to hide. He informed the Valletta port. He called his destination beforehand to tell them of trip. That day he was under no restraint to stay in Malta,” Mercieca argues in court.
'The time has come to grant him bail'
10.51am Mercieca notes that Fenech was allowed to go home on police bail after his initial arrest. [That police bail was extended multiple times, until Fenech was eventually charged with crimes].
“When Yorgen Fenech was bound to stay in Malta, he abided by those conditions,” Mercieca tells the court. “He knew perfectly well what he was facing.”
Mercieca argues that the law allows even a person with a long criminal record to be allowed out on bail, “let alone Yorgen Fenech, whose record is untainted.”
He is using a refrain as he makes his arguments: “The time has come to grant him bail,” Mercieca says over and over again.
Mercieca's nod to Azzopardi case
10.45am Mercieca begins to make his arguments: Fenech has been in custody for 600 days, he says, noting how “a person whose bill of indictment was issued at the last moment was still granted bail yesterday”.
That is most likely a reference to alleged drug kingpin Jordan Azzopardi, who was given bail on Tuesday.
Fenech's mother offers to serve as guarantor
10.40am Yorgen Fenech is in court, closely guarded as normal. He takes his seat in the dock of hall 22.
Fenech’s mother is willing to act as a guarantor for bail and wishes to testify to that effect, Fenech’s lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran tells the court.
Fellow defence lawyer Charles Mercieca says that they assume the court is competent to hear the bail submissions – something prosecutors are contesting.
Repeated attempts at bail
10.34am Yorgen Fenech has tried to get bail too many times to keep count of. He's failed on every other occasion - he's even had a case alleging a breach of rights dismissed by the European Court of Human Rights.
10.30am Good morning and welcome to this live blog, brought to you from the Valletta law courts.