Yorgen Fenech exchanged hundreds of messages with his uncle, brother and boat captain in the days leading to his arrest for murder, with all of them pointing to him planning a surreptitious escape.
That was the argument presented by lead investigator Keith Arnaud in court on Friday, during testimony in which he read out dozens of these text exchanges and presented a dossier containing all of them in court.
The police superintendent was testifying in a constitutional case filed by Fenech’s lawyers, in which they are alleging that the courts’ refusal to grant him bail amounts to a form of arbitrary arrest.
Fenech, who was indicted for complicity in Caruana Galizia’s murder on Wednesday, had his most recent bail request refused on Thursday. He was not present for Friday's hearing.
Arnaud’s testimony on Friday indicated that Fenech had discussed plans to escape by sea, enquired about exiting discreetly through the airport using a private jet and made arrangements to rent a house in France, to be paid in cash with no paperwork.
“Get out,” his brother Franco advised him, as his uncle Ray advised him to “be careful” when using credit cards.
“Try and gain time,” Ray Fenech urged him.
Before he made arrangements, Fenech reached out to high-profile criminal lawyer Giannella de Marco, telling his uncle Ray on the morning of November 19: “I want to speak to her properly before I leave.”
One of Fenech’s lawyers, Gianluca Caruana Curran, is de Marco’s son.
Fenech appeared to be aware of the high stakes at play.
“If I’m picked up in the EU, I’ll end up in Europol’s hands,” he told his uncle.
'Speak to K'
As plans escalated his uncle advised him to “speak to K” – a reference to former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, investigators believe.
Screenshots of a Signal conversation the two had on the day before his arrest show that Schembri advised Fenech to “stay calm” and reassured him that “nothing will happen” that day.
Fenech planned on leaving aboard his boat Gio – “I don’t trust [the airport]”, he told his uncle - but text messages suggested he momentarily switched plans after his uncle warned him that Times of Malta reporters were at Portomaso.
“Ivan told me, because he was in the newsroom and heard them mention it,” Yorgen Fenech told Ray.
With reporters at the Portomaso marina, Fenech looked into renting a private jet to France.
“I can be at the airport in 30 minutes max,” he texted.
But by that evening, he appeared to have reverted back to his boat plan.
“Sorry, cancelled,” he texted the person who had suggested a €12,000 private jet option.
Fenech’s boat captain, Logan Wood, texted to tell him that the coast was clear.
“Leaving in the AM will look less fishy,” Wood told him.
“No crew please,” Fenech told his captain.
A text message sent by Wood indicated that the plan was for him to accompany Fenech to Sicily by boat, and then return to Malta via catamaran. Fenech would proceed overland.
Fenech was also making arrangements to find a place to rent in France, text messages read out by Arnaud indicated.
He texted a person named Esmee Kamminga to ask about renting a house in France.
“I pay cash. No papers. Just me, I need private,” he told him.
Kamminga said one was available in Nice.
“Super,” Fenech replied.
Arnaud said that while investigators had pieced together Fenech’s plans using his text exchanges with his uncle and brother, Fenech had himself summarised that plan – to escape by boat and then proceed to France - in a text he sent to an unnamed third party.
Text conversations between Fenech and his mother indicated that he had already considered moving overseas, to the US, months prior. He had even looked into properties and schools that his children could attend, Arnaud said.
Other chat conversations which Arnaud cited in court shed light on Fenech’s wealth and suggested that he found it relatively easy to move huge sums of money overseas.
In the messages, Fenech spoke about moving tens of thousands of euro in suitcases and paying for large transactions in cash.
An April 2019 conversation, for instance, featured Fenech telling a contact that he needed “200k” to go abroad with.
“Imagine me going abroad with 200k in the cash desk,” the contact quipped in reply.
Other conversations suggested that Fenech had access to money in Dubai.
In a conversation with a horse trader in France named Fabrice Souloy, Fenech told him to check “because I sent 146k yesterday from Dubai”.
Another conversation with a man named Albertazzi involved Fenech discussing cheques issued by Dubai-based Noor Bank, in UAE dinars, for “substantial sums”, Arnaud said.
Fenech's request to hack a phone
Another court has previously heard how Fenech tried to buy weapons and ammunition online, using sites on the dark web and paying for the firearms using bitcoin, in November 2018.
That same day, Fenech had also emailed a person to ask about the possibility of hacking a third party’s phone, Arnaud revealed in court. He was assured that the hack would be undetectable.
Arnaud told the court that investigators do not know who the hacking target was, but said they believed the attempt had to be seen “in the context” of Vince Muscat (il-Koħħu) having a pardon bid rejected and that prosecutors at the time were considering how to proceed with Melvin Theuma.
Muscat has since pleaded guilty to being one of the hitmen who killed Caruana Galizia and is serving a 15-year sentence.
Theuma has been given a presidential pardon in exchange for testimony about the case. He says that Fenech gave him €150,000 to pay hitmen to murder Caruana Galizia.
As Arnaud testified, Fenech’s lawyer Charles Mercieca argued that there were signs of “systemic coordination” between the prosecution and lawyers representing the Caruana Galizia family.
“When we get to jury stage, no one in Malta will be able to state with a clear conscience that Yorgen Fenech has had a fair trial,” he argued.
State advocate Chris Soler rebutted that claim, as did parte civile lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia.
The case continues on September 17.
Judge Miriam Hayman presided.
Lawyers Charles Mercieca, Gianluca Caruana Curran and Marion Camilleri represented Fenech.
State advocate Chris Soler represented the state.
Lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia and Jason Azzopardi represented the Caruana Galizia family.
As it happened
Live blog ends
1.34pm This live blog will end here. Thank you for having joined us. Check back shortly for a summary of the day's testimony.
Next hearing on September 17
1.33pm Legal arguments are over and the hearing is concluded for the day.
The case will resume on September 17 at 10am.
Arguments over Grixti
1.20pm The two sides are arguing over news reports on Thursday about judge Grixti having bought a boat from Fenech’s late father back in 2008.
Mercieca says that parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi had insulted the judge on Facebook and written to the chief justice.
Comodini Cachia says that it is the defence that appears to be casting aspersions on the judge. “The defence seems to want to present Grixti’s decree as though implying that he was influenced,” she says.
1.10pm We’re onto legal arguments here.
Soler presents a transcript of a press conference given by the police commissioner, which was referred to in the original application of this case.
Comodini Cachia tells the court she has compiled a list of local and foreign judgements that make reference to concerns about a bail decision sparking a public outcry.
Fenech’s lawyers say that the bill of indictment against their client was published in full and that headlines screamed “AG asks for life imprisonment”.
That will influence jurors, they say, and was “intimidation” (of judge Giovanni Grixti who heard Fenech’s most recent, failed bail application).
Comodini Cachia rebuts by suggesting judge Grixti be summoned as a witness, to ask him if he was intimidated, as Fenech’s lawyers are implying. She never had any doubts about any member of the judiciary being unduly influenced, she adds.
12.58pm Mercieca again implies that the prosecution and parte civile are in cahoots. He says he saw Arnaud and parte civile lawyers outside, taking notes together.
“Before testifying today, how many times did you meet parte civile to prepare?” he asks Arnaud.
Comodini Cachia brushes off that implication. “Every day!” she exclaims.
Yorgen Fenech and Paris properties
12.53pm Comodini Cachia cites another chat message to ask Arnaud: “Are you aware that Yorgen Fenech bought a house in Paris?”
Arnaud says he is not, but that he will check and testify further about it at a later date if needed.
The judge drily remarks that this alleged purchase "involves many more zeroes" than the previous property deal mentioned in court today.
Comodini Cachia has questions for Arnaud
12.52pm It’s not over yet, though: Comodini Cachia has questions.
She asks about a chat Yorgen Fenech had with his brother Franco, who was using a phone number that Yorgen had saved as ‘papà’.
“We need to prepare a car. We can’t rent and run away with it,” he wrote. Does Arnaud confirm this?
Mercieca interjects to argue that she is trying to get a good headline.
The judge tells the parte civile to respect article 6 [the right to a fair hearing].
Comodini Cachia asks whether Arnaud or Zahra ever asked for criminal proceedings against Fenech to be deferred. Arnaud says no, that both he and Zahra always attended hearings scheduled in court.
Arnaud to be cross-examined
12.48pm Mercieca insists the chat conversations were banned.
Comodini Cachia says that the hard drive containing the chats cannot be shared with third parties, but that parts of those chats were made public in other prior testimony.
The judge seems satisfied with that explanation and moves on to setting a date for Fenech’s lawyers to cross-examine Arnaud.
That date is set for September 15.
Banned or not?
12.45pm Arnaud tells the court that is everything that he had to present.
In reply to questions by the judge, he confirms that all that he has presented in this case forms part of the records of other cases in which Fenech’s bail was refused.
Charles Mercieca claims that some of the emails that Arnaud read out were subject to a court ban. Comodini Cachia says that’s not true and that they featured in testimony given before other courts.
The judge makes it clear that all that it wants to ensure is that the criminal courts had all this data when they were deciding upon bail.
Noor Bank cheques and Albertazzi
12.38pm Arnaud tells the court of another chat conversation that Fenech had with a man named Albertazzi. It concerned cheques of “substantial sums” issued in UAE dinars by Noor Bank.
Fenech orders weapons online
12.35pm With that legal tussle out of the way, Arnaud can continue testifying.
On November 26, 2018, an email exchange showed an order to buy weapons and ammunition. Payment was made, using bitcoin and the items were to be addressed to Portomaso tower.
But the goods never reached their destination.
Earlier that year, on April 3, Fenech had done some research about where he could buy cyanide. He placed an order and received a parcel tracking number, along with a message saying the order had shipped “Ukraine time”.
Soler asks where Fenech placed the order. Arnaud says it was on a dark web site.
State advocate responds
12.31pm State advocate Chris Soler’s turn to respond. He categorically denies the defence’s claims of any alleged prejudice against Fenech and notes that it was Fenech himself who filed this case.
“It’s not true that these courts are being used to deviate the course of justice,” he tells the court.
He notes that laws regarding bail make reference to the character of the accused.
Comodini Cachia responds
12.28pm Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia makes some observations of her own.
She denies the allegations made by the defence team (of any sort of collusion with prosecutors) and says Mercieca is fabricating a claim about pre-trial publicity.
“There is no prejudice if the witness is repeating what Yorgen Fenech himself said,” she tells the court.
Mercieca minutes his objection
12.24pm Mercieca takes the judge up on her suggestion.
He minutes his objection: he was contacted by a journalist yesterday about a matter which Arnaud testified about today.
"This is clearly part of coordinated siege against Yorgen Fenech, to use the courts to generate headlines as part of a virulent campaign against Fenech," he minutes.
'Nobody can say Fenech got a fair trial'
12.22pm Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca tells the court that a journalist contacted Fenech’s defence team yesterday, asking about this alleged hacking attempt.
“How did the journalist know yesterday what Arnaud was going to testify about today?” he asks. He says this is a sign of “systemic coordination between the prosecution and parte civile” and is further evidence of the pre-trial prejudice his client has suffered.
“We know what the headlines will be in the coming days,” Mercieca says. “When we get to jury stage, no one in Malta will be able to state with a clear conscience that Yorgen Fenech has had a fair trial.”
The judge tells Mercieca he may minute his concerns.
Attempts to hack somebody's phone
12.20pm Fenech had another exchange with a person in which he enquired about hacking somebody’s phone, Arnaud says.
The contact told Fenech that he would run a “penetration test” first. The test and hack would be completely undetectable so the target would never know, he assured Fenech.
The judge wants to know why this is relevant.
Arnaud says all this happened on November 25, 2018 – the same day that Fenech tried to buy weapons and cyanide. At the time, the prosecution was exploring its options after Vince Muscat il-Koħħu was denied a pardon, he says.
“The attempt to hack the phone of a third party that is still unknown to us must be seen in this context,” he says.
It's all French to me
12.14pm Arnaud says that a document in French lists amounts of €146,000 and €60,000.
Defence lawyers argue that numbers make no sense alone. “How can you expect him to understand a document written in French?” they ask the court.
Judge Miriam Hayman, however, does speak French. She tells the lawyers that she will read the document herself.
Arnaud says it is dated September 2019 and concerns a place abroad that Fenech had set his sights on.
Fenech told third party about his plan
12.12pm In another text conversation with an unnamed third party, Fenech laid out his plan to escape by boat and then travel to France, Arnaud says. This conversation reflects his conversations with his uncle Ray.
Money in Dubai
12.07pm Arnaud continues with his testimony.
He tells the court that another chat with horse trader Fabrice Souloy indicated Fenech had money in Dubai.
In the conversation, Fenech asked Souloy to check “because I sent 146k yesterday from Dubai”.
Argument over personal chats
12.04pm Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca wants the court to ban publication of any personal chat conversations. He says Fenech’s children and relatives will end up reading them.
The judge asks the defence what is so insensitive about Fenech planning for his children’s future abroad.
“If anything, all Arnaud has said so far shows a father’s interest in his kids’ wellbeing,” she notes.
Fenech floated idea of moving to the US
11.58am Arnaud says that another chat conversation in January [of 2019] between Fenech and his mother indicated that he planned to move to the USA.
Fenech’s defence lawyers say the conversation is being misinterpreted.
State advocate Chris Soler asks Arnaud to only read out the relevant sections.
His mother urged him to “remain in Malta as a base and do something away from our shores.”
“If you leave, I will leave too. I…. some millions,” she told him. [Arnaud struggles to read a word in the sentence].
Fenech told his mother about business and said that by leaving he would be giving his children an opportunity “at a better future”.
The judge wants to know how this conversation is relevant to the case. It’s dated February 2019, which is “quite some time ahead of the planned escape,” the judge notes.
Arnaud: “Yes, but it shows Yorgen Fenech’s contacts. He already had options beforehand.”
Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia interjects: The chats must be seen as a whole, she says. There were conversations about properties being viewed abroad, schools for the kids, tax regimes. There was a whole plan to move country.
'I need 200k'
11.53am The chats make reference to suitcases and physically moving cash, Arnaud explains.
He cites another conversation with that same contact, dated April 24, 2019.
Fenech told him “See how you can sort out 500, 200 and 100 because I need to go abroad with that.”
The contact said he would check and asked Fenech how much he needed.
“200k,” came the reply.
“Imagine me going abroad with 200k in the cash desk,” the contact wrote in reply.
Arnaud: All this is relevant because it reveals how Fenech had easy contacts and cash.
Fenech's horse trading
11.48am Soler asks about Fenech’s assets.
Arnaud says Fenech had assets and money abroad.
All this, including his foreign network of contacts was taken into consideration when it came to arguing against bail, Arnaud said.
“What we saw was black on white,” Arnaud says.
Arnaud cites Fenech’s contacts with a Nicholas Cachia about trips to France. And chats about him spending “substantial sums, thousands” on buying horses in cash.
Soler asks what he means by “substantial sums”.
Arnaud: Fenech had told Cachia to “tell him I’m coming with 70 in cash in a suitcase.”
In another chat in February 2019 with a man working with Fenech, he discussed renting a place in France. The chat illustrated how easily Fenech did business abroad and how he moved money overseas, Arnaud says.
The rental in France was for €6,600 in cash. The money was given to another person. The chat also mentioned another “100,000”, but not the currency.
Schembri to Fenech: 'Nothing is going to happen'
11.43am Another chat, over encrypted app Signal, was with a number used by Keith Schembri. The two spoke on the eve of Fenech’s arrest.
Screenshots were taken of those chats, Arnaud explains.
Keith Schembri gave Fenech feedback.
“Stay calm. Nothing is going to happen,” he told him.
'I need a house. No papers'
11.41am Arnaud says there were text exchanges with another number formerly used by his late father, which his brother Franco was using.
There was more talk about the planned escape between these two.
Another chat was with a person whose contact was saved as “pilot of Stan”.This person seemed to be involved or had contact with airlines
Fenech reached out to this person on November 19 to check about flights to Nice.
That same day, at 11am, Fenech texted a Nicholas Kessler to ask “Hello my friend, is the house available?”
“Yes my friend “ Kessler replied, quoting the price for one week for four persons.That chat ended there.
In another chat with a person saved as Esmee Kamminga, Fenech asked about property in France.
“Find a small place for me. No publicity. I pay cash. Two weeks. No papers. Arriving Thursday.”
“Just me,” Fenech said, saying that he preferred a house to a hotel. “I need private.”
Esmee told him he had one in Nice.
“Super” Fenech replied.
'Tracking is on'
11.37am Fenech then apparently went for a stroll with his wife and texted Wood to tell him that the marina was busy and that he would come at around midnight.
Later, at 1.25am, Fenech told him. “I come down at 4. Make sure it’s open please.”
Wood told him the boat’s AIS [boat tracker] was now on.
“OK. Better,” Fenech replied.
Another message: “There are people taking pictures. So don’t take that pouch to the engine room because it will look bad. They’ll think we’re going to make a grand escape.”
'Make sure coast is clear'
11.34am At 8pm, Logan Wood told him “I think they’re gone now.”
Wood said that the photographer had mentioned getting a tip off from some apartment owner there.
Fenech told his captain to ensure that boat tracking devices were switched off.
“Yes, off. Coast clear,” Wood replied.
“OK, make sure coast is 100% clear.”
'Don't come now. There's the Times'
11.31am Arnaud reads from a chat Yorgen Fenech had with a contact listed as ‘Logan Riva’.
“No crew please,” he told his boat captain. “I’m coming down in 10 minutes.”
Logan told him: “In reality, leaving AM will look less fishy.”
At 7pm, Fenech told him. “I’m coming down now.”
Logan replied: “Don’t come. There’s a Times photographer. Now two of them.”
"If they ask, say the boat is due for maintenance."
Planning for a private jet
11.28am He cites a ‘Merwan’ talking to Fenech about private jets.
Fenech asked enquired about any available jets “as I have a last minute offer for breakfast in Monaco and I wouldn’t want to miss it.”
He told Merwan that he could be at the airport in “30 minutes max”.
He was told that the cheapest option was €12,000 plus, and replied that price was not an issue but that he was considering logistics.
Then, at 8.21pm, Fenech texted again to say “sorry, cancelled”. He had decided to take the boat.
Arnaud: 'There's more'
11.25am Soler asks Arnaud whether investigators looked into Fenech’s assets.Arnaud: “Yes, but before that, there’s more about his planned escape”.
'Times guys are here'
11.22am In another message, Ray texted “Times [of Malta] people are at Portomaso. Ivan told me.”
“Somebody must have alerted them,”..
This seems to have unnerved Fenech, who then switched to considering a private jet.
“Who tipped them off? I didn’t tell anyone, not even my brother.”
“Ivan told me, because he was in the newsroom and heard them mention it.”
Ivan told him that they were tipped off by somebody in an apartment.“They left now,” Ivan told Ray.
'K told me nothing will happen today'
11.18am There’s a reference to a horse trainer, and the text messages suggest the plan was to go from Sicily to France, to stay at a place he had rented before.
His uncle asked him “Did you speak to K?”
Yorgen Fenech replied: “Yes. He told me to stay calm. Nothing is going to move today.’ [Qalli żomm kalm. M'hu se jiċċaqlaq xejn illum].
Arnaud tells the court that investigators found that chat with Keith Schembri.
11.16am At 11.50am, Yorgen told him uncle “please uncle, ditch me, I don’t deserve it. But keep an eye on my kids.” [Please uncle lili armini għax ma ħaqqnix. Imma zomm għajnejk fuq uliedi”]
“Be safe,” his uncle told him. “Gain time”.
In another message, he urged his nephew to “be careful” when using credit cards.
'Giannella on the way. She's accepted'
11.15am His uncle Ray sent him a link to a Malta Today story about a pardon being recommended for Melvin Theuma.
“Giannella on the way now. She’s accepted,” another text message read.
Ray asked Yorgen if he had money on him. Yorgen told him he did, at home.
11.13am While Yorgen Fenech chatted with his uncle Ray, he also had another conversation with his brother, Franco.
“Get out,” [Fittex itlaq] Franco urged him.
Proceeding overland from Sicily
11.12am Fenech’s captain, Logan Wood, said that he and Fenech were to take the boat to Pozzallo [Sicily].
Wood would then take the catamaran back to Mata, without Fenech, who was making arrangements to proceed overland from there.
The chat messages make mention of a car rental and a Mark Cuschieri, too.
'Better by boat'
11.10am In the chats, there was talk of Paris. Fenech also looked up other places, Arnaud says, though in different contexts, concerning property overseas.
At 10am, his uncle asked him if he checked whether the airport was safe.
“I don’t trust it,” Yorgen replied. “Better by boat.”
'Speak to K'
11.07am He told his uncle that he wanted to speak to her “but she hasn’t called yet”.
At 9.36am, he told his uncle that “if I’m picked up in the EU, I’ll end up in Europol’s hands”.
There was a message that investigators took as a reference to Keith Schembri: “speak to K to see if the airport is safe. And exit from the VIP [lounge].”
The MIA CEO told Fenech that it was not possible for him to leave discreetly.
'Let me speak to Giannella'
11.04am One of the key text conversations began on November 18, with a link to a report about a press conference. That conversation continued until he was arrested. Its transcript stretches to 20 pages.
Soler asks Arnaud to read out salient parts.
“There may be developments,” Fenech’s uncle Ray told him.
Fenech told him he wouldn’t hurry and wanted to “speak to Giannella”. [A reference to Giannella de Marco, a lawyer and the mother of Fenech’s lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran].
Fenech said he had asked de Marco to go to his home. “I want to speak to her properly before I leave,” he wrote.
That was on November 19, at 9.16am.
Ray told Yorgen that he had spoken to her.
Trying to leave
11.01am Arnaud goes on regardless.
There was talk of switching off boat equipment, and references to cash.
Fenech mentioned contacting a lawyer. He spoke to the Malta International Airport CEO, to ask if he could go through the VIP lounge.
All these chats led to suspicions that he planned to escape, Arnaud says.
Plans to leave Malta, fix money
10.59am Fenech was arrested early on November 20, 2019.
The chat messages which investigators extracted showed them what was happening that day, Arnaud says. Chats involved Fenech, his uncle Ray and his brother Franco.
They outlined how Fenech planned to leave Malta, how to arrange money and so on.
Fenech’s lawyers are keen on stopping this line of testimony.
“No need to cite the chat messages, just present the document,” lawyer Charles Mercieca says.
Chat messages 'were a cause of concern'
10.57am Arnaud tells the court about how investigators analysed digital data concerning Fenech and the case.
“Chats were a cause of concern,” he says, noting a pattern of chat messages around the time of his arrest, starting on November 19, 2019.
Fenech had not been arrested at the time, but Melvin Theuma – the taxi driver who has said that Fenech paid him to have Caruana Galizia killed – was.
Keith Arnaud testifies
10.52am As expected, Arnaud is the first witness. State advocate Chris Soler is the one asking questions.
Arnaud tells the court that he is one of two main investigators on the Caruana Galizia case, along with Kurt Zahra. The case is an ongoing one.
He and Zahra also handle the prosecution of Fenech, assisted by the attorney general.
Arnaud gives the court a rundown of the case so far.
Yorgen Fenech sits this one out
10.48am Yorgen Fenech has informed the court that he will not be attending today’s hearing, the court says.His lawyers approach the bench and explain his reasons, in private. The court says that the explanation is accepted.
Court hearing yet to begin
10.42am The case was scheduled to begin at 10.30am, but a previous case is still ongoing. People - and other journalists - are gathering outside the courtroom, waiting to enter.
Who are the key players?
10.35am Yorgen Fenech: a business tycoon and heir to a family fortune, who stands accused of complicity in Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder. He has filed today's case.
Keith Arnaud: A superintendent and the police officer who is leading the murder investigation.
Kurt Zahra: A police inspector who is assisting Arnaud in the murder investigation.
Chris Soler: The state advocate.
Gianluca Caruana Curran, Marion Camilleri, Charles Mercieca: Yorgen Fenech's legal team;
Jason Azzopardi, Therese Comodini Cachia: lawyers appearing for the Caruana Galizia family.
Miriam Hayman: The judge presiding over this case in the constitutional court.
10.32am Good morning and welcome to this live blog. We're outside hall 17 of the Valletta law courts, where judge Miriam Hayman will preside over a constitutional case filed by Fenech's lawyers.
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