Yorgen Fenech had told police that former minister Chris Cardona allegedly told him he killed Daphne Caruana Galizia, a lead murder investigator told court on Monday.
Superintendent Keith Arnaud took the witness stand in a case for damages filed by the heirs of the assassinated journalist in October 2020 against a number of players allegedly involved in the 2017 murder plot.
The case was originally instituted against business tycoon Yorgen Fenech, who stands accused of alleged complicity, alleged hitmen George and Alfred Degiorgio, self-confessed and former co-accused hitman Vincent Muscat, as well as Melvin Theuma, the self-confessed middleman granted a presidential pardon in exchange for information about the murder.
At a later stage of the proceedings, Ta’ Maksar brothers Robert and Adrian Agius, as well as their associate Jamie Vella, as alleged suppliers of the explosive material used to kill the journalist, were joined as defendants upon the request of the Caruana Galizia family.
Arnaud gave an overview of the investigations which kicked off immediately after the October 16 car bomb murder, explaining how police closed in on the three alleged hitmen in December 2017.
Fresh evidence, coupled with information supplied by Muscat il-Koħħu, brought about new developments in May and June 2018.
That was when Theuma’s name first cropped up.
The man evidently “knew a lot” and his role as a middleman between the businessman and the Degiorgios emerged.
Investigations continued until his arrest in November 2019, followed by that of Fenech five days later.
Holding tight to his secret voice recordings, which mainly featured his conversations with Fenech, Theuma asked for a pardon, promising to divulge all he knew about the murder.
At that stage, Theuma had not yet disclosed any names, only telling police that he could name the person who instructed him and who gave him money for the hit.
Theuma wanted to give 'first-hand' information
Fearing that he would be “tricked,” Theuma refused to divulge any information before his lawyers signed an agreement with the Prime Minister, the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General assuring him of the pardon in exchange for “first-hand” information.
Once the deal was finalised, Theuma said that it was Fenech who ordered him to seek out the Degiorgios to carry out the murder and when the hitmen came back with their asking price, Fenech gave Theuma the requested sum of €150,000.
In the months that followed, Fenech allegedly forked out a further “half a million to €600,000,” to the Degiorgios, Theuma told investigators.
Following his arrest, Fenech also requested a pardon to tell all about the murder.
But police ultimately advised the relative authorities that a pardon ought to be granted to Theuma.
In his statements, Fenech confirmed that he had handed over €150,000 to Theuma and “much more money in the following months,” but insisted that he did so “for someone else.”
He did not name that “someone else”, later explaining that at the time of his first version, he was still hoping to get the pardon he had been promised by former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Under cross-examination by Fenech’s lawyer Anna Mallia, Arnaud said that Theuma had also mentioned Keith Schembri, Kenneth Camilleri and Johann Cremona.
Police spoke to all three and Schembri was also arrested.
Theuma told police that he believed that Fenech would try to “eliminate him” by getting help from his chief-of-staff friend.
Since he was the only one who collected money from Fenech, Theuma believed that by getting rid of him they would cancel all proof.
Although Theuma had written Schembri’s name “on a paper” in relation to the murder, under questioning he insisted that he never spoke to the then chief-of-staff about the case.
When his request for a pardon was rejected, Fenech claimed that he had handed over money to the middleman only because Schembri told him to.
“So you didn’t believe Fenech,” remarked Mallia: “and didn’t you arraign Schembri?”
“No, because that statement was not enough,” replied Arnaud.
'I killed her'
Asked about Fenech and Schembri’s common friend, doctor Adrian Vella, Arnaud said that he too was arrested and interrogated about his alleged involvement in delivering a letter from Schembri to Fenech, while the latter was under police bail.
Vella confirmed that Schembri told him to collect a paper from a table at his Mellieħa home and “give it to Yorgen Fenech”, but he had no idea what that “paper” contained.
Schembri denied that, Arnaud continued.
Fenech had also told police that former minister Chris Cardona allegedly told him: “I killed her” (dik jien qtiltha).
Police investigated that claim too but, besides Fenech’s statement, they had nothing else.
So why was a pardon granted to Theuma and not Fenech, asked Mallia.
Theuma’s information was corroborated by evidence gathered over two years prior to his arrest, and moreover, Fenech’s own version did not contradict that of the middleman.
Fenech confirmed the sums of money handed over to the middleman but told police that Cardona had told him that he “killed” Caruana Galizia.
Keith Schembri’s ‘missing’ phone
As for Schembri’s ‘missing’ phone, Arnaud said that police had still not found that device.
Nor had service providers told police whether that phone was ever switched on.
“Was there a communications list concerning Schembri and Fenech? Did you get the records? Is Schembri’s phone special?” persisted Fenech’s lawyer.
The phone appeared to have last been used at Mellieħa that same night that Schembri was arrested
Most of that communication took place via Signal or WhatsApp and that was not available through service providers, unlike SMSs and localisation data that was obtained, explained Arnaud.
“And you believed him when he told you it was lost ?” went on Mallia.
“It did sound strange. That’s why we investigated,” said Arnaud, adding that the phone appeared to have last been used at Mellieħa that same night that Schembri was arrested.
“Did you get any call asking if Fenech could leave by boat to Sicily," asked the lawyer.
“I definitely did not and I don’t recall any other team member asking about that.”
As for the murdered journalist’s laptop, Arnuad said that police had asked the inquiring magistrate to do everything possible to produce that device in evidence.
Asked whether he had asked the victim’s family or the German authorities to whom the laptop had been handed over, Arnaud insisted, “I asked the inquiring magistrate.”
The case, presided over by Madam Justice Anna Felice, continues in October.
Meanwhile, Theuma’s lawyers have filed an appeal against a decision denying their request for the State to be called as a defendant in the suit.
Lawyers Joseph Zammit Maempel and Eve Borg Costanzi are assisting the Caruana Galizia family.
Lawyers Anna Mallia, William Cuschieri, Alfred Abela and Rene Darmanin, Kathleen Calleja Grima and Matthew Brincat are assisting the respondents.