Murder suspect Yorgen Fenech had sent out feelers in 2016 about a €2 million proposal to buy The Malta Independent with hotelier Silvio Debono.
Slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who wrote about both men’s business interests, derived her main source of income from the newspapers and its publications, family members have confirmed.
Contacted by Times of Malta, a spokesman for the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation said the proposed buyout would have left Ms Caruana Galizia more vulnerable to “their attacks”.
At the time of the approach, The Malta Independent had access to the Panama Papers, which laid bare plans by former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri and former energy and tourism minister Konrad Mizzi to receive up to $2 million from 17 Black, owned by Yorgen Fenech.
The 17 Black e-mail had not yet been unearthed when the proposed buyout was being discussed. It was only revealed in 2018 by the Daphne Project.
We exercised caution from the outset
Mr Debono had slapped Ms Caruana Galizia with 19 libel suits in 2017 following a series of articles by the journalist about a transfer of prime public land at the St George’s Bay shoreline.
Mr Fenech was last November charged with complicity in the journalist’s murder, who was killed in a car bombing in October 2017.
A spokesman for Mr Debono confirmed to Times of Malta that db Group had been approached by Mr Fenech in 2016 to gauge interest in a “joint investment” in The Malta Independent.
Mr Debono never played an active role in the proposed buyout, the spokesman said, adding that it was understood that Mr Fenech was representing Tumas Group.
A source familiar with the proposal on the Tumas Group end said the idea was effectively vetoed by Ray Fenech, Yorgen Fenech’s uncle, as the group had no knowledge or interest in the media industry.
A second source said former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri was “aware” of the proposal at the time it was being made.
Questioned if Mr Schembri had played a role in orchestrating the proposed buyout, Mr Debono’s spokesman said db Group understood they were dealing exclusively with Tumas Group on a financial level.
The spokesman said Mr Schembri did not have any involvement with them and neither was he involved in any way in subsequent meetings with Tumas Group.
After two “exploratory meetings”, db Group abandoned the plan as the proposal was not financially viable, the spokesman said.
“In addition, the media sector was never part of our group’s strategic growth targets. Consequently, we exercised caution from the outset,” the spokesman said.
Replying to questions by Times of Malta, a spokesman for company management at The Malta Independent said it was common knowledge in media circles that there had been an approach by Mr Fenech “around 2015” to buy the publication.
“At no stage had there been any mention whatsoever of Keith Schembri nor of Ms Caruana Galizia,” the spokesman said, when questioned if either individuals were ever mentioned vis-à-vis the deal.
The spokesman said the approach, which was one of various others, fell through as the shareholders of The Independent chose not to proceed with discussions.
Matthew Caruana Galizia, one of Ms Caruana Galizia's sons, said Mr Fenech's attempt to buy the newspaper was intended "for the sole reason of cutting off her main source of income".
"When that didn't work, he moved on to hire hitmen," he wrote on Facebook.