Labour deputy leader Chris Cardona has denied claims made in court linking him to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, describing them as lies and an attempt to frame him by those really involved in the crime.
On Monday, self-confessed murder middleman Melvin Theuma told a court one of the hitmen who allegedly killed Daphne Caruana Galizia had received €350,000 from the former economy minister.
Cardona’s number was also found saved on a mobile phone discovered on the seabed near potato sheds in Marsa, which police had raided in December 2017 when arresting the suspected hitmen.
Theuma was testifying in the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, who is facing prosecution over his alleged complicity in the murder of the journalist in October 2017.
He told the court that the money had been exchanged via a middleman, whose name began with 'B', between the former economy minister and Mario Degiorgio, the brother of George and Alfred Degiorgio.
The Degiorgio brothers and their associate Vince Muscat stand accused of planting the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia.
Answering questions by parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi, Theuma said that, besides the money forked out by Fenech, Alfred Degiorgio had been paid a further €350,000 by Cardona.
'Nonsense, based on lies'
Contacted for his reaction shortly after the court proceedings ended, Cardona issued a denial, and said that the testimony was based on hearsay.
"This is nonsense, based on lies that don't even make sense," he said.
He said it was also likely to be part of an attempt to pin the murder on him, by those who he said were really responsible.
Cardona served as economy minister until January when new Prime Minister Robert Abela left him out of Cabinet.
Theuma said the money had exchanged hands by means of a go-between whose name began with ‘B’, Theuma said.
“Could it be Toni l-Biglee?” prompted Dr Azzopardi.
“I don’t know,” replied Theuma, confirming however that he had been shown a photo of the man by “either Yorgen Fenech or Johann Cremona” as well as by the police.
Cardona's number on hitman's phone
What he did know was that Fenech had told him about a mobile recovered by police from the sea, close to the Marsa potato sheds, following the December 4 raids.
Two numbers were saved on that phone: one belonging to former minister Cardona and the other to Alfred Degiorgio.
In reaction, Cardona told Times of Malta he had "no knowledge" of his phone number being on another phone and had not been questioned about it by the police.
The court also heard how Fenech had told Theuma that Cardona had been admitted to hospital for an overdose after the journalist’s murder, saying he had heard the minister was crumbling under worry.
"He was worried because of Daphne's murder. Fenech told me he had swallowed some pills and that is why he was admitted to hospital. He was quite sure of what he was saying,” Theuma said.
Again, Cardona denied that he had ever suffered a drug overdose or indeed been admitted to hospital for one.
Cardona said he believed he had been a victim of an attempt to frame him for the murder.
'Let's link it to Cardona'
During his testimony, Theuma recalled how Fenech had told him that once after court, while in the prison van, the Degiorgio brothers had said “let's link it to Cardona” and that correctional officers had overheard them and recorded them.
Back in Novemeber 2019, Times of Malta reported how cabinet discussed concerns that Fenech and former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri had tried to frame Cardona for the murder.
The ministers had discussed a four-page note allegedly written by Schembri, which claimed that Cardona had offered to help criminals smuggle contraband cigarettes in exchange for carrying out Caruana Galizia’s murder.
The note was handed to investigators by Fenech, who says he first received it from an associate of Schembri’s while he was already in police custody.
Lawyer David Gatt, who used to work in Cardona’s legal office, was also mentioned by Theuma in connection with the murder plot.
'Fantasy,' claims lawyer
During Monday’s testimony, Theuma also brought up the name of lawyer and former inspector David Gatt, who had allegedly once relayed a message to the Degiorgios, warning that if “they were to pin the blame on Cardona, he would kill them.”
Contacted about the claims, Gatt said: “This is fantasy”.
Gatt said he had only seen Mario Degiorgio a few times in court, with their interactions not extending beyond a “good morning”.
On his relationship with Cardona, Gatt said it was a known fact that between 2005 and 2010, he had worked at Cardona’s office.
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