Former prime minister Joseph Muscat's name was mentioned in secret recordings between two men suspected of being involved in orchestrating the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The taped conversations between alleged murder mastermind Yorgen Fenech and the self-confessed middleman Melvin Theuma were played in court on Wednesday.
In one, Mr Fenech describes the impact of a series of stories Ms Caruana Galizia wrote about the cancer diagnoses of Dr Muscat's then chief of staff, Keith Schembri.
"All of them were fuming about it, including Joseph".
Mr Theuma said the pair were also discussing how police had got to know who killed the journalist.
It was one of the revelations in the latest hearings in the compilation of evidence against Mr Fenech, who stands accused of conspiring to kill the journalist in a car bomb in October 2017.
The hearing revealed:
- Joseph Muscat was named at one point by Yorgen Fenech during the secretly recorded conversations. The phrase, translated from Maltese is: "They told me that they are going to catch her. They told me a hundred times they would catch her. All of them were fuming including Joseph and everyone else".
- The former prime minister is referred to as "ix-xiħ (the old man) in another recording. This time it's Fenech claiming that the prime minister's former chief of staff Keith Schembri went to speak to a judge, now retired judge Mizzi, on behalf of "ix-xiħ" about bail for the murder accused.
- The recordings refer to Valletta l-oħxon, which Theuma says is a reference to former deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta. Theuma claims Valletta gave information about the murder to Fenech.
- Keith Schembri 'froze' when he heard from Yorgen Fenech about the murder, Fenech claims in the tapes. Schembri allegedly told him: 'before doing what you did you ought to have come to me.'
1.20pm There's a discussion about how the other recordings are to be dealt with. Inspector Arnaud says that three quarters have no speech, are very brief or were deleted.
The case is adjourned until Thursday, February 13.
In a few minutes, we'll have a summary above about today's revelations.
'Schembri spoke to judge on behalf of Joseph Muscat'
1.14pm There's a reference to a 'Mizzi' in the recordings. Theuma says this is about Judge Antonio Mizzi, who is now retired.
Theuma says he had a message to relay to the Degiorgios about bail.
“Ġejt nitkixxef minhabba x-xiħ (I came to find out because of the old man),” Fenech tells Theuma in the recording.
Ix-xiħ (the old man) refers to Joseph Muscat, Theuma says. He says that Fenech told him Schembri had gone to Judge Mizzi on behalf of Joseph Muscat about bail for the Degiorgio brothers.
'I would throw her away without feeling sorry'
1.11pm Daphne is referred to in the recordings.
“I would throw a woman like her, down from here and I wouldn’t feel sorry,” Fenech is heard saying.
Asked to explain, Theuma says this refers to Daphne and it was after the murder when the pair were at Fenech's high-rise home in Level 21, Portomaso.
The Girgenti birthday party
1pm The magistrate is asking more about the line in the recordings that refers to former prime minister Joseph Muscat. "Who was 'indannati (the fuming)"?
"I don’t know. Keith and Joseph?" Theuma replies.
Lawyer Jason Azzopardi asks about last February and the birthday party the former prime minister held in his summer residence at Girgenti. At the time of the party, Theuma was on good terms with Fenech.
"Do you know about the party at Girgenti?"
"Yes I remember. I had driven him to the airport after that party," Theuma says.
But he says he knew nothing about a person who allegedly told Fenech at that party “to watch out because Melvin Theuma was talking”.
"I don’t remember him telling me about that," Theuma replies.
In the recording, Fenech speaks about “those who were the worst”, “those in the middle” and “these” (the upper level).
"Who was Fenech referring to there?" Azzopardi asks.
"I swear Yorgen was referring to the hitmen, the middleman, i.e myself, and himself," Theuma replies.
"Didn’t you ever ask to clarify when things were not clear?" the magistrate asks.
"No I didn’t."
Joseph Muscat is mentioned in Daphne murder tapes
12.55pm Joseph Muscat's name is mentioned in an unclear context.
“Qalli dawn waslu ta. Għax qalli mitt darba ħa jaqbduha. Indannati kienu b’Joseph b’kollox,” reads the magistrate from the transcript.
The translation: "He told me that they have got to it. He told me 100 times they would capture her. All of them were fuming including Joseph and everyone else".
Theuma confirms that this was a reference to Joseph Muscat. This was a part of the conversation between Fenech and Theuma.
They were discussing Ms Caruana Galizia's blog posts about Schembri's cancer diagnosis.
Schembri had told Fenech that the police had got to discover who killed the journalist.
"Was this the only time Fenech mentioned Joseph Muscat?" he is asked.
"Yes, it was," Theuma says. When I once asked Fenech to talk to Joseph Muscat regarding the bail issue he told me “ma tarax! (as if).
Vince Muscat had information 'about seven murders'
12.47pm Theuma is now being asked about one of the three alleged murderers, Vince Muscat, referred to as il-koħħu.
Fenech told Theuma that lawyer Arthur Azzopardi had tried to convince il-koħħu to come clean. "You have a wife," Azzopardi had allegedly told his client. “They could still throw acid at her," Muscat had apparently said.
Theuma says il-koħħu had information on seven murders and was willing to reveal all except “the HSBC case". That was a hold-up in the Qormi bank centre ten years ago.
This was said by Fenech in the recording.
"Did he tell you they were car bombs?" Azzopardi asks.
Who built the bomb?
12.41pm Theuma is now being questioned about a text he got from Fenech telling him to go Żebbuġ. Why?
"Yorgen Fenech always insisted that the bomb had been manufactured by Maksar (a nickname for two Agius brothers from Żebbuġ)," says Theuma.
"So Yorgen knew who manufactured the bomb and you didn’t?" asks the magistrate.
Schembri 'froze' when Fenech told him about the murder
12.34pm They are discussing another part of the tapes. When Fenech told Schembri about the murder “kesaħ (he froze)", Theuma confirms when asked about this.
"How did you take that to refer to the murder?" the magistrate asks.
"When Yorgen Fenech told Keith Schembri about the bomb and so on, Schembri went cold and told Fenech 'before doing what you did you ought to have come to me,'" Theuma says.
Inspector Arnaud asks Theuma about a reference in the tapes to “he panicked...”.
"Who did?" Arnaud asks.
"Keith did," Theuma replies.
"Why did he panic? Did you reach these conclusions in your mind?" the magistrate intervenes.
More on Silvio Valletta
12.26pm Theuma is asked about the context of the second recording.
Theuma says Schembri told Fenech that he had sent Kenneth to speak to him.
Regarding the reference to “l-ieħor (the other one)”, Theuma says it was Silvio Valletta.
"It’s him 100%," Theuma insists. "Yorgen Fenech used to tell me that Valletta used to pass on information to him. He’ll be mentioned further on in the recordings."
Theuma says Fenech was not as close to Valletta as he was to Schembri."
'She said he would die'
12.10pm Fenech says: “It’s irrelevant. Whoever he sent to talk to you, it was for me."
The conversation continues: "Kissritu. Ħargitha li se jmut. Tliet xhur oħra ħa jmut. (She broke him. She said he would die in three months time)."
This might be in reference to a blog Daphne Caruana Galizia once wrote when she said Keith Schembri had cancer. But we aren't sure yet.
At one point Fenech says: "Mhux ħabib tiegħi bħal l-iehor. L-ieħor ħabib (not as good a friend like the other, the other is my friend".
There's also talk about the "Maksar people of Żebbuġ" (the alleged bomb makers).
They also discuss the issue of bail for the Degiorgios in this conversation and criminal lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, who apparently urged his client, murder suspect Vincent Muscat to speak to the police.
Second recording starts
12.03pm The second recording is being played in court. It begins with Yorgen Fenech's voice: “Alla ħares ngħidlek lil min qal (you'd be surprised if I told you who he told)".
There’s a reference to Keith Schembri but it’s not yet clear. Insepctor Keith Arnaud stops the recording because there seems to be some necessary clarification regarding the people indicated in the transcripts.
'I felt Kenneth was sent by Keith Schembri'
11.54am Theuma is asked about the three numbers that were shown to him allegedly by Kenneth Camilleri, when Kenneth accused Theuma of being the murder mastermind.
"Did Kenneth tell you where he had got those three numbers from? From the Malta Security Service?"
"No he didn’t."
"Did you ask about the other two numbers?" he is asked. He says one was his old mobile phone. But he didn’t ask about the other two.
Regarding Johann Cremona, the other OPM official present during the meeting, Theuma says they "spoke often" and met on a "daily basis".
"I used to go to his place, cry my heart out, tell him about my problems, told him I wanted to go for a pardon. He sought to calm me down and lent an ear," he says.
He is unable to answer questions about who sent Johann Cremona and Kenneth Camilleri to his house on the day of the bail promise.
"I felt Kenneth was sent by Keith Schembri," he says.
Once Kenneth told him on the phone: “serraħ moħħok għax il-pulizija ma jafu xejn fuqek” (don't worry, because the police don't know anything about you).
He says Kenneth and he met only twice.
Schembri sent photos of rabbits to Fenech
11.46am Theuma tells an anecdote to explain how Schembri and Fenech were "very, very good friends".
"The two often spoke over the phone in my presence. I recall a time when we were abroad and Keith Schembri sent Yorgen Fenech photos of the rabbit he was cooking at the time!"
11.43am Defence lawyers ask for authorization to have cross examination questions to Theuma limited to the recordings just played out. The request is upheld.
Theuma says the recording we have heard today is the first one he made of his conversations with Fenech. He is asked if Keith Schembri was mentioned in other conversations.
"Yes," he replies.
What we have learnt so far today
11.35am While we wait for the proceedings to continue. Here are a few things we have learnt.
- The first recording was played. It's one of 130 on a single file. It's a conversation between self-confessed murder middleman Melvin Theuma and alleged mastermind Yorgen Fenech;
- The conversation was about an alleged promise of bail for the men accused of carrying out the October 2017 assassination. The message was delivered by Joseph Muscat's former bodyguard Kenneth Camilleri;
- Former chief of staff Keith Schembri and his Mellieħa home are mentioned in the recordings with Theuma threatening to visit him if the bail pledge doesn't come through;
- For the first time, Theuma reveals a claim that former deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta gave information about the one of the murder accused to Yorgen Fenech.
11.25am We're about to hear the second recording. Proceedings are temporarily suspended while the magistrate goes to the chambers until technical matters are sorted out.
Keith Schembri court case
11.18am Back to the transcript of the recordings. In one, Fenech tells Theuma: "Tiegħu ma jistax jeħlisha (he can't get off the hook)”.
"What was this about?" Azzopardi asks.
Fenech had been referring to "some court case" Keith Schembri had, implying that Schembri had not managed to sort out his own case in court, let alone handle the bail issue regarding the Degiorgio brothers.
Theuma in the recording had spoken about a Chelsea game bought by Fenech. "Did he tell you who he went to it with?" Azzopardi asks. Theuma says: "No."
Theuma now turns on Azzopardi. He says that he had once called him when il-koħħu began to spill the beans telling him he wanted to talk to him about “the big case”.
Azzopardi was abroad at the time and told him to talk to fellow lawyer Karol Aquilina. "That’s as far back as I wanted to talk about the case," Theuma says.
The magistrate says that the question will be answered by Dr Azzopardi himself.
'Yorgen always kept his word'
11.11am Azzopardi presses on with questioning Theuma, reading from the transcript he has of the conversation we've heard in court.
Theuma confirms that in the recordings, Kenneth Camilleri is referred to as the “other” and the “postman”.
He is asked if he ever recorded his meetings with Mario and Alfred Degiorgio "to cover yoursef". He says no.
Yorgen Fenech says in the recording “what I promise, I carry out in full. I always keep my word.” Azzopardi asks about this.
"Yes, it’s true. Yorgen always kept his word. He helped the Degiorgios till the very end. I had just got €22K from him the Monday before," Theuma says.
This time the magistrate asks about the date. Theuma can't say.
A WhatsApp chat with Joseph Muscat
11.09am "Did Yorgen ever tell you of the friendship between Yorgen Fenech, Keith Schembri and Joseph Muscat?" Theuma is asked.
"I know nothing about Muscat," he replies.
"Did he ever tell you the three had a WhatsApp chat?" Azzopardi continues.
"No, he did not."
Reference to 'Keith' questioned
11.05am Theuma is asked to explain further about a reference to “Keith” in the recording.
"In the recording you told Fenech 'Keith said it to me'”, the magistrate points out. "Why?"
There’s no clear reply and they say they will return to that.
"I reached that conclusion because I knew that Yorgen Fenech and Keith Schembri were close friends. Not because I knew Kenneth was the driver of Muscat," Theuma replies.
'Silvio Valletta gave information to Fenech'
10.57am Jason Azzopardi, lawyer for the Caruana Galizia family, takes over the questioning. He begins by asking when the conversation occurred.
Theuma says it happened in 2018.
"Are you sure? There was a bail hearing on the 22nd before Giovanni Grixti last year, 2019," Azzopardi asks.
Theuma says he is not sure but il-koħħu began to "spill the beans" in 2018. So the conversation was probably round about then.
"Who told Yorgen Fenech that koħħu was spilling the beans?"
"It was Keith Schembri and (former deputy police commissioner) Silvio Valletta who told Yorgen Fenech," Theuma says.
Valletta was referred to as “Valletta l-oħxon” in one recording, Azzopardi suggests. Theuma agrees.
For background: Times of Malta revealed the close friendship between Valletta and Fenech last month. It lead to his wife's resignation as Gozo minister. Read more here.
Schembri would 'step into the fire' for Fenech
10.51am Theuma, still being questioned about the first of the recordings, says that Fenech later told him Kenneth Camilleri had been sent by Schembri, "who was willing to step into the fire" for his friend, Fenech.
He confirms that the reference to Mellieħa in the tapes is about Schembri's home.
Kenneth Camilleri's visits
10.46am Theuma returns to the subject of Kenneth Camilleri, who was an ex-bodyguard of former prime minister Joseph Muscat, and is often referred to simply as "Kenneth from OPM".
He says Camilleri returned the day after the bail promise, showed him a paper with three mobile phone numbers and told him: "You are the mastermind in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder."
“What are you saying! The mastermind is Yorgen Fenech” Theuma says he replied.
"What did he say then?" magistrate Rachel Montebello asks.
“Nothing. He told me nothing."
He said they didn't communicate again. All this happened "before the 22nd", the promised date for bail. However, Theuma doesn't know the month.
'I was sure he called Keith'
10.37am Theuma says that after the night spent drinking, he found a message from Fenech telling him to go to Maksar, who made the bomb that killed Ms Caruana Galizia.
"I swear that till today I don’t know who Maksar are," Theuma says.
Shortly after this, he says he was visited by Kenneth Camilleri and Johann Cremona. This was when the promise of bail for the Degiorgios was allegedly made.
"When Kenneth called someone, I was sure it was Keith Schembri since I believed he was the prime minister's driver," says Theuma.
"When Kenneth came back with the bail promise I firmly believed that he had called Keith Schembri."
He says he passed this message, which included a promised payment of €1 million, to Mario Degiorgio. "I went to his home and told him 'go hurry tell your brothers so that you put their mind at rest'".
Conversations happened 'after the assassination'
10.31am Theuma is now being asked about what has just been played out in court.
He says he has "no idea" of the date of the recording but that it happened after the assassination when he had gone to the airport for Fenech. (Theuma's job is a taxi driver, you'll remember.)
"I began to record him after il-koħħu (murder-accused Vince Muscat) was ready to spill the beans.
He explains that Fenech and Theuma had met at Fenech’s Żebbuġ farmhouse, where he revealed that Muscat was talking about Theuma.
"After that news, I spent the whole night drinking. I was depressed after knowing that il-koħħu had spoken to the police."
'Talk to Keith Schembri'
10.17am The first reference is made in the recordings to former prime minister Joseph Muscat's chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Theuma tells Fenech to talk to Schembri regarding bail for the Degiorgio brothers after another brother Mario Degiorgio got involved.
Fenech says he will.
"Speak to him this week or else I will take him to Mellieħa", Theuma says. We think he is referring to taking Mario Degiorgio to Keith Schembri's home in Mellieħa.
He now says: "If he doesn't keep his word I'll take him (Mario Degiorgio) to Keith." This time Keith Schembri is mentioned by name.
"Is it sure? Is it sure?" Theuma had asked Kenneth.
Kenneth had replied in the affirmative and told him to go tell the Degiorgios that same evening.
The conversation came to an end after an exchange of money between the men. The children, who are in the car for this conversation, ask if they are to go to school next day.
First recording begins
10.08am Theuma is back inside at the witness stand. The first recording is being heard. We'll describe what we hear for you.
So far it is just what sounds like a car engine running.
A door opens.
Male voices are heard, joined by children's voices. The car moves off. The talk is about football so far: Champions League, a Spanish team. Footballers Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are mentioned too.
Theuma steers the talk towards Daphne. There’s talk of a “million”, a pledge, the criminal lawyer Arthur Azzopardi and a message sent to “il-fulu” (a nickname referring to Alfred Degiorgio).
"What do I do now?" Theuma says.
"Kenneth ġie mis-sema" (Kenneth came out of nowhere) he says, possibly referring to a visit from Kenneth from OPM.
The recordings are about the promise of bail to the Degiorgios. The trip continues.
We will hear the recordings first and then Theuma will be questioned about them.
The cases in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder probe
10.00am While we wait, here's a recap of the ongoing court cases regarding the murder of the investigative journalist.
- The compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech
- The compilation of evidence against murder accused Alfred and George Degiorgio and Vince Muscat
- A case Yorgen Fenech is making in an attempt to remove inspector Keith Arnaud from the investigation.
As well as these, there is an ongoing inquiry into the circumstances around Ms Caruana Galizia's murder and whether the State could have prevented it.
Melvin Theuma momentarily takes the witness stand
9.56am Theuma, who has been granted a pardon in exchange for his evidence, takes his place at the witness stand. He's then asked to go back outside while everything is being sorted (all the parties have taken note of the transcripts and are marking them accordingly). Out he goes, walking behind the dock.
130 voice recordings in one file
9.46am Alvin Cardona, the court-appointed expert who worked on the recordings, is here to present copies to all parties.
The first witness is a court official, Margaret Debattista, who is tasked with producing the transcripts. She is giving a list of the files she has done so far.
She notes that when she writes "......” it’s because the speech was totally incomprehensible. She says that one file had 130 recordings.
Yorgen Fenech escorted into court
9.42am Under an escort of five heavily armed officers, Fenech has just been escorted into the room.
Unlike previous sittings, there is a row of Corradino Correction Facility officers separating the victim’s family from the dock. Last time there were some seating problems, so more benches have also been added.
Magistrate Rachel Montebello is presiding.
Waiting to begin
9.37am We have just been allowed into court and are waiting for proceedings to begin. We expect to hear recordings of conversations between Yorgen Fenech and Melvin Theuma but this time there will be transcripts, we are told, because the recordings previously heard in court were unclear.
The relatives of the murdered journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, are in court. Theuma is outside, waiting to be escorted in by plainclothes officers. Fenech has not yet been brought into the courtroom.
For reference, inspector Keith Arnaud is prosecuting. Lawyer Jason Azzopardi is assisting the victim's family. Lawyers Matthew Brincat and Kathleen Calleja Grima are assisting Theuma. Fenech's lawyers are Gianluca Caruana Curran and Marion Camilleri.
The latest in the compilation of evidence against Fenech is about to start.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us