Melvin Theuma, the self-confessed middleman in Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder, is back in court on Friday for his cross examination in the compilation of evidence against three men charged with the crime.
Highlights from Friday's sitting:
- Keith Schembri 'knew of' Theuma's role;
- Degiorgio's daughter worked with the Economy Ministry;
- Theuma insists he never spoke to tal-Maksar, the alleged bomb makers;
- Middleman got message from Degiorgios in jail to help them get medical cannabis licence;
- Theuma says he used to pass on payments to the men in jail;
- Theuma bought the Degiorgios a €5,000 dog and sold an expensive Rolex watch and gold on behalf of Fenech.
1.15pm Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi had urged Vince Muscat il-Koħħu to reveal all about the murder plot to the police. Muscat had apparently replied that “they would throw acid at my wife” if he did so.
Arthur Azzopardi had served as Muscat's lawyer for a while.
'Mario who works with Cardona'
1.05pm Lawyer Jason Azzopardi is next to ask questions, zeroing in on the gifts.
Theuma says he once sold a limited edition of Fenech's Rolex watch for €13,500. Fenech also gave him gold items to sell, ranging in around €100,000 in value.
Azzopardi: "When Kenneth Camilleri and Johann Cremona came to your home, you understood that they were sent by Keith Schembri. So did Keith Schembri know of the middleman?"
Theuma: "I don’t know what he knew. But later Yorgen told me Keith Schembri had sent them. So automatically that is what that means. But I didn’t personally hear that."
He says he might have recorded Cremona once, but he is not sure.
Azzopardi: "Did you get any call to help Degiorgios get a licence for medical cannabis?"
Theuma: "Mario Degiorgio had told me this. He sent me to a shop in San Ġwann. I had no idea who I was to speak too. I was told to go to Mario who works with (former Economy Minister Chris) Cardona but I didn’t know the guy."
Azzopardi: "Did you know that the daughter of Degiorgio was employed at Cardona’s ministry in summer 2017?"
Theuma: "No, no one told me that."
He says that he never actually listened to his own recordings, but just kept them until he passed them to the magistrate. Moreover, he had no copies of the recordings, except for the three excerpts he had sent to Fenech together with his handwritten letter.
Info from Schembri, Valletta
12.55pm Fenech had told Theuma he got information on Vince Muscat's pardon request from Keith Schembri and former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta.
Theuma insists he never spoke to investigators before his arrest, but claimed he had actually started driving towards police headquarters several times, only to turn back.
Sant's cross examination ends.
The Tal-Maksar connection
12.35pm As the debate continues out of earshot, murder suspect George Degiorgio gets up and approaches his lawyer. Middleman Melvin Theuma is standing alone at the dock.
Theuma is asked about Fenech's request that he speaks to Tal-Maksar (the Agius brothers), the alleged bomb makers.
"I don’t know Tal-Maksar whatsoever. I never spoke to them. It was Yorgen who messaged me to go to Maksar. There’s a screenshot of it."
Meeting with unidentified person
12.20pm Case resumes. Marc Sant, co-accused Vince Muscat's lawyer, is asking questions.
Theuma confirms it was Fenech who had informed him of a raid on December 5, 2017, but did not tell him who alerted him to it.
Alfred Degiorgio had told him that "tonight" he was going to meet "a person". We don't know the identity of this person.
Lawyer says he would like to pose the next question behind closed doors.
Lawyers and police hold a private conversation with the magistrate as the middleman patiently waits. Deputy Attorney General Philip Galea Farrugia is also consulted.
We are already three hours into Friday's compilation of evidence.
A complex case
12.15pm Today's sitting is taking place just two days after the court heard secret recordings between two men suspected of being involved in orchestrating the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
There are regular court sittings taking place in connection with the 2017 gruesome murder as a result of several cases instituted, including one by murder suspect Yorgen Fenech against the lead investigator.
You might be familiar with some of the details emerging in court, and yes we are aware we are repeating some statements, but we are trying our utmost to remain as faithful as possible to the proceedings through our live blog.
Court takes a short break. We will be back with you shortly.
A Rolex watch from Fenech
11.55am Theuma is facing mounting pressure around the bail request from the Degiorgios.
He says he piled pressure on Fenech to get bail for the hitmen who “had to get out”.
Fenech was no magistrate or judge but he knew “the big shots".
Asked if he got anything out of this, Theuma admits he received a Rolex watch from Fenech.
Lawyer: "What if I tell you he gave you €2 million?"
Theuma replies, tongue in cheek: "€5 million!"
Lawyer: "Why did you ask Fenech to go to the Prime Minister?"
Theuma: "To get the bail request", adding that Fenech told him that was the worst thing he could possibly do.
"At that point my life was full of panic and fear. I didn't want to wake up. It was hell."
Schembri was 'aware' of middleman
11.45am Cuschieri takes the middleman to his threat “of taking Mario Degiorgio to Keith Schembri's home at Mellieħa”.
Theuma says Fenech had nothing to do with the bail promise but he said he would check about it.
Later, Fenech got back to Theuma and told him that Schembri had sent Camilleri to the middleman’s home.
Lawyer: "So you’re saying that Keith Schembri knew of the middleman’s role?"
According to what Yorgen Fenech said, Schembri was aware of the middleman.
At one point, Fenech told Theuma his phone was being tapped.
Kenneth and Keith
11.30am Cuschieri turns to Theuma's meetings with Kenneth Camilleri, Joseph Muscat's former security guard who was allegedly involved in a covert bail request for the Degiorgio brothers.
He recalls that during the meeting, Camilleri moved a short distance away, spoke on his phone and came back with the promise of "bail on the 22nd".
Lawyer asks: "What do you say if I tell you that there was no bail sitting on the 22nd in 2018?"
Theuma says he wouldn't know such things.
Theuma insists that at that time he suspected that Camilleri had called Keith Schembri because he knew that Camilleri was a driver at OPM.
Theuma explains how he had later told Fenech about the visit and the promise.
Later, Fenech told Theuma that Keith Schembri had indeed sent Camilleri to his home and had done so out of friendship.
While the parties discuss some possible mistake in the transcript of Theuma's evidence, the Degiorgios stand up and approach their lawyer. They have a quick private word.
When Vince Muscat started speaking out
11.20am Middleman says Yorgen Fenech had told him that Vince Muscat was starting to reveal all to the investigators and at one point he had also mentioned Theuma.
"How could he mention me if I never spoke to Muscat?" Theuma had asked at the time, saying he had had an argument with Fenech about this.
On that occasion, Fenech had instructed Theuma to buy four pizzas and go to Mario Degiorgio.
Cuschieri asks: "Didn’t you find this strange? Didn’t you question it?"
Theuma hits back: "Don't keep asking that. I’ve already told you. That was when I sensed betrayal."
Cuschieri: "Didn’t you feel you were betraying Yorgen when you began to record him?"
An indignant Theuma replies: "What? I betray Yorgen?"
If you're catching up with us now, the man who was given a presidential pardon in connection with the murder plot to kill the journalist is being grilled about his role in the crime by lawyers of the three triggermen. We are almost two hours into the testimony.
Payments in jail
11.10am Theuma says that he used to pass on payments of €300 to the men in jail. When he got to know Mario Degiorgio, he began to hand over the payments to him. Eventually those payments were reduced to €200.
He withheld further payment to Vince Muscat’s wife when she asked about the source of the money.
"I decided not to give her any more money."
Forewarning of a raid
11.05am The grilling moves to the alleged tipping off on the upcoming “big raid” at the potato shed in Marsa, which led to the arrests of 10 men, with three eventually charged with the murder.
Theuma reiterates that Yorgen Fenech had obtained information about the raid from former chief of staff Keith Schembri.
"Are you aware that the Degiorgios were expecting a raid on the 3rd of December (2017)?" Cuschieri asks.
“It’s the 5th I told them about,” comes the reply.
'To me, Yorgen is the mastermind'
10.55am Theuma insists: "To me the mastermind is “Yorgen ta' Tumas because he gave me €150,000.”
Asked if he excluded anyone else, he says: "For me, it's Yorgen."
The lawyer urges Theuma to explain why he bought a dog for Mario Degiorgio, brother of the accused, worth €5,000? "Don’t you find this strange?"
Theuma replies: "That’s to see how I’ve been living for the last years. I insist I bought that dog out of my own money, and I insist I got nothing out of this."
When Theuma told Mario Degiorgio to tell his brother to be careful because "I could be killed just like DCG” he got me back a message from his brother saying “be careful from those outside not the ones inside”.
Theuma is facing a barrage of questions trying to nail him. He fires back with replies, insisting he never mentioned the name of the mastermind to the hitmen nor Mario Degiorgio their brother.
He says that he had forked out of his own pocket €5,000 for the dog, another sum for the binoculars, and another €5,000 for a court guarantee. He says he never informed Fenech about these funds.
'I felt betrayed'
10.40am Middleman says that after the arrest of the hitmen he got depressed, claims he was about to throw himself off the roof but then thought otherwise.
“If I do that, Yorgen Fenech will sit pretty, his legs crossed, smoking his cigar.”
That is when he decided to start recording Fenech because he felt betrayed.
"I felt betrayal had kicked in and my only suspicion was about Yorgen. There was suspicion, fear and betrayal."
Theuma insists he never spoke to Vince Muscat about the murder.
Lawyer interrupts: "If you never spoke to Muscat, how could you say that he was mentioning your name to the police?"
Some background: Reports say that suspected triggerman Muscat had started speaking to the police while incarcerated.
10.35am Theuma goes back to the original meeting outside the Blue Elephant restaurant when Fenech allegedly told him that he wanted to kill Caruana Galizia because she was going to publish a story about “his uncle Ray”.
Theuma says he later sensed that Fenech wanted to kill her for his own reasons and not because of his uncle.
"Yorgen was pressing me so much, bombarding me with calls about the murder, saying the blogger was going to be releasing information.
Theuma categorically denies that there was talk of the murder in presence of Vince Muscat, il-Koħħu.
Lawyer challenges Theuma about a quote attributed to George Degiorgio when he had said "so many bullies have died, why shouldn't she?"
Cuschieri asks: "Don’t you find it strange that George told you this if you had never spoken not to him about the affair before?
Murder plot discussed before 2017 election
10.15am Cuschieri asks Theuma how come he didn't find it strange that he was called for a meeting at the Office of the Prime Minister and then offered a job.
"No. We discussed work, offered me a coffee and we posed for a photo."
He says that till today he doesn't know why he was offered and paid for a job he never really carried out.
Some background: Theuma was employed with the government-owned Housing Maintenance and Embellishment Company from May 1, 2017, the day then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called an election.
"I had complained to Yorgen when the cheque for the phantom job was stopped."
Theuma says Fenech spoke to him about the murder plot some three weeks before the 2017 election.
But upon Fenech's instructions, Theuma had told Alfred Degiorgio to put the plot on hold when the election was announced. After that he waited for the go-ahead, meanwhile giving Alfred Degiorgio €1,500.
After the Labour victory at the polls, Fenech called him to get on with the murder plans. But in that call, Fenech was evidently under the influence of drink and Theuma says he ignored his call.
After that call, Theuma went to Fenech's farmhouse to hand him €300,000 winnings on a bet on the election results.
Who sent who?
10.10am Theuma says he contacted Darren Debono to get Alfred Degiorgio’s number. He used a phone line he normally resorted to for illegal betting.
Theuma said he never told either of the Degiorgio brothers that the instructions had come from Fenech, right up to the very end.
Now Cuschieri is asking about the terms of payment for the killing as discussed at Busy Bee in Msida.
Theuma says he knew Alfred Degiorgio through the betting business, he had seen him at the casino and sometimes played at the same games.
"But I swear under oath that I never never told them I had been sent by Yorgen Fenech."
Cuschieri: "So the alleged executor Alfred never asked you who had sent you?"
Theuma: "No. He's your client, you should know these facts."
Cuschieri: "So Alfred Degiorgio believed that you were the mastermind?"
Theuma: "No, I told them there was a person who had sent me but I didn’t mention who and he didn’t ask."
Theuma says Fenech once told him: Lil dawk armihom l'hemm. (Discard the Degiorgios)
No questions for a murder commission?
10am When Fenech asked Theuma to contract George Degiorgio about the murder, didn’t he tell him he only knew George by sight?
"No, I didn't," Theuma replies.
He says Fenech drew him so much into his confidence and trust that he never questioned him.
His reply stirs up a heated discussion in the court room.
Lawyer says the witness is not credible and insists he has a right to put these questions. The magistrate seeks to restore some order.
Cuschieri: "How could you not question Yorgen Fenech when he asked you to organise the murder?"
Theuma: "I trusted him, he had taken me abroad several times, allowed me to take a taxi stand at Portomaso."
Cuschieri: "And so, just for that, you do as he says when he told you he wanted to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia."
Theuma says he never got George Degiorgio's number although Fenech had specifically asked for him.
Lawyer asks Theuma how he felt more comfortable dealing with Alfred Degiorgio when he claimed he had never had business interests with him.
Theuma: "Because I had rented the flat to him and used to have a chat with Alfred at Żabbar."
When he got back to Fenech and told him he had contacted Alfred not George Degiorgio, Fenech didn't say anything.
"So what, they're brothers," Fenech allegedly told Theuma.
WhatsApp and Signal only
9.50am Lawyer Cuschieri grills Theuma about his income.
He says he operated as a "bookmaker", which is an illegal betting operation.
What was his greatest source of income?
"I cannot tell. I also earned money from being a taxi driver. Earnings varied from week to week," Theuma replies.
Now we move on that call when Fenech asked Theuma to meet him about the murder.
He says he and Fenech always communicated via WhatsApp or Signal Apps. He claims it was the businessman who told him that such means of communication are not traceable.
Theuma insists there are no traces of phonecalls.
Theuma takes the stand
9.45am Melvin Theuma is asked how he got to know the accused. He says some 10 years ago he had rented a flat to Darren Debono (it-Topu) and Alfred Degiorgio. He says he also knew Alfred Degiorgio and knew Muscat "by sight".
"I used to spot Muscat at Ħamrun and George at the (Marsa) potato shed. I once spoke to him about the assassination of Caruana Galizia."
Theuma says Alfred Degiorgio had been permitted by the prison authorities to tend to a garden at Żabbar and he occasionally used to drop by there and talk to him.
9.35am Brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio as well as Vince Muscat (the three men charged with sparking the bomb) have just entered court under tight security. A guard sits between them.
Lawyer William Cuschieri is defence to the Degiorgios. Muscat is assisted by lawyer Marc Sant. Lawyer Jason Azzopardi is appearing parte civile.
Lead inspector Keith Arnaud has just entered the hall. Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit is presiding.
What we know so far
9.15am Yorgen Fenech was arrested aboard his yacht at the crack of dawn, less than 24 hours after the prime minister confirmed that talks were under way to give a middleman in the case a presidential pardon in exchange for information.
Theuma – has testified that Fenech was the sole mastermind behind the Caruana Galizia murder plot.
He has surreptitiously recorded Fenech and some of those recordings have been played out in court.
Theuma also wrote a letter in which he named the prime minister's former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, as a co-conspirator.
Fenech says Schembri was the real mastermind and is seeking a pardon in exchange for information.
In chilling testimony last December, Theuma recounted the sequence of events leading up to and after the October 2017 murder, including how he arranged payments to the three men alleged to have carried out the car bomb that killed the 53-year-old journalist.
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