The state witness in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case has suggested there was an attempt to bribe a magistrate and the police inspector investigating the assassination.
Melvin Theuma told a court that the magistrate was "never named" but insisted it was "certainly not" Rachel Montebello, who is heading the compilation of evidence against alleged mastermind Yorgen Fenech.
The self-confessed middleman in the October 2017 murder, who has been granted a pardon in exchange for his evidence, made the claim as he was explaining the context of some recordings.
Two covertly recorded conversations between Theuma and Johann Cremona, a close associate of Fenech, were played to the court during Thursday's sitting. It is not clear when they were recorded.
In one of the recordings, Cremona told Theuma that one of the hitmen, Vincent Muscat, had gone to court to reveal all but that the court "did not consider him".
Explaining this, Theuma went on to say there had been mention of an attempt to "hand money" to Keith Arnaud, the investigating officer, and the unnamed magistrate.
In his conversations with Cremona, Theuma was also heard suggesting he pay police superintendent Raymond Aqulina €5,000 and buy him a car in exchange for being given police questions in advance of any arrest.
He said this never took place.
In one recording, Cremona is heard telling Theuma: "Money is our strength".
However, the main witness's credibility was repeatedly called into question after he told the court that he made up a story about giving €15,000 to the then police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, describing his own claims as "bluff".
The court also heard a third recording of a conversation between Theuma and Mario Degiorgio, a brother of the two men accused of detonating the bomb that killed the journalist.
He did not tell investigators he taped this conversation, explaining that he had "simply forgotten" about this single recording - the only one he had ever taken despite them meeting three times a week.
In this conversation, Degiorgio claimed the former prime minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri and ex-economy minister Chris Cardona would all testify against the brothers.
Degiorgio claimed that lawyer Arthur Azzopardi was pushing for this, and was "working against" the brothers.
In combative mode, Theuma described how Cremona got information from Kenneth Camilleri, an employee with the office of the prime minister, and that that information came from Keith Schembri.
As it happened:
No more questions
4.37pm And after another marathon sitting, there are no more questions for Melvin Theuma. We'll be back here on March 25 at 10am. Thank you for joining us.
We'll have a brief summary of today's evidence shortly.
4.31pm Theuma explains the reference to the prime minister. He says this information apparently came from lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, who said that the prime minister, Schembri, and ex-economy minister Chris Cardona would all be summoned to testify against the Degiorgios.
He also says that Mario Degiorgio told him Azzopardi wanted €40,000 to work against the Degiorgio brothers.
Theuma, who signals he is tired, says that he didn't really understand this reference or make out the meaning of the conversation.
He repeats that he had no intention to hide this recording or no reason to keep it away from police.
Money for bail
4.25pm Mario says in the recording that the hitmen wanted €20,000 each. This came from George Degiorgio.
George had also asked Mario about money for bail.
And he is heard saying that 'the Italians' were willing to come over to Malta to testify in their favour.
"The only trouble is that Arthur," Mario Degiorgio is heard saying.
The recording ends. Theuma explains that the recording took place in his car and said he had not told police that he recorded Mario Degiorgio because he "forgot".
They used to meet three times a week, but this was the only recording, he thinks.
Cremona had suggested recording it so Fenech would "know where the money was being funneled".
'Would the PM testify?'
4.18pm In the recording, Mario Degiorgio addresses some foul words towards "that Arthur", who he says is working against the brothers.
He asks Theuma if the prime minister would testify and says: "If so, that means that the prime minister knew about it and would incriminate himself. That he was in on it too - the planting of the bomb and all that."
It is a "tangled web", Theuma replies.
'Everyone against them!'
4.12pm There is mention of the prime minister (Joseph Muscat), Keith Schembri and the police commissioner being called to testify against the Degiorgios.
"Why is everyone against them?" Mario exclaims.
Final tape played
4.07pm This sitting was scheduled to go on until 3pm. But we're still here as the next tape is played.
Children's voices are heard, as Mario Degiorgio, the brother of alleged hitmen Alfred and George Degiorgio, speaks with Theuma.
4.01pm Mercieca lists several consistencies, including Theuma's previous testimony that he only recorded conversations with Fenech and Cremona. There is, in fact, a recording of conversations with Mario Degiorgio.
Arnaud rebuts, saying it's not fair to pick on this testimony and say it is inconsistent. "Taking one snippet out of a story played out over two years and labeling the witness as inconsistent is not fair," he says.
The magistrate says the defence has a right to register is objection, even if the prosecution disagrees.
Chapter closed, the magistrate says, moving on to another recording.
'Walking a tightrope'
3.56pm Theuma is asked to leave the room as the defence have something they want to say. Charles Mercieca, one of Fenech's lawyers, says that Theuma's testimony is "replete with inconsistencies".
Listing several inaccuracies, he says that the witness is testifying "under strict terms of pardon" and is "walking a tightrope".
'Telling the truth today'
3.53pm Theuma explains that the context for his lie was that he was doubting if Cremona was telling him the truth. He would change versions about the raids and arrests - telling him that only his garage would be raided and then saying that his partner's place would also be raided.
"What can I do, your honour? Shouldn't I tell you the truth today?"
'You are not being consistent'
3.45pm Theuma is being pressed further, after continuing to insist he lied about the payment.
"Why did you make it up?" the magistrate asks him.
"I made it up just like that. You have to understand what I was going through at the time - my state of mind," he replies.
She tells him he is "not being consistent and convincing". Before he said that he had made up the money to buff about power, while now he was saying that he had no reason.
"Why did you need to go to Cremona at all?" the perplexed magistrate asks.
Made up a story
3.34pm Theuma claims that he invented a story about giving €15,000 to the police commissioner (Lawrence Cutajar).
"It wasn't true. I made up a story that Edwin (Brincat, his confident) had given Cutajar €15,000."
In the recording Cremona says that "yesterday the commissioner asked for a favour".
Theuma now says this was all bluff.
'More power than the police chief'
3.32pm Theuma says Cremona had once boasted about having "greater power than the (police) commissioner" and had told him that he commissioner was "on his (Theuma's) side.
'The prime minister is behind you'
3.28pm In the recording, Cremona tells Theuma that the "prime minister, the police and all" were behind him.
Theuma explains in court that this is a reference to his arrest.
"I used to go to Johann Cremona because I wished him to help me. But in reality, I got nothing. They arrested me and even took away my kids for a couple of days."
He says he told Cremona that if he was not being told the truth, he would find out.
Knowledge of arrest
3.24pm The tape is being played again. This recording is about half an hour long, we are told. There's a rustling noise and the conversation is peppered with swear words throughout.
The tape is stopped after this line: "The report will be issued for sure".
What report, Theuma is asked in court.
"The report to have me arrested," he replies.
'Schembri went behind Fenech's back'
3.16pm Theuma also says he was told through Cremona, who was acting on behalf on Schembri, not to mention going to the commissioner to Fenech.
Cremona was apparently telling Theuma that Schembri and his staff member Kenneth Camilleri were "fixing things behind Fenech's back".
Schembri and Camilleri were "making arrangements so that I might not be arrested".
Theuma lied about police commissioner
3.12pm Theuma insists he didn't know the police commissioner and had never met him, stressing the he had bluffed about his contact so that Cremona, "a postman" would pass on the message.
The magistrate isn't satisfied with this answer. "Why did you say in the recording that you had spoken to the commissioner?" she asks. "Why was there mention of 'taking care of the commissioner'?"
Theuma insists that was "all made up".
€5,000 for police questions
3.08pm In the recording there was some suggestion about "speaking to the police commissioner". Theuma suggested paying superintendent Raymond Aquilina €5,000 and buying him a car in exchange for being given police questions in advance.
"But nothing ever came of that. I never met Raymond," Theuma clarifies.
Seven months before
3.02pm Arnaud wants to know about a part of the tape recording where Cremona said that seven months before, the "Degiorgios tried (to do something) but did not succeed and 'Yorgen was scared'".
What was this about?
"I'm not sure," Theuma says. He suggests it was something to do with the Degiorgios trying to speak to Nationalist MEP David Casa.
Fenech and Cremona used to tell Theuma that Schembri said arrangements were made "with everyone".
Lawyer 'handed over money' for murder
2.56pm The magistrate allows Theuma to take a seat after a request from Arnaud. It's been a long and tiring day. A security guard stands between him and the window, which has been reopened.
The tape is stopped. Cremona appears to have made reference to criminal lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, who, allegedly was "harming Melvin Theuma".
Azzopardi was trying to get hitman Vincent Muscat to confess about Theuma's involvement, Theuma says.
Cremona also told Theuma that Azzopardi had handed over money to Muscat for the murder.
"That's what Johann told me", Theuma says.
2.45pm The tape is played again. It's still Cremona and Theuma speaking.
In court, Fenech reacts, shaking his head and murmuring something to his lawyer.
"Did Yorgen really go abroad 25 times?" Theuma asks Cremona in the recording. Cremona does not seem to answer this and says that he passed on the message that Theuma was not willing to be taken into custody.
Arnaud asks for this part of the tape to be rewinded to check who said what.
Bribery of a magistrate
2.36pm Asked about another section of the recording, Theuma now tells the court that there was mention of bribery of Arnaud himself and a "magistrate, certainly not Rachel Montebello".
He says the magistrate's name was never mentioned to him.
Schembri 'on a par' with Fenech
2.31pm The tape is stopped and Theuma says that he never told Mario Degiorgio - a third Degiorgio brother - that he was the middleman. "I used to tell Mario that I was helping them (the jailed Degiorgio brothers)."
He said he was frightened that he would "be betrayed by Yorgen Fenech and Keith Schembri". But then, he continues, "Yorgen Fenech himself said that when he told Keith Schembri about the murder, Schembri had 'gone cold'."
Theuma says he always put Schembri "at a par" with Fenech.
"Johann (Cremona) got information from Kenneth (Castille employee) and Cremona used to tell me that that information came from Keith," he said.
He said the Degorgio's goal and hope was that there would be "some mistake" in court that would lead to their acquittal.
2.27pm Cremona tells Theuma in the taped conversation that he will work hard to make sure that the middleman is free of everything. Cremona reassures Theuma that under police interrogation he will only be asked questions "as in the statement" and promises to share information on the police questions before hand.
2.24pm In the recording, Theuma and Cremona are discussing the two alleged hitmen, Alfred and George Degiorgios, who are in jail following their December 2017 arrest over the murder.
2.22pm Theuma's voice is much weaker than it was before the stabbing incident last summer, which police have described as a self harm incident. A small bottle of water and a cup are on the witness stand for him to use.
Fenech is seated behind his lawyers, listening in.
Second recording played
2.20pm A second recording is played. We can Theuma and Johann Cremona. There's a sound of the engine starting up. The tape will be paused every now and then so that Arnaud can put questions to the witness.
2.19pm Melvin Theuma takes his place at the witness stand again.
2.13pm The doors open and everyone moves back inside.
1.39pm The magistrate orders a 30-minute break and says the court will then hear another recording. She retires to her chambers and everyone is asked to move out of the courtroom.
1.37pm The magistrate goes over the recordings to be heard – there are eight in all. The one the court has just heard was the longest of the lot, at 49 minutes in total.
No further questions
1.35pm Arnaud returns to the recording. There’s mention of “Mr Ray” (Is-sur Ray), he tells Theuma.
Theuma says that’s a reference to Yorgen’s uncle, Ray Fenech.
In the recording, Theuma can be held telling Cremona about Yorgen “What’s money to him?”
Theuma tells the court that he meant “what would money mean, if we were caught out?”
That’s all the questions from Arnaud about this recording. Fenech’s lawyers tell the court they will cross-examine Theuma at a later stage.
1.32pm Theuma recalls Mario Degiorgio telling him that a man (whose name we cannot publish) had given €300,000 to his (Degiorgio’s) brothers. This man featured on a paper which Yorgen had shown him, Theuma says.
“He showed it to me on his mobile,” Theuma recalls.
He says the paper featured the Degiorgios, Muscat, this man and another man (whose name we also cannot publish).
“Johann and Yorgen showed me those names to reassure me that my name didn’t feature among the names of those leaked,” he says.
MSS and Keith Schembri
1.28pm Theuma is told that in the conversation, he told Cremona that he would buy Raymond a car.
Theuma: Obviously not me. Yorgen would buy it for him.
Arnaud asks about the reference in the recording to the secret service.
Theuma says that someone told him that the MSS (Malta Security Service) was Keith Schembri’s. "He appoints his children (It-tfal tiegħu jqabbad)".
'We'll have no trouble with Raymond'
1.25pm Arnaud tells Theuma that in the tape, there is mention of “we won’t have any trouble with Raymond” (ma Raymond m’għandniex inkwiet).
Theuma: Yes, that’s Raymond Aquilina. Even Yorgen had told me once that we would have no trouble with him. “He’s alright!,” he said.
Cremona also spoke often about “Raymond,” Theuma says, adding “but I never met him.”
1.22pm Theuma tells Cremona “he acted wrongly with them” (Pero’ żbalja magħhom), referring to Fenech’s handling of the Degiorgios.
“Joh, I’m going to go,” Theuma says. “I’ll get you a bottle of wine.”
The recording – peppered with curse words throughout - ends.
Meanwhile, in the courtroom, Yorgen Fenech asks for permission to be excused. He is escorted out as Arnaud begins to question Theuma about the tape.
'He has so many friends'
1.16pm There’s talk of a police inspector named “Raymond”. Theuma speaks with concern about his possible arrest.
Cremona tells him not to worry, that he will go with him to the police.
Theuma sounds worried. “Have him send me somewhere! He has so many friends (Jibgħatni x’imkien! Daqs kemm għandu ħbieb!)”, he says, alluding to Fenech.
Schembri and MSS
1.10pm The recording plays on:
Cremona is telling Theuma about investigations in his regard. Their conversation is briefly interrupted by the ringing of Theuma's phone and there's talk of 'Secret Services'.
“That's Keith Schembri's. They're his 'children'. He appoints his 'children'."
Theuma on the offensive, lawyer fined
12.55pm Theuma continues on the offensive: "In reality I nailed him."
The remark is rebutted by a member of the defence team who is heard saying: "you nailed yourself."
The comment is picked up by Arnaud and the magistrate is annoyed.
She minutes a final warning and says that any further disruptions while the witness is testifying will lead to the eviction of the lawyer and more measures taken accordingly.
Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca says: "Can’t we speak to clarify that what the witness is saying is not true?"
Magistrate: "Keep that for the cross examination."
She says that Mercieca’s comment was out of place, intended to insult the witness and fines him €50 for contempt of court.
'Bluff' and contacts with former police boss
12.48pm Arnaud asks if it was true that Theuma had said the police commissioner had informed him that Europol were asking how come the middleman not yet been arrested.
"That's not true," Theuma replies, prompting remarks from the defence.
Theuma says that he used to “bluff” a lot to give impression that he had power through contact with former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar.
In fact he says he had even asked Fenech to speak to the commissioner but he told him he didn't know him.
"So I told him to get Keith Schembri to do it," insisting he had never spoken to Cutajar.
Mixed messages, empty promises
12.35pm Theuma says he was getting mixed messages - while Fenech used to assure him that he would not be arrested Cremona used to tell him otherwise.
Theuma sounds tense, and voices his frustration about the fact that he was not given the information promised by Fenech.
"When I was arrested, Yorgen was on his boat!" he says indignantly, coughing as his voice cracks.
Meanwhile, Fenech sits behind his lawyers, his head bent.
Theuma says Cremona had also made too many promises.
"That I would be given names of places to be targeted in the raid, the dates, the questions to be put to me. That certain questions could even be changed if not to my liking. That he would accompany him to police. But nothing. All empty promises."
In spite of his weak voice, Theuma today appears more aggressive.
Cremona assures Theuma
12.25pm In the recording, Cremona and Theuma continue discussing money matters and once again we hear a reference to €20,000.
There’s mention of FIAU now.
Cremona tells him that FIAU want to find out about him, “but it is not related to the other case” (the murder).
Police don’t even have a file about Melvin Theuma yet, Cremona assures him.
He tells Theuma not to worry and that he would accompany him to the police.
Theuma is heard saying that Fenech had stopped routing money to the Degiorgios in the "worst possible time", with the trial coming up.
'Money is our strength'
12.17pm Johann Cremona is heard telling Theuma: "money is our strength" (Is-saħħa tagħna l-flus).
Theuma says that the testimony of Vince Muscat (il-Koħħu) had proven him right after he spoke about the money the middleman had handed over to the hitmen.
He says that he asked Cremona to find out who was sending Kenneth Camilleri to him. Was it Keith Schembri?
He says that when Kenneth Camilleri went with the one million euro and bail promise , he believed he had been sent by Keith Schembri.
Theuma insists he never gave Camilleri anything and did not even meet him.
Paid thousands to Degiorgio
12.10pm The recordings continue being played. There's a mention of a palazzo in Mdina that Fenech was interested in buying.
The conversation in the recording between Johann Cremona and Theuma appears to be quite animated. At one point they mention former OPM security official Kenneth Camilleri.
Theuma steps off the witness stand for a minute to take some medication.
He leaves the room briefly and is back in a minute.
The recordings continue: Theuma is heard saying that he paid €6,500 out of his pocket to Degiorgio in order not to bother Fenech.
He also paid €5,000 to buy a dog for Mario Degiorgio, another brother of the alleged hitmen.
"I was stuck in the middle. I was pressured by Mario Degiorgio."
Pardon talk sparked recordings
12pm Explaining the recording, Theuma says he believed his phone was being tapped following instructions from Fenech and Schembri.
Theuma had questioned why Fenech was to stop handing money to the Degiorgios “with only 8 months to go.”
Theuma clarifies that he started making the recordings when there were media reports about a potential presidential pardon being given after the three alleged hitmen were arrested in December 2017.
He also drew up his final will two days after the arrests.
Theuma makes reference to reports in Times of Malta, saying he would ask his daughter to translate for him since he doesn't understand English.
'They were betraying me'
11.55am Arnaud asks about the reference to €20,000.
Theuma replies: "Yorgen Fenech gave me €20,000 for the Degiorgio brothers (the alleged hitmen).
Fenech told Theuma that he needs to start trusting him. Theuma replies he didn't trust them because "they" were betraying him.
Arnaud: "Who was betraying you?"
Theuma: "Yorgen Fenech and Keith Schembri. But under oath I cannot say that Schembri was in it. And Yorgen never told me that Keith Schembri was in it with him."
A figure of €20,000
11.50am Arnaud asks for a ban on any names not yet mentioned in the media and which were not related to the case.
First recording is between Theuma and Johann Cremona, an associate of Fenech. We can hear a lot of background noise: traffic, rustling and footsteps.
As the recording plays on, Theuma mentions the figure of €20,000.
“Buffu kollhu,” (He's a clown) Theuma is heard saying.
It appears that Fenech had taken the boat to Sicily with his family.
Fenech had told Theuma that he needs to trust him.
Peppered with foul language, the two are discussing money paid by Fenech and an appeal in court.
Recordings to be heard
11.37am Arnaud stands up and explains the recordings that are to be played today. He mentions one particular recording which lasts 49 minutes. These are secret recordings that the murder middleman had taken before he was arrested in November 2019. These are the hidden recordings which came to light later in the investigations.
Before the court technician hits the play button, defence ask whether Fenech may move closer to them so that he might follow the conversation on the transcripts. The request is accepted.
Off we go
11.30am Magistrate Montebello enters the court room.
Melvin Theuma take the witness stand. The magistrate tells him that should he need to stop and rest for a while, or have some water, then he can just request it.
Theuma was in critical condition after he was involved in a stabbing incident at home in Swieqi last July.
Fenech escorted in
11.20am Yorgen Fenech is escorted into the court room. An armed guard sits on either side.
His wife and Caruana Galizia's sisters are are also present in the court room.
11.05am Lawyers representing the defence and the victim's family have gathered in Hall 20 of the court room.
Police investigators Keith Arnaud and Kurt Zahra have walked into the rather crowded court room.
The magistrate has allocated four hours for the sitting, but we never know how the case will proceed or if any of the testimonies will be heard behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, the magistrate is listening to another case concerning a string of thefts.
10.55am Good morning and welcome to our live report from the court rooms in Valletta.
Thursday's testimony, comes two days after Vince Muscat said the assassins had started working on a plan to gun Caruana Galizia down using an AK47 rifle two years before they eventually assassinated her as part of a separate murder plot.
What happened last time?
- Magistrate Rachel Montebello took half an hour to dismiss Fenech's bail request, saying the fear of absconding persists and investigations were still ongoing...
- ... But she also ordered police to summon as witnesses those individuals they say they are speaking to;
- Firefighters described the horrific scene as they reached Bidnija that October afternoon;
Who are the main players?
Yorgen Fenech: a business tycoon and heir to a family fortune, and the man in the dock: Fenech is accused of complicity in Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder;
Melvin Theuma: a taxi driver who worked for Fenech and who has testified that he served as a middleman between Fenech and the alleged hitmen;
Vince Muscat: The only man who has confessed to his role in the murder;
Alfred Degiorgio, George Degiorgio: the alleged hitmen;
Keith Arnaud, Kurt Zahra: the lead police investigators and prosecutors;
Keith Schembri: a childhood friend of Fenech's and the chief of staff to Joseph Muscat when he was prime minister;
Kenneth Camilleri: a staff member in the office of the prime minister
Johann Cremona: One of Fenech's business associates;
Rachel Montebello: the presiding magistrate;
Gianluca Caruana Curran, Marion Camilleri, Charles Mercieca: Yorgen Fenech's legal team;
Jason Azzopardi, Therese Comodini Cachia: lawyers appearing for the Caruana Galizia family.
Philip Galea Farrugia and Anthony Vella: representing the attorney general's office.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us