The two men leading the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case also investigated claims that information about the case was being leaked, police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar said under oath on Tuesday.
Commissioner Cutajar told a court that inspectors Keith Arnaud and Kurt Zahra were asked to look into the alleged leaks, but got nowhere.
The commissioner was testifying in a constitutional case filed by murder mastermind suspect Yorgen Fenech, who wants inspector Arnaud removed from the case.
Mr Fenech says the inspector was close to Keith Schembri and gave him information about the case, which he would then pass on to him [Fenech].
The commissioner's testimony about the leak investigation prompted Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff to interject, "are you saying Arnaud investigated himself?"
Commissioner Cutajar subsequently said inspector Zahra did most of the work.
Inspector Arnaud, who testifed later in the sitting, told a court that officers from the Economic Crimes Unit were responsible for investigating the leaks, not his unit.
Police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar also said that:
• He resisted pressure to proceed with arrests in April 2019, saying police needed more evidence. “Time proved me right,” he said;
• After Silvio Valletta was moved out of the case, he began offering the lead investigators some help himself;
• He did not know that Yorgen Fenech’s phone was being tapped and did not hear any recordings;
• Keith Schembri never told him that he was a good friend of Yorgen Fenech.
Inspector Keith Arnaud testified that:
• Europol were involved in the investigation from day one and continued to provide support to this day;
• Yorgen Fenech changed his version of events once his first pardon request was turned down. He told police that Keith Schembri had promised him a pardon;
• Police interrogated doctor Adrian Vella and quizzed him about two separate notes. Dr Vella admitted to passing one to Fenech, but said he had nothing to do with the second;
• He had met with Times of Malta ahead of an October 2019 story which he feared could undo all their police work;
• The fact that Yorgen Fenech was a suspect was mentioned during OPM briefings;
• He met the Caruana Galizia family in October 2019 and they seemed happy with the investigation;
• He never spoke to Yorgen Fenech alone and never name-dropped Keith Schembri to him;
• Local police had yet to take up a US offer of help to crack the case but did not exclude doing so in the future.
As it happened
Court session ends
12.04pm Today’s court session is over. Fenech’s lawyers will ask Arnaud questions during the next session.
The case will resume on February 11 at 9am.
That’s all from us today, thank you for having joined us. We will have a brief summary of today’s court session available soon.
Police have yet to accept US offer of help
11.59am Earlier, judge Mintoff was bothered by the inspector’s inability to recall a US embassy offer to provide help with the case.
He now tells Arnaud that he’s looked it up and presents him with a copy.
Arnaud tells him that he remembers it.
“We haven’t taken them up on the offer until now because we are carrying out our own investigations. But we do not exclude doing so at a later stage,” he says. And with that, inspector Arnaud steps off the witness stand.
'Absolutely not, never, no'
11.54am Arnaud vehemently denies ever mentioning names – Keith Schembri – during those meetings.
“Absolutely not, never, not at all,” he says.
Schembri had been mentioned informally at that stage, while Fenech was with his lawyers.
Arnaud on speaking to Fenech
11.51am Arnaud tells the court that his name was mentioned in one of Theuma’s recordings. “I had to strain to hear it because the recording was not clear,” he said.
He says he always spoke to Fenech when he had his lawyers present.
He adds: “Under oath, I’m not sure about the time he was inside the lawyers’ room. But he should not have been alone in there, his lawyers should have been present.”
Meeting Caruana Galizia family
11.48am Inspector Arnaud tells the court he met with the Caruana Galizia family in October, to give them some updates “without giving away too many details”.
He says he was pleased that Matthew Caruana Galizia had remarked on “certain aspects” of the investigation and that Peter Caruana Galizia had told him that he was happy he [Arnaud] was on the case.
11.46am Inspector Arnaud tells the court that while his team is focused on investigating the murder, other officers from Economic Crimes are handling other paths, including the leaks.
He says that to the best of his knowledge, those investigations are ongoing.
No mention of dates in recordings
11.43am Lawyer Victoria Buttigieg is asking inspector Arnaud some questions.
The inspector tells the court that there were no mention of dates in the recordings and no mention of the December  arrests, either.
[Theuma has testified that Fenech had given him advance notice that the arrests were going to take place].
Arnaud tells the court that Theuma mentioned that to them directly.
11.39am Following a 10-minute break, the court is back in session.
A brief recess
11.30am The judge has called a short recess. Inspector Arnaud will continue testifying once proceedings resume.
'They told me they had a duty to publish'
11.26am Arnaud says it was a “do or die” situation.
“We consulted Europol and told them of our plan to go down the money laundering route [to arrest Theuma]. They agreed.”
“I spoke to the Times and told them to give us until the end of the year. We told them what we had in hand. They told me ‘we have a duty to publish’”.
Leaks to the media
11.23am The judge asks inspector Arnaud about a leak to a Sunday Times of Malta article that appeared in October 2019.
[The reference is presumably to this article].
The inspector says that he met with the Times before that story because the leak risked “shattering” all their police work.
Inspector Arnaud says that at the time, they only had Vincent Muscat’s version of events and suspicions of recordings.
The judge says that Times of Malta had made mention of a “prominent businessman” in that article.
Inspector Arnaud says that police suspected Yorgen Fenech was involved.
Was Fenech mentioned during the Castille meetings, the judge asks.
“Yes, I believe we mentioned that suspicion,” the inspector replies. “We also updated the magistrate about all the details gathered so far.”
OPM meetings were 'operational'
11.15am Inspector Arnaud tells the court how the Armed Forces of Malta were roped in for preparatory meetings ahead of the December 2017 arrests.
He is again asked about those OPM meetings. They were purely operational, he says.
The Prime Minister [Joseph Muscat] had told them to “work to bolster information” [aħdmu biex issaħħu l-informazzjoni].
“So that’s what we did,” he says.
The doctor and the letters
11.08am One of the new pieces of information Fenech provided concerned an alleged escape plan being hatched by Fenech and Schembri with the help of doctor Adrian Vella.
[Fenech has said that Vella passed him a note from Schembri. Vella was friends of both men].
Inspector Arnaud says that it proved quite difficult to track Dr Vella down. When they did, they interrogated him for a few hours and spoke to him about two letters. Vella insisted with police that he had only passed on one letter to Fenech. He said he had nothing to do with the second letter.
An allegedly promised pardon
11.04am Fenech told police that he had initially given a different version of events because Schembri had promised him a pardon. When the pardon did not come through, his version changed, the inspector says.
'Fenech kept adding information'
11.02am Fenech kept adding to his initial version of events, Arnaud says.
“I regularly visited him in lock-up and asked him ‘do you have anything else to add?’” he recalls.
Fenech added to the list of persons he mentioned and gave more information about Theuma.
“Why didn’t he tells us everything from the start? I though it was quite strange.”
'I'm not trying to twist facts'
10.57am On November 22, police spoke to Fenech about Keith Schembri and the letter written by Theuma [which Times of Malta published].
Investigators also spoke to Theuma about it, he adds. This happened before the decision about Fenech’s pardon, he says.
Lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran interjects. He says the inspector is leaving out a detail the media is not aware of, concerning his client’s pardon request.
Arnaud stands his ground. He says Fenech first corroborated what Theuma said, then started mentioning Keith Schembri after his first request for a pardon was turned down.
“I’m not trying to twist facts,” the inspector insists.
Fenech is played recordings
10.53am Inspector Arnaud says the first time he spoke to Yorgen Fenech was on November 21, 2019, when Fenech was in the police lock-up.
Officers had searched his home and office the previous day. On the 21st, investigators played recordings to him, in the presence of his lawyer.
The first recording played was “number seven”, the inspector recalls. In it, Fenech told Theuma about a Castille meeting concerning a potential pardon for Vincent Muscat. An “Owen” and “Arnaud” were mentioned.
Fenech was asked to explain that recording. Keith Schembri’s name came up, the inspector tells the court.
At the end of that session, his lawyer told police that they would be seeking a presidential pardon.
Theuma 'wanted to speak'
10.48am The inspector is asked if the inquiring magistrate was allowed to hear calls between Theuma and Fenech once police had them in their possession.
No, comes the reply. But we took Theuma to testify in the inquiry.
“Melvin Theuma wanted to speak, and he spoke. We played out the recordings in his presence and that of his lawyers. Theuma explained as we went along,” the inspector says.
'Everything hinged on Theuma'
10.45am Inspector Arnaud says that everything hinged on [middleman] Melvin Theuma.
“Unless we got to Theuma, we couldn’t get to who was above him. We knew that recordings existed, possibly with Yorgen Fenech. But we didn’t know what they contained or how relevant they were to the investigation.
“We only decided to move when we were convinced that we had a case against Melvin Theuma. The Economic Crimes Unit was roped in, we had different avenues to follow.”
Inspector Arnaud says that everything was done in agreement with Europol and the inquiring magistrate [now Neville Camilleri] was also kept updated. Police played recordings of phone intercepts to him.
But the magistrate did not hear any recordings of calls between Theuma and Yorgen Fenech, the inspector says, because police did not know of any calls between the two until they arrested Theuma.
What about the FBI?
10.40am Lawyer Victoria Buttigieg asks about the FBI’s role.
The FBI would ask about specific data, the inspector says. Police would get that data and then pass it on to the FBI. Maltese police would also analyse the same data, in parallel.
Inspector Arnaud says that around 8 to 10 people sat on the murder investigation task force. He says that the bulk of their work related to phone intercepts. [You might want to read what the inspector said about those phone intercepts in a separate case concerning phone tapping, just last week].
US offer to help
10.35am Mr Justice Mintoff wants to know about the US Embassy’s offer of FBI help.
“We didn’t need the FBI,” the inspector says. He says a specialised team was put together to analyse cell tower data . The analysis was done by Europol.
But the judge interjects. “If I’m not mistaken, that statement was issued after Keith Schembri resigned. They offered to help us solve the case”.
[The US embassy offered help in October 2019. Mr Schembri resigned the following month].
Inspector Arnaud says he must have confused statements. The judge seems perplexed that the inspector is not aware of what he is referring to.
“It was on Twitter and everywhere. I would expect you to know about that.”
No Europol at OPM
10.29am Mr Justice Mintoff wants to know if Europol officers were involved during those Castille meetings.
“No, but we kept them updated,” the inspector replies. “We sometimes had meetings at the Hague”.
Europol also helped local investigators when it came to deciding on what to do with "the pardon request", the inspector says. [Arnaud is most likely referring to Vincent Muscat's request, which was denied].
Inspector Arnaud on Europol
10.27am Inspector Keith Arnaud takes the witness stand.
He explains that he and inspector Kurt Zahra were the main leads on the investigation, assisted by others.
Europol provided support with data analysis. “They have been assisting us from day one,” he says. Other Europol professionals were appointed as court experts.
Two Europol officers had continued to provide support in the two years since the first arrests in connection with the case, the inspector says.
They sometimes came to Malta and the police kept them briefed, he adds.
Infrastructure Malta job
10.22am A lawyer with Infrastructure Malta is the next to testify. She testifies about a particular job that was given. [The judge has ordered a ban on details, so we apologise in advance for the vagueness].
The witness explains how job applications go through state employment agency JobsPlus.
In this case, there were two eligible applicants. They both passed the job interview. One was given the job, passed the probation period and had the job confirmed in July 2019. Three people sat on the selection board, the lawyer says.
Arnaud and Fenech
10.15am Dr Caruana Curran asks whether there were logs noting when inspector Arnaud had spoken to Mr Fenech.
“I’m not in a position to reveal that information,” comes the reply. “There were various other officers on duty at the time”.
Dates and times
10.12am Mr Gafá is asked to get information about the dates and times when Mr Fenech was held in police custody.
He tells the court that there were five pages in the relevant log book which refer to Mr Fenech.
On November 20, Mr Fenech entered the lock-up at around 9pm. He was then released the following day.
On November 22, he was returned to the lock-up at around 4.05pm and then released on November 23.
On November 24, he was taken in again at 4.05pm and released on police bail at 3.07pm on November 26.
On November 27, he was taken in at 11.05am and released on the morning of November 29.
The last time he featured in the log book was on the morning of November 30, he says. Mr Fenech was arraigned at 7.55pm that evening.
10.08am There’s some legal wrangling as lawyer Victoria Buttigieg, representing the defence, presents a transcript of Melvin Theuma’s testimony in court during the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech.
The judge deftly handles that, and we move on to the next witness. Victor Gafá takes the stand. Mr Gafá is there to provide evidence about Mr Fenech’s time in police lock-up.
A perplexed lawyer
10.03am Dr Caruana Curran is perplexed. Was it normal for the lead to pass to inspector Arnaud once deputy commissioner Valletta resigned, instead of to a more senior officer?
No direct answer to that question from the commissioner.
That's all from police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, who steps off the witness stand.
10am The commissioner did not even receive recordings of phone calls between Schembri and Fenech, he tells the judge, who had asked the question while noting “they were friends”.
“We got to that thanks to recordings found in Melvin Theuma’s possession,” the commissioner says. He emphasises that this was possible thanks to the decision he had taken three months prior [to not proceed with arrests at the time].
Commissioner not told Fenech's phone was being tapped
9.55am “Investigators never gave me feedback that Keith Schembri was involved as a person of interest in the murder probe,” the commissioner says.
Lawyers want to know whether Keith Schembri ever told him that he knew Yorgen Fenech personally.
“No, no, no,” the commissioner insists.
Answering a question by Mr Justice Mintoff, the commissioner says he did not know that Yorgen Fenech’s phone was being tapped.
9.52am Dr Camilleri asks about those OPM meetings he mentioned earlier and Keith Schembri. Commissioner Cutajar says Mr Schembri’s name did not feature in the investigation at the time. That came later.
Lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran, also representing Yorgen Fenech, tells the commissioner that in a phone call, middleman Melvin Theuma had told Mr Fenech “tell that friend of yours to help us”.
The commissioner replies by saying that he did not listen to all the phone calls and recordings. He let the task force do its work and there was also Europol on the case, he adds.
'Are you saying Arnaud investigated himself?'
9.47am Yorgen Fenech’s lawyer Marion Camilleri has some questions for the witness.
Do the police know of any leak in the investigation?
“We tried to confirm this but found nothing,” the commissioner replies.
Dr Camilleri says Yorgen Fenech has provided information showing there was a leak.
“Yes, we investigated but we got nowhere,” he replies.
Dr Camilleri reminds the commissioner that Mr Fenech has said he got information from Keith Schembri, who in turn got it from inspector Arnaud.
The commissioner says all avenues were investigated by inspectors Keith Arnaud and Kurt Zahra.
Judge Mintoff interjects. “So are you saying that Arnaud investigated himself?”
The commissioners says “a large part” of the investigation was carried out by inspector Zahra.
He confirms that the two inspectors leading the murder investigation were also the two officers who carried out most of the work to try identify the alleged leaks.
Stepping in for Valletta
9.43am The commissioner says that when the decision was made for deputy commissioner Silvio Valletta to move out of the murder investigation [he was ordered to do so by a court], the commissioner took it upon himself to provide logistical help to the investigation himself.
To arrest or not?
9.41am The commissioner thinks back to April 2019. At the time, he says, there was disagreement over how to proceed.
Some wanted arrests to happen there and then. The commissioner says that would have prejudiced the case.
“I took the decision not to go [to search and arrest],” he says. “I shouldered responsibility for that decision.”
“Time proved me right,” he adds, “though I’m still suffering the repercussions of that decision”.
9.39am The commissioner says he was present at OPM meetings about the murder. The PM, Joseph Muscat, was there. So was Keith Schembri and sometimes Justice Minister Owen Bonnici would be there too.
Obviously inspector Arnaud was involved from day one, he adds.
The meetings were mostly focused on Vincent Muscat’s request for a pardon. Mr Muscat is one of three men accused of planting and detonating the bomb that killed Ms Caruana Galizia.
“We informed Europol,” the commissioner says of Mr Muscat’s pardon request. “The prime minister was advised not to grant that pardon”. It’s not clear who gave the PM that advice.
First at the scene?
9.35am The commissioner says he was one of the first at the crime scene. Silvio Valletta [a deputy commissioner who has since retired] was giving him regular updates. Michael Mallia kept in regular touch with Europol.
But one of Daphne's sisters, Corinne Vella, is not having that.
"This is incorrect. He was not there when I arrived shortly after 3pm," she recalls of the day of the murder.
Commissioner Cutajar takes the stand
9.30am The police commissioner explains police procedures when a homicide occurs.
Field officers go on site to preserve the scene of the crime, and then other units are informed. A magisterial inquiry is also appointed in crimes of certain bearing, he says.
What about the Caruana Galizia case?
"In this case, we also had the FBI," the commissioner explains.
No further evidence, your honour
9.28am Lawyer Marion Camilleri, who is representing Yorgen Fenech, tells the court that they have no further evidence to present.
But the respondents do. They're calling police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar to the stand.
Court in session
9.25am Judge Lawrence Mintoff gets proceedings under way.
Police commissioner spotted outside
9.20am We've spotted police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar milling around outside. Could he be one of the day's witnesses?
9.10am Good morning, and welcome. We're live from the law courts. A sniffer dog is led into the courtroom, presumably for a security check. Still no word about who will be testifying during today's court session, though we will find out soon enough.
What we know so far:
- Inspector Arnaud told the court the first time he ever met Mr Schembri was during police briefings at Castille about Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder, in the weeks before the December 2017 arrests;
- He said that he only began communicating with Keith Schembri to arrange meetings, after (now retired) Police Assistant Commissioner Silvio Valletta stepped away from the case in June 2018;
- Inspector Arnaud said that Adrian Vella, a doctor, admitted he passed notes from Keith Schembri to Yorgen Fenech when the latter was under arrest for the murder. Schembri says he did not write any of the notes;
- Schembri admits he spent 24 minutes on the phone with Fenech just before the Fenech tried to leave the island. He denies giving Fenech any information about the investigation.