The second hearing of the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, accused of conspiring to murder Daphne Caruana Galizia took place on Thursday.
Inspector Keith Arnaud gave his evidence in the case, including how officers have been unable to locate former chief of staff Keith Schembri's phone.
What we learnt today from Inspector Arnaud's testimony:
- Keith Schembri's mobile phone is not part of the evidence because he told police he lost it
- The former chief of staff is still being investigated in relation to the murder
- Data has been erased from the phone of Dr Adrian Vella, who allegedly passed notes between Mr Schembri and Yorgen Fenech, after his arrest
- One of the notes made reference to other people's possible involvement including Economy Minister Chris Cardona
- The price paid to murder Daphne Caruana Galizia was between €400,000 and €500,000, according to alleged murder middleman Melvin Theuma
- Yorgen Fenech plotted how he could escape via Tunis, possibly on a private jet and was arrested while trying to flee to France
Fenech requests bail
2.16pm The case is now adjourned until Monday at 10am. Before the case was adjourned Magistrate Rachel Montebello said Fenech's legal team have made an application for bail.
She explains that she will decide upon it on Monday
Financial transactions drawn up in French
2.12pm Two more officers from economic crimes testify about the search. One of them says he found documents related to financial transactions drawn up in French.
These and a photocopy of a Visa card were found in the secretary's office.
What was found at Fenech's Portomaso base
2.01pm Inspector Keith Vella at the Economic Crime Unit is presenting items retrieved from Level 21, Portomaso Tower (where Fenech was based).
Some of the items retrieved:
- contract of service
- payslips issued to Melvin Theuma
- a colour photo
- a note allegedly handwritten by Theuma
All items are presented in court in large plastic evidence bags.
Europol still investigating recordings
1.57pm The magistrate is asking about the recordings currently at Europol.
Arnaud says that the extraction of data is still not complete. the target date for completion is around mid to end January.
Until this is ready, Theuma's testimony will have to wait.
The price for a murder
1.45pm Arnaud says that according to Theuma, between €400,000 and €500,000 was paid out to carry out the 2017 murder.
Lawyer now asks about extension on Casino licence issued by Cardona. Have you verified this, he asks.
"I haven’t got there yet," Arnaud replies.
The Cardona link
1.30pm The lawyer makes reference to the note handed to Fenech by his doctor. There was mention of Toni Sammut, known as Toni l-Iblaħ. There was also reference to “CC”, allegedly Economy Minister Chris Cardona.
The letter was seen as an alleged frame up of the minister to link him with the murder.
Azzopardi reads from the note that speaks of a price tag of €300,000 later changed to a trade licence issued by the minister.
We had reported that a four-page note allegedly written by Keith Schembri claims that minister Chris Cardona had offered to help criminals smuggle contraband cigarettes in exchange for carrying out Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.
The note is viewed as one of the key pieces of evidence in establishing whether the prime minister’s former chief of staff interfered in the murder investigation.
"There were plans for two people to kill Caruana Galizia, a person who is now dead and minister Cardona. CC (Chris Cardona), Fredu and Toni used to meet at Ferdinand's (Siggiewi bar)," the note said.
Arnaud explains how investigators had checked out all details linked to the brothel case, the libel, and so on.
The minister dropped the libel case. That date was compared to information supplied by Fenech.
Call data was checked to compare timing with the call log data linked to the murder.
Arnaud says that he had investigated an earlier allegation linking the minister to a meeting with Alfred Degiorgio at the bar.
Reference was also made to David Gatt, who was allegedly at the bar and also at the Marsa potato shed.
"Did you confirm whether it was the lawyer? Yes. Intelligence shows that David Gatt was often at the potato sheds."
Phone is still missing
1.18pm Parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi now cross examines Arnaud.
When Schembri was asked about his mobile phone he had claimed he did not know where he put it. The chief of staff kept saying he misplaced his phone which has not yet been found.
Azzopardi asks about the media reports of Schembri meeting Joseph Muscat before he was questioned. Arnaud says he has no knowledge of that meeting.
The lawyer also asks about his earlier claim that Fenech had been tipped off by a journalist. Arnaud says the data is "massive" and so could not reveal the journalist's name.
The lawyer now makes reference to the note handed to Fenech by his doctor. There was mention of Toni Sammut, known as Toni l-Iblaħ. There was also reference to “CC”, allegedly Economy Minister Chris Cardona.
The letter was seen as an alleged frame up of the minister to link him with the murder.
Investigations not yet closed
1.15pm Lawyers ask Arnaud when the police considered Fenech a suspect.
It was around August or September of 2018 and subsequently there was a leak to the media, he says.
He repeats: Investigations on Schembri are not closed yet linking him to the homicide and other possible leaks.
Why are you investigating it separately from the murder?
"Not quite. We enlarged the team of investigators to make sure that all ends were covered. It’s not isolated and still ongoing," Arnaud confirms.
'My life was in danger'
1.07pm Arnaud says that during his interrogation with Fenech he did not mention Schembri. The businessman did not either.
Lawyer Camilleri asks: Did you get any whiff about the leaks?
Arnaud: "Yes, upon opening Melvin's box. I was shocked at the time."
The inspector is asked if he knew the leaks were coming from Schembri?
"At first Schembri was not mentioned in Fenech's informal questioning. Then Fenech told police that he had got information from Schembri."
Lawyer asks: Did you ask Schembri about that?
Arnaud: "Yes. My life was in danger. It was shocking and frightening. Melvin had said that Fenech had got information from Schembri. Fenech also confirmed. Then I asked Schembri himself, who denied it all."
The magistrate asks the inspector if he was aware the two were friends.
"Later I got to know," Arnaud replies.
Schembri said he had lost his phone
12.55pm Arnaud says that during a search, Keith Schembri's phone had not been found.
"But we took his laptop and the devices even used by his children."
Magistrate asks if the police asked about the missing mobile:
"Yes. He said that he had lost it," Arnaud replies.
"We gathered all devices at his home. We suspected the letter sent to Fenech could have originated from there. So we started our searches at his home."
The police then headed to Schembri's Castille office on December 5, and proceeded to seal it.
Asked about messages allegedly exchanged between Fenech and Schembri, Arnaud says that he searched the businessman's phone but did not go through all data. Europol is now in possession of that phone.
Asked if he ever informed the Prime Minister that Schembri's name was cropping up in the investigations, Arnaud replies: "Yes... But I think that Schembri was already arrested by then".
Lawyer Caruana Curran makes reference to media reports of a late night meeting between Schembri and Joseph Muscat at the Prime Minister's Burmarrad home.
We're almost three hours into the testimony of lead investigator Keith Arnaud in the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, who stands accused of being behind the assassination of Caruana Galizia.
The inspector has testified on the phone investigations which led to the three suspects and eventually to Melvin Theuma and then Yorgen Fenech. Arnaud confirmed the way Fenech had a note delivered to him by his doctor from Keith Schembri. The court also heard how the businessman had discussed escape plans via Tunis and how the police's plans to arrest had to move faster because of the media reports.
'I never had meetings with Keith Schembri'
12.48pm Arnaud confirms that he led the task force on the murder probe. Investigators worked alongside Europol and inquiring magistrate who was also updated on intercepts.
"I never took decisions alone," he says.
The first time Schembri’s name came up, says Arnaud, was when Theuma spoke to two friends of his. In one such conversation, Theuma was angry, used foul language and addressed them to Fenech “and his friend Keith.”
Lawyer Caruana Curran says: "What if I tell you that the relatives of Caruana Galizia had mentioned Schembri? So Schembri was mentioned in the recordings, Fenech also mentioned him.
"Didn’t Keith Schembri ever tell you of the job he gave Theuma, that his friend was Fenech?"
Arnaud hits back: "I never had meetings with Keith Schembri."
Arnaud says Theuma's name was mentioned in a briefing around April 2018. Fenech's name was not mentioned at that time.
Meetings dealt with logistics and not further developments beyond the recordings. Arnaud says that he said nothing to Schembri about the phone tappings.
Meetings at OPM
12.35pm Reference is made to briefings at the Office of the Prime Minister when three dates for arrests were mentioned. Keith Schembri was present, Arnaud says.
The weekend before the arrests there was a meeting at Malta Security Services - that was when the final date was set.
Later some three to four briefings were held at Castille around end of April. At the time, arrangements were made by former deputy commissioner Silvio Valletta. Arnaud would go for assistance. After Valletta moved out, Arnaud would fix briefings through Keith.
"They were formal meetings with the Prime Minister. There were no meetings between me and Keith," Arnaud promptly points out, to clarify.
Arnaud confirms that he led the task force on the murder probe. Investigators worked alongside Europol and inquiring magistrate who was also updated on intercepts
Investigations on Schembri, Camilleri still ongoing
12.23pm The plastic box retrieved from Theuma's home was not opened before lawyers and magistrate were present. Theuma did not lose sight of the box for one minute, while it was held in the inspector’s hands.
Arnaud says he wanted to keep the letter so that should something happen "he would be believed".
Defence lawyer Marion Camilleri asks: "Didn’t you feel the need to investigate Schembri about the homicide".
Arnaud replies: "I did and investigations are still ongoing."
As for the bail issue, Theuma says that Kenneth Camilleri from OPM had gone to his home and had made the call that led to promise of bail and a million euros each.
"Kenneth was also investigated and we spoke to him not once."
The magistrate points out that Camilleri should testify. He will, Arnaud confirms.
Letter presented to court
12.12pm A photocopy of the letter referred to previously, has just been presented in court. This letter is the four-page note handed by the doctor to Fenech.
The lawyer asks Arnaud: "When you arrested Theuma you had recordings and photo." Yes, is the reply.
The handwritten letter by the middleman was found at Fenech's place not Theuma's.
"The version in that letter was rather different from Theuma's later version, how could you not believe what he had written in that letter and instead believe him when he comes here saying he knows nothing about Schembri?
Arnaud says he first sought to hear Theuma's testimony without recordings to test his version.
At that stage, Schembri was mentioned in relation to the infamous photo taken at Castille with Theuma.
"When the recordings were played, that was when he began to clarify why had mentioned Keith. At first he mentioned Keith in relation to the phantom job, the visit to Castille, his first meeting with Keith at the farmhouse. That was before the recordings were played out
"That was when closer questioning took place. When pressed further he explained that he had mentioned Schembri in the letter because he feared that Fenech would finally get fed up with him, dishing out money and would turn to Schembri to help get rid of him."
'A sort of puppet master'
12.05pm Arnaud returns to Theuma's questioning.
"When he first spoke, he gave his own version, without the recordings. Afterwards, the recordings were played out. That was when new names emerged, including Keith Schembri's. As soon as Keith’s name cropped up, police put a barrage of questions. The letter came to light after Fenech's arrest."
Lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran points out that there were a number of similarities in the letter and Theuma's testimony.
“No, I don’t think so,” Arnaud replies.
The court directs that further questions on this letter are to be reserved for later, when it has been presented in court.
Fenech had told police he had given original version under promise of pardon by Schembri.
"So Keith Schembri was a sort of puppet master, orchestrating all this," De Caruana Curran says.
Schembri denies knowledge of plan
11.50am Arnaud now moves on to the arrest of Schembri.
The chief of staff denied knowing about the letter, though confirmed that he had spoken to Fenech on the eve of his arrest. He denied any involvement or knowledge of escape bid the week before. He said he knew the doctor but denied passing any letters to Fenech.
Arnaud says that when Fenech was arrested the third time, the issue of prohibitory injunction in his regard had cropped up. So at that stage, after some heated discussion with Fenech's lawyers, Arnaud had moved away, leaving the suspect's statement to be handled by Kurt Zahra.
Fenech was ultimately arraigned November 30.
Lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran (GCC) stands up.
GCC: "Can you confirm that boat’s VHS was switched on?"
KA: "Yes. On the boat there was the captain and Yorgen. The trip to the boathouse in Sicily had been long scheduled, clearance granted, the boat was to be taken for maintenance. Yorgen told captain he was joining him. However, after the trip, the captain was to travel back via catamaran alone. He didn’t know about Yorgen's plans."
GCC: "Did Melvin Theuma also need medical assistance?"
KA: "Yes. He was taken to Mater Dei, but did not request any particular doctor. When taken to hospital, there were strict instructions that Theuma and Fenech to be kept apart from others, and no one was to approach them. As for Theuma, his hospital visit was before he got the pardon."
An escape through Tunis?
11.45am After the doctor was released, he was called back and questioned further, Arnaud explains. That was why there were several instances of police bail. Each time, new details were added and the police would check.
They asked the doctor if Schembri had been involved in some escape bid at the weekend before Fenech's arrest. Doctor said there was such a bid but that Schembri had nothing to do with it.
When Theuma was arrested, Fenech had called the doctor to visit him. Fenech seemed in a very bad state.
Fenech accepted the doctor's offer to go to Gozo in the doctor’s car. During the trip on the ferry, Fenech covered his face with a jacket, hunched down and didn’t once leave the car.
When finally at doctor’s farmhouse, they were joined by Yorgen Fenech's brother Franco. The brothers discussed how Fenech could escape, via Tunis. They even mentioned possible use of a private jet, Arnaud says.
According to the doctor, Fenech had said: "if he goes down, he will bring down Keith as well".
Arnaud says he could not quite figure out when this was said.
Arrest plan was precipitated
11.28am Arnaud says Fenech's arrest had not originally been planned as such. The police had intended to question Theuma further before getting Fenech's version.
But when the story broke in the media that Theuma had been arrested, the investigators had to suddenly concentrate on Fenech.
"Then we sensed suspicious manoeuvres by Fenech. We placed officers on watch. We suspected he would try to leave Malta. So we put out a watch at airport, at sea, at the catamaran area, we called in AFM patrol. As soon as Fenech moved out, police zoomed in and arrested him. We feared he would escape."
Police suspected that the mastermind of Caruana Galizia's murder could be Fenech.
"There was one conversation with his uncle Ray. Ray had sent him a link on the news of the day. Fenech was told of rumours from “some journalist” that police were on his track. There was a chat between the uncle and nephew that clearly showed that Fenech intended to leave Malta without the police knowing, and go to France. The uncle told him to be careful about his card which could be traced. Fenech told him to look after his kids."
Phone data deleted
11.20am The doctor went to Fenech's home at Portomaso. Fenech began to go through the paper, scribbling on it. At one point, the doctor said that Fenech had spoken to Schembri over the doctor’s phone. That phone was examined but it had been swiped, all deleted. The doctor clearly began to evade police questions, Arnaud says.
At first, the doctor was not deemed as a suspect but his evasive stance led police to arrest him and held for questioning.
In Fenech's phone there were over 140,000 files. Police sifted through the data.
Arnaud refers to one chat with Schembri on the eve of Fenech's arrest. When Fenech had asked if someone was trailing him, Schembri said there was not.
Police actually found a thumbnail on Fenech's phone bearing the word "Leeee" (No).
That confirmed what Fenech had said. That was when police decided to proceed with Schembri's arrest.
The call from Schembri
11.15am Arnaud says the police worked round the clock on that night. They proceeded to the doctor’s home at St Paul's Bay. His car was outside but nobody answered the door. Arnaud called the doctor on the phone but still no answer. He was going to give the order to break down the door and finally the door was opened and doctor was escorted to the depot.
"At first he gave some excuse that he didn’t know it was the police. He said that he got to know Keith Schembri when ill. He finally admitted that he had passed the notes. He first got a call from Schembri and then got a call from Fenech asking him to collect the document from Schembri. He did. The paper was on a table. It was an A4 paper, not in an envelope, he insisted that he had not read the paper. He just put it in his inside pocket. Schembri told him to take paper to Fenech."
The mysterious notes
11.10am On November 23, Fenech asked to see a doctor, Adrian Vella, who after visiting the man at the lock-up referred him to Mater Dei Hospital. He was given medication and released under order that he was not fit for interrogation for the next 24 hours. That evening, Fenech was visited at home by his lawyer and brother.
On November 24, before he returned to police headquarters, Fenech spoke to lawyers at his Portomaso home. Around 4pm he returned to the police depot. Around 4.45pm he told police he had more details to beef up his earlier version.
On November 25, Theuma was granted his pardon. That same day, Fenech spoke to his lawyers twice and again asked for a pardon saying that his version had been conditioned by the promise of a pardon.
He said that the doctor had passed on to him a note from Schembri.
It was a six-page document handed to Fenech by the doctor when the businessman was home on police bail. It was computer typed, with scribbles and words crossed out in pen.
Fenech said had done the scribbles because he was not totally in agreement with what was written. He confessed that he had only gone through the first three pages or so, but then he got confused and decided not to go ahead with the story.
There had been another note, passed on by the doctor to Fenech when he was visited at the lockup.
Fenech said that on the eve of his arrest he had been in contact with Schembri. He said that there were screen shots on his phone. He told police to check his phone to confirm this.
Arnaud says they had two tasks: speak to the doctor and check his phone and then take action accordingly.
The version on Schembri changed
Yorgen Fenech was questioned twice before Theuma was granted a pardon.
As for the reference to Keith Schembri in the letter, Fenech's version corroborated what Theuma had said earlier. So, Schembri, the chief of staff then, could not be arrested, Arnaud says.
"When Theuma got the pardon Fenech's reference to Schembri then changed. This was said informally. He said that what he had said in his earlier two versions, had been said upon promise of him getting a pardon."
On November 21, in the evening, Fenech had to be released on police bail because 48 hours were lapsing. Arnaud had asked Fenech if he had anything to add:
"I’m beefing up the story, but the names are the same," he was told. When granted police bail, Fenech had police officers on guard at his home, given the nature of the case
'You need a break'
10.52am Theuma said he had only met Keith Schembri twice. The 'Kenneth' mentioned in the recordings was the man who had visited his home once.
A deleted file recently found on Theuma's phone brought to light another recording of Yorgen Fenech giving the middleman money for a holiday.
“Here, take these... because you need a break."
Theuma had become fixated that his life was in danger especially after the three hitmen were arrested in December 2017.
He had never given away Fenech's name.
However, when questioned, Theuma confirmed that Fenech had never threatened him and had always given him money as requested.
What worried him was that Fenech could turn to Keith Schembri, his friend, to land Theuma in jail or eliminate him
"What worried him was that Fenech could turn to Keith Schembri, his friend, to land Theuma in jail or eliminate him," Arnaud says.
Another chat showed that Fenech had promised to prepare some “paper” to help him in the money laundering matter as well as help Theuma's partner and daughter.
"I can help you with one thing, but not with the other," Fenech had told Theuma in one recording. The chat took place on the encrypted Signal App shortly before Theuma's arrest.
'That was when we began to hear names'
10.47am Arnaud says economic crimes unit was engaged to test whether there was a case of money laundering through Theuma's illegal betting operation. Europol were also roped in. The suspect had devices and computers.
Economic crimes unit said there was a strong case and that was the decision to move in on Theuma. The deadline for the operation was set at around November.
The homicide squad was not to be involved in that arrest. But Arnaud was then informed by Nicholas Vella, from the economic crimes unit, that the suspect appeared to be making a suspect manoeuvre, possibly to delete data.
So contrary to the original plan and though Europol had not yet arrived, police acted fast. Theuma was arrested, along with his partner and daughter.
All electronic devices were seized and handed over to the Europol officer in Malta who then together with the team, extracted the data.
Theuma requested a presidential pardon on condition that he would give all the information leading investigators to whoever was behind the murder.
When the pardon was given, Theuma was questioned some six times. The police went through the recordings, playing them out in presence of his lawyers.
"That was when we began to hear names not heard before... Yohann, Kenneth. There were discussions of bail, whoever messed it up," Arnaud says.
Theuma sounded agitated
10.35am Arnaud says Theuma began to sound panicked and agitated, sometimes opening up about his troubles with a fellow taxi driver and another friend. He would also mention Yorgen Fenech.
That led investigators to suspect the link to the Caruana Galizia assassination.
Investigators zoomed in on the recordings, sensing this could provide the necessary breakthrough, but treading cautiously and not wanting to put all their hopes on the recordings. They didn’t know what the recordings contained or even where they were.
They did not wish to risk all the work done so far and had to time the arrest carefully.
'Yes, I will keep helping you'
10.30am Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat were those keeping watch on Caruana Galizia, following her movements, Arnaud says.
During the raids, Muscat’s phone was also recovered from the sea, close to the jetty.
The inspector now shifts focus on Melvin Theuma and how the Degiorgio brothers' calls from jail were monitored.
Theuma used to speak to Alfred and George Degiorgio when the two spoke to their brother Mario.
Mario Degiorgio would hand over the phone to Theuma who would chat to the brothers for a few minutes, offering words of encouragement, sending them food in jail, saying “yes, I will keep helping you.”
Such frequent interest in the Degiorgios led investigators to the conclusion that Theuma was acting as go-between.
The phone movements
10.25am Arnaud says the phone number locations moved from St Paul’s Bay to Marsa and linked to various cell towers all facing the sea, until the message that activated the bomb was sent shortly before 3pm.
After the boat had returned ashore, all mobile phones were switched off. One of the numbers was located at the Marsa potato shed (that's where the original three suspects were rounded up).
That mobile phone was later found on the seabed near the potato shed. It was retrieved by divers who had searched the area.
Suspect George Degiorgio had asked for a top up from a third party, a friend of his. The top up SMS had also been decoded by Vodafone.
When the three suspects were arrested Alfred’ Degiorgio's mobile was found under the potato shed. His number was confirmed.
The three numbers’ movements and locations showed that they were involved in the murder. George Degiorgio's number was not tracked to Bidnija except when the bomb was placed in the victim’s car.
"So all three were probably together at that time," Arnaud tells the court.
Target location: Bidnija
10.14am The court is in session. Inspector Keith Arnaud takes the witness stand. He gives the mobile phone numbers linked to device that set off the bomb.
One number was switched on early in 2017 and used a number of times on and off up to the explosion in October 2017.
When it was switched on, it had incoming text messages.
On the day of the murder it was switched on around 1am, the location update was always marked as Bidnija. That's where Caruana Galizia's home was located.
That number received SMSs from another Vodafone number. It was activated around the same time as the other number, also linked to a mobile phone.
The number was paired to murder suspect George Degiorgio’s mobile phone and one of the ghost phones activated around August 2017.
10am Reporters, the Caruana Galizia family and other parties have all been allowed into the courtroom.
'Middleman' Melvin Theuma is outside in the corridor.
Parte civile lawyers are Jason Azzopardi, Therese Comodini Cachia, Andrew Borg Cardona and Peter Caruana Galizia.
That five hour session
9.45am: A court session which lasted almost five hours last week saw Melvin Theuma point fingers at the entrepreneur for the October 2017 assassination. Meanwhile chief investigator Keith Arnaud recounted conversations between Theuma and Fenech, which the middleman had recorded.
During that session, Theuma said:
- Fenech told him to hurry up the murder because “she (Daphne) is going to release my information”.
- He implicated Keith Schembri in a handwritten letter because he knew Schembri and Fenech were close friends and he was worried that they would collude to put him in prison.
- He was convinced that he was going to be ‘eliminated’. He suspected Fenech would get Schembri’s help to throw him (Theuma) behind bars.
And Inspector Keith Arnaud said:
- When the police arrested Theuma, they found a plastic box containing mobile phones, two bundles of papers, a voice recorder, USB pen drives and SIM cards.
- That Theuma was ‘obsessed’ with getting bail for the three alleged Caruana Galizia killers.
- That Fenech told Theuma that when he (Fenech) had spoken to Schembri about the murder, the former chief of staff had told him "next time you should have told me".
Who is Yorgen Fenech?
9.30am The multi-millionaire is the heir to a family fortune that spans multiple industrial sectors and is practically a household name in Malta – Tumas.
What we know so far
Yorgen Fenech was arrested aboard his yacht at the crack of dawn last month, 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 about the case.
That middleman – taxi driver Melvin Theuma – has testified that Fenech was the sole mastermind behind the Caruana Galizia murder plot.
He has said he surreptitiously recorded Fenech and is scheduled to continue testifying on Thursday.
Here's our report on Theuma's first testimony before the courts.
Theuma also wrote a letter in which he named the prime minister's former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, as a co-conspirator.
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