During the court sitting, which lasted almost five hours, the middleman stressed that he could not declare under oath that former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, had ever handed him money or spoken to him about the journalist’s assassination.
“To me, Yorgen Fenech was the mastermind,” said Mr Theuma, tracing the steps from the day when the businessman had first accosted Mr Theuma, a taxi driver stationed at the Hilton for the past seven years or so, up to the time of his arrest and his immediate willingness to tell police all he knew about the murder, in exchange for a presidential pardon.
“How can we contact George iċ-Ċiniż? I want to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia because she’s going to publish information about my uncle,” Mr Fenech had allegedly told Mr Theuma, one day some three weeks before the announcement of the 2017 election date.
That request had set in motion the chain of events leading up to the car bomb explosion on October 16 of that same year and the investigations and arrests that followed suit.
Mr Theuma explained how on election Sunday, Mr Fenech had called telling him, “hemmhekk mexxi,” [get on with that] and had later handed Theuma a large brown envelope containing €150,000 in €50 banknotes, the agreed sum to conclude the assassination.
Other details, already revealed by the middleman last week when testifying in the murder compilation against Alfred and George Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat, were repeated on Wednesday in the proceedings against the alleged mastermind.
Following the assassination and particularly after the December 5 arrests, Mr Theuma had undergone a change, giving in to heavy drinking and anti-depressants, as he felt pressured, on the one hand, by the demands of the three suspect murderers behind bars and his fear that Mr Fenech would turn to his “close” friend Keith Schembri for help to jail him or even bury him.
“Then the arrests followed. After that, I took a turn for the worse. My health suffered. I was depressed. I began to pass on some €300 to the three men behind bars,” through a “Lolly” from Ħamrun who would bring back receipts for those sums which Mr Theuma was forking out of his own pocket.
Constant requests for money reached Mr Theuma through Mario, the Degiorgios’ brother, prompting the middleman to turn to Mr Fenech who paid out some €2,000 to €3,000 per week, besides two payments of €30,000 and €60,000, to the men in prison.
“Up to the date when news of my pardon came out, the hitmen had no idea who the mastermind was,” Mr Theuma said.
After an argument with Mr Fenech, two men, a “Kenneth” working at the OPM and Yohann Cremona turned up at Mr Theuma’s home one evening, asking him what was wrong.
It was on that occasion that Kenneth had phoned someone, whom Mr Theuma believed was Mr Schembri, and afterwards relayed the message that the suspect murderers would “get bail on the 22nd and a million each”.
“I don’t recall what month it was but the 22nd came and went and no bail and no million materialised,” Mr Theuma said, adding that subsequently, the Degiorgios upped pressure, insisting on keeping him to his promise.
Mr Fenech appeared to have no idea about this bail affair, when Mr Theuma told him about his worries, and firmly refused to speak to a judge or even the Prime Minister for help, as suggested by the middleman.
Mr Fenech had allegedly told him that Mr Schembri could do nothing about getting the Degiorgio brothers bail and had only got involved, by sending Kenneth and Cremona to his home, “because of me [Fenech]”.
He implicated Mr Schembri in a handwritten letter because he knew Mr Schembri and Mr Fenech were close friends and he was worried that they would collude to put him in prison.
“But I cannot under oath state that Keith ever handed me money or ever spoke to me about the Caruana Galizia murder. I was afraid because the two were great friends. But to me, Yorgen Fenech was the mastermind,” he insisted.
Asked about the phantom job he had been offered two days after the assassination had been contracted and his visit to Castille, Mr Theuma could offer no explanation for landing the job.
“Didn’t you ask why you got the job?” asked Magistrate Rachel Montebello.
“No ma’am, I didn’t even know where I was working,” he replied.
“I went to an interview with two men and a woman and was asked if I knew how to send an email. In the blink of an eye ‘f’radda ta’ salib’ I had signed a contract”.
After that the first cheque arrived by hand and then some “three or four times” by post, he said.
The job ended when "Tony Muscat" told him that he would have to start reporting to work, and Mr Theuma replied that he could not since he was a taxi driver.
Mr Theuma also confessed that he had seriously contemplated suicide but the thought that held him back was the realisation that if he did that, he would only be doing Mr Fenech a favour “since the whole affair would be buried with me”.
When the police arrested Mr Theuma, they found a plastic box containing mobile phones, two bundles of papers, a voice recorder, USB pen drives and SIM cards. One of the papers was a photo of Mr Theuma with Keith Schembri at Castille.
This information was revealed by chief prosecutor Keith Arnaud when testifying on Wednesday.
The inspector explained how investigators had zoomed in on the middleman and the alleged mastermind by first monitoring calls between the three jailed suspects and the world outside, noticing that while Mr Muscat only made calls to his family, the Degiorgios sometimes asked their brother Mario whether he had “met that guy”.
Investigators understood that Mario was serving as a go-between between his brothers and Mr Theuma.
Insp. Arnaud explained that police had learnt, through highly confidential information, that Melvin Theuma was the middleman in the case and had handed Alfred Degiorgio €150,000 for the murder.
Mr Theuma was also the only person who frequently spoke to the brothers through Mario’s phone and also sent them food in prison.
Police had spoken to Mr Fenech twice before they recommended giving Mr Theuma a pardon.
Making reference to recordings of conversations between the middleman and the alleged mastermind, Inspector Arnaud testified about the various aspects of the murder discussed between the two, from the money that changed hands to Ms Caruana Galizia’s “4,000” enemies.
Mr Theuma seemed ‘obsessed’ with getting bail for the three alleged Caruana Galizia killers and had been reassured by Mr Fenech that he would speak to Keith Schembri about the bail issue.
Mr Fenech had also allegedly relayed to Mr Theuma information about the investigation and about a meeting of investigators, including Insp. Arnaud himself, at Castille with the Prime Minister, Keith Schembri and “Owen” intended to update government on the murder probe.
Mr Fenech had also allegedly passed on details to Mr Theuma about the “very big raid” that was to take place on December 5, urging him to warn the alleged murderers, the Inspector said.
As for the photo snapped by Sandro Craus of Mr Theuma and Schembri at Castille, the middleman had allegedly kept it, along with his handwritten note in which he named Mr Fenech and Mr Schembri, as leverage to protect himself.
Both the note and the photo are to be exhibited at the next hearing under court order. The recordings, currently being analysed by Europol experts, have still to be made available, this matter causing some heated arguments by the defence lawyers who objected to the fact that the prosecution was allowed to make its case despite those recordings not yet being produced as evidence in the case.
The case continues on December 19.
Lawyers Marion Camilleri and Gianluca Caruana Curran are defence counsel.
Lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia, Jason Azzopardi and Andrew Borg Cardona appeared parte civile.
Lawyers Matthew Brincat and Kathleen Calleja Grima assisted Mr Theuma.
Inspector Kurt Zahra also prosecuted, assisted by Philip Galea Farrugia from the AG’s Office.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us