Police have opened a criminal investigation into members of Yorgen Fenech’s legal team, after one of them offered a Times of Malta journalist money at the end of a meeting.
A police spokesman confirmed that an investigation is under way but did not provide any further information.
The family of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia also filed a court application demanding a police and magisterial inquiry.
It follows confirmation that the Chamber of Advocates is also looking into the incident, which it described on Tuesday as “very serious”.
Times of Malta journalist Ivan Martin was handed a number of €500 notes by lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran following a 20-minute meeting on Monday. Martin rejected the money and immediately reported the incident to his direct editor.
‘The act amounts to bribery’
Caruana Curran is one of the lawyers representing Fenech, who stands accused of complicity in the murder of Caruana Galizia in October 2017. Another member of the legal team, Charles Mercieca, was also present for the Valletta meeting.
On Wednesday, the Caruana Galizia family filed an application before Magistrate Rachel Montebello, who is presiding over the case against alleged the alleged mastermind.
They said the incident described in Times of Malta was “an act that prima facie amounts to bribery in terms of Article 120(1) and 121(1) of the Criminal Code”.
The family said they were shocked at the news that the lawyers tried to bribe a journalist to influence public opinion in favour of the accused.
It asked the magistrate to insert the news item in the acts of the case as well as order the police to start a criminal investigation including through the opening of an in genere magisterial inquiry.
The crimes being alleged carry imprisonment for a term from six months to three years.
Lawyers double down on denial
On Wednesday morning, the two lawyers claimed in a statement that Caruana Curran had offered the journalist money because Martin was “posing as an investigator”.
Martin, they said, had taken advantage of them by “posing as an investigator interested in helping our client (outside his job with the Times) by way of investigative services, as well as sources and information.”
“We were assured that these services would help to demonstrate our client’s innocence. Naturally, we did not expect him (or anyone else offering similar professional services) to assist without payment,” Caruana Curran and Mercieca said in a statement on Wednesday morning.
The claim differs from what Caruana Curran had alleged on Monday, before Times of Malta publicly exposed the cash offer.
At the time, the lawyer had confirmed he offered the journalist money and said Martin had offered to “help neutralise the bias in the reporting in the media”.
He claimed he was not aware Martin was a full-time journalist with Times of Malta.
‘Journalist not an investigator’
Martin has been a Times of Malta journalist since 2013 and has covered the Caruana Galizia case extensively.
Times of Malta editor-in-chief Herman Grech said the Fenech legal team’s latest line of argument was baffling.
“At no point in his conversation did Ivan Martin indicate he was an investigator, a claim which came a day after the story was published,” Grech noted.
“On Monday, Gianluca Caruana Curran told Ivan Martin that he had ‘never dealt with journalists before’. He was therefore well aware he was actually dealing with a journalist, who happens to be one of the most high-profile reporters in Malta. How he has gone from that to a private investigator baffles us.
“We still find it strange how criminal lawyers just hand over €500 notes at the end of a meeting to someone, without even expecting a receipt,” he said.
Martin had met with Fenech’s lawyers twice and Monday’s meeting had been upon Mercieca’s request. The journalist had informed his editors about both meetings and kept them updated about developments, Grech added.