Malta’s most senior financial crimes investigator Ian Abdilla says he was only informed murder suspect Yorgen Fenech wanted to speak to him about major corruption scandals after the businessman had already been charged and was no longer willing to speak.
In a third bid to gain immunity from prosecution on November 29, Fenech and his legal team pleaded to speak to assistant commissioner Abdilla about knowledge that the murder suspect claimed to have about corruption.
Times of Malta and Reuters in 2018 revealed Fenech was the owner of the mystery company 17 Black.
A leaked Panama Papers e-mail authored by financial advisors Nexia BT indicated 17 Black planned to feed millions into offshore structures owned by former government officials Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.
Two sources close to the investigation confirmed Fenech and his legal team made the request to speak to Abdilla during an interrogation on November 29, one day before the business magnate was charged with complicity in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Fenech’s legal team said the police had left them waiting for hours on end for a promised meeting between their client and Abdilla.
“We were told Yorgen Fenech would be spoken to by Ian Abdilla, who never came until after the arraignment,” his lawyers Marion Camilleri and Gianluca Caruana Curran confirmed.
Replying to questions by Times of Malta, Abdilla claimed he was only informed of Fenech’s request to speak to him a few days after Fenech was charged in court on November 30 and denied bail.
“As soon as this became known, I spoke to Fenech’s lawyers so that the necessary arrangements could be made to speak to him, and which interviews were to be carried out both by the police and by other magisterial authorities,” he said.
“However, I was informed that at that stage, Mr Fenech did not wish to speak to me further about additional cases.”
The request to speak to Abdilla was made during an interrogation the day after a previous attempt to gain immunity from prosecution was rejected during a late-night Cabinet meeting.
During the Cabinet meeting, ministers were briefed about a letter allegedly passed on to Fenech by former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri containing a script on how to pin the murder on former minister Chris Cardona.
At the time of going to print, the police had not responded about what had become of Fenech’s request to speak to the economic crimes chief.
A police source said that members from the fraud squad, who fall under Abdilla’s remit, did eventually speak to Fenech after he was charged. However, he was not asked about corruption in government projects.
“The focus of that interview was about the government job given to middleman Melvin Theuma. That was the priority at that stage,” the source said.
Theuma had been given a phantom job months before Caruana Galizia’s murder following a meeting at Auberge de Castille with former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Schembri was also questioned by police about the job given to Theuma.
The missed opportunity to probe Fenech about corruption cases continues to raise questions about the police’s reluctance to investigate evidence that first emerged in the 2016 Panama Papers leak implicating Schembri and Mizzi.
The police have since received multiple reports by the FIAU, Malta’s anti-money laundering unit, detailing reasonable suspicions about how Schembri and Mizzi were involved in criminal activity.
Daphne’s son, Matthew Caruana Galizia, has accused Abdilla of protecting top government officials and actively communicating and exchanging information with Schembri.
Abdilla has never publicly rebutted the accusations.
Malta risks being grey-listed by the Financial Action Task Force, an influential global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog, over its failure to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.
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