Yorgen Fenech paid tens of thousands of euro to cover legal fees for men accused of murdering Daphne Caruana Galizia and forked out a further €55,000 to cover their eventual bail fees, Melvin Theuma told a court on Monday.
Theuma, a taxi driver who says he served as a middleman for Fenech and who has turned state’s evidence, claimed he also arranged for weekly payments of €2,000 to €3,000 to reach Degiorgio brothers Alfred and George.
Fenech would hand him money at his Portomaso office or else at his Żebbuġ farmhouse, Theuma said. He would then give the money to Mario Degiorgio, a brother of Alfred and George, usually at his Marsa home.
“First he gave me €30,000. Then Mario asked for another €30,000. Then they wanted another €30,000. Yorgen gave me €25,000, and I forked out another €5,000 myself,” Theuma testified in the compilation of evidence against Fenech.
The money was to be used to pay legal fees for the Degiorgio brothers, he said, with Mario Degiorgio also telling them that some of it would also be used to pay for “Italian experts”. Theuma told the court he did not know any more about those.
The Degiorgio brothers are pleading not guilty to having murdered Caruana Galizia in October 2017. A third man charged with the murder, Vince Muscat, is serving a 15-year sentence after admitting to the crime and agreeing to testify about his involvement.
Fenech, a multimillionaire businessman with a stake in the Electrogas power station project that Caruana Galizia was investigating, stands accused of complicity in the murder.
He denies the charges and has also denied claims that he paid for the Degiorgios’ legal fees.
€155,000 for the murder
Theuma has testified that he met the alleged killers on Fenech's behalf and then handed them €150,000 of Fenech's money to carry out the assassination.
Testifying on Monday, Theuma said the murder fee was actually €155,000.
'Fenech told me 'our power lies in money''
Theuma said he first met Mario Degiorgio in 2018 after he spoke to Alfred Degiorgio, who was already in prison, over the phone.
He would receive receipts for each of the payments he handed over and hid those receipts in the cooker hood of a Marsascala house. Theuma led police to the receipts after his arrest in 2019, the court heard.
Theuma said he kept the receipts to be able to prove to Fenech that the money he was giving him was reaching its intended recipients.
Fenech would initially grumble – “they want to become millionaires in one day,” Theuma recalled him saying once – but was all too happy to continue paying.
“No, no,” Theuma recalled Fenech telling him when he once suggested stopping the payments. “Our power lies in money.”
Theuma's uncertainty about totals
The receipts, which were exhibited in court on Monday, were for €15,000, €50,000 and €4,000.
But Theuma said he was sure that the €50,000 payment had not been paid in one go, and told the court that he could not quantify the total amount of money he had passed on from Fenech to the Degiorgios.
“I was not well at the time,” he said. “I was going through bad times, taking pills and drinking.”
Additional weekly payments
The large lump sums were not the only payments Theuma claims Fenech made to the alleged killers: he told the court that he was also arranging for weekly payments of up to €3,000 to reach them, as well as a €300-a-week payment that started from their arrest in December 2017 until he himself was arrested in November 2019.
Theuma said that the Degiorgios wanted the larger weekly payment to cover various expenses ranging from school fees for George Degiorgio's children to car repairs.
The €300 payment was to be split evenly between the three men facing murder charges. But when Muscat’s wife started asking questions about the money, he stopped giving Muscat his €100 weekly share.
Initially, those smaller sums reached the Degiorgios through a mutual acquaintance in Marsa known as il-Lolly. But Theuma said that once he got to know Mario Degiorgio, he started giving that money directly to him.
Il-Lolly testified about the payments in a hearing earlier this month.
Another, separate €55,000 sum was to be used to pay for the alleged killers’ bail, Theuma said.
“Yorgen would tell me ‘tell them to rest easy. I will pay for their bail’."
The plan was to mask the money’s provenance by sending it to George Degiorgio’s mother-in-law overseas. She would invest the money in her farm and then send money to Malta to cover for bail, Theuma said.
None of the three men were ever granted bail. Muscat has since pleaded guilty while the Degiorgio brothers remain in custody.
Police: Theuma's version was enough
Superintendent and lead investigator Keith Arnaud told the court that Theuma told the police about the receipts soon after his arrest and that the sums Fenech gave to Theuma were “definitely” mentioned in covert recordings that Theuma made of their conversations.
Under cross-examination, Arnaud acknowledged that the police had not spoken to Mario Degiorgio or William Cuschieri – the Degiorgios’ lawyer – about the alleged payments.
Nor had the police checked to see whether the receipts Theuma held had been printed on Mario Degiorgio’s printer, Arnaud said under questioning.
“So far, Melvin Theuma’s version was enough. The investigation so far has taken that course,” Arnaud said.
Uncertainty over Kenneth Camilleri's testimony
Following Theuma and Arnaud’s testimony, the court heard that Kenneth Camilleri – a former member of the prime minister’s security detail who told police that Keith Schembri had sent him to speak to Theuma to “calm him down” in 2018 – did not want to testify for fear of self-incrimination.
Arnaud told a court that he was informed that investigations into Camilleri were still ongoing.
But Fenech’s defence lawyers insisted that Camilleri should be brought to the witness stand.
“At least he should be summoned, take the witness stand and then take it from there. After all he was comfortable testifying elsewhere,” defence lawyer Charles Mercieca argued.
Magistrate Rachel Montebello ordered the prosecution to check what stage investigations into Camilleri had reached and indicated that he might be summoned to testify.
She also ordered the prosecution to list any pending witnesses and to present written submissions about the setting up of a data room where both the prosecution and defence will be able to analyse recordings made by Theuma. The room was suggested by Fenech's defence team.
The case continues on Thursday, when one of Caruana Galizia’s sons, Matthew, is due to face cross-examination. Caruana Galizia testified in the case last month.
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