The existence of a group chat between Yorgen Fenech, former Prime Minister Joesph Muscat and his former chief of staff Keith Schembri was confirmed on Monday as the compilation of evidence against Fenech, who is accused of masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, continued.
Testifying on Monday, police inspector Kurt Zahra said that investigators had asked Fenech about the secret group chat between him, Schembri and Muscat, in which Fenech said they were like brothers.
Both Schembri and Muscat’s names have featured in recent sessions, namely through the testimony which Fenech gave to police upon his arrest last year. Fenech claims that it was Schembri who masterminded the murder, and that Muscat was well-aware of the plot to kill the journalist.
Key Points from today’s sittings:
The court heard how a police report was filed by Fenech’s wife after she received a telephone call from Yorgen Fenech’s mobile phone – which is held by police – on Friday afternoon. The court is expected to hand down a decision on a reference to the Constitutional Court on this tomorrow.
Investigators had asked Fenech about the secret group chat between him, Keith Schembri and Joseph Muscat, in which Fenech said that the trio were like brothers.
Joseph Muscat was questioned by police ten days ago under caution – which basically implies that he was warned that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law. Muscat had said when emerging from the police’s HQ on that day that he had been told that he is “not a suspect” in the case.
Daphne Caruana Galizia received a leak of some 600,000 emails about the Electrogas power station deal months prior to her death, which is what led police to believe that she was killed because of something she was going to release.
Zahra said that Fenech has “never” shown any form of remorse for Caruana Galizia’s death.
Zahra testified that there was an attempt by Fenech to import cyanide, although this was completely denied by the defence.
The court ordered GO and Vodafone representatives to exhibit call logs between former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar and one of Melvin Theuma’s associates – Edwin Brincat.
Fenech’s defence team made a renewed request for bail, arguing that there is no risk of public disorder, no risk of evidence tampering, andno risk that Fenech will try to escape. It was also pointed out that the Attorney General had filed its reply for the bail request late. A decision on this is expected tomorrow afternoon.
During the previous sitting, police inspector Kurt Zahra testified about what Fenech had told the police during interrogation. Fenech had implicated former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri as the mastermind of the murder.
The evidence against Fenech primarily rests on the testimony of Melvin Theuma, the middleman in the murder. Theuma, who had secretly recorded various conversations between himself, Fenech and others, was given a presidential pardon to tell all last year.
Magistrate Rachel Montebello is hearing the compilation of evidence against Fenech.
The defence lawyers are Marion Camilleri, Gianluca Caruana Curran and Charles Mercieca.
The prosecution is being led by inspectors Keith Arnaud and Kurt Zahra, assisted by the Attorney General.
Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are appearing parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family.
Re-live the proceedings with our live commentary, below:
15:49 Thank you for following.
15:48 That’s it for today. The next sitting is tomorrow at 12:30pm and this will be limited to the magistrate’s rulings on bail and reference to the constitutional court.
15:48 Mercieca: “Yorgen Fenech himself says that he is convinced that it is a cover up but has faith in the courts.”
15:45 Mercieca continues that every assertion that Fenech has bank accounts and assets abroad are unfounded, challenging those making the assertion to prove it.
15:37 The lawyer argues that the fear of tampering with evidence is not real, or likely, given the time the accused has been kept in detention.
15:32 Mercieca: “Malta was put on the map in a bad way not because of Yorgen Fenech but because of the lack of rule of law. This assassination plot was hatched in Castille and the police and the government did nothing to stop it. Where is the public disorder?”
15:29 Mercieca is still making his submissions on bail. “This phantom fear of public disorder does not result from anywhere, not least the law,” he says.
15:23 A decision on bail will be given tomorrow, together with the request for a constitutional reference. Tomorrow’s session will be limited to the handing down of decisions in connection with these two issues, says the magistrate.
15:18 Mercieca is making his final oral arguments. “We are talking about the right to freedom, this is the most important and sacrosanct right we have,” Mercieca says.
15:15 The court will rule on the issue at a later stage.
15:14 “This is a public order issue,” says Mercieca.
15:13 Fenech’s continued detention is in breach of his rights, argues the lawyer, asking the court to expunge the AG’s reply from the acts as it was entered too late.
15:12 The lawyer is now quoting case law to support his arguments.
15:11 Mercieca: “The fact that this term was not adhered to, poisons all of the acts of the case.”
15:09 Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca is making a technical point about bail, quoting case law on timeframes for a reply. “The AG had not filed its reply in time,” he says.
15:07 The defence lawyers want to discuss bail.
15:07 The compilation of evidence continues tomorrow at 12:30pm.
15:06 The next witness will only have 30 minutes to testify, says the court. Lawyer Jason Azzopardi asks whether it is a good idea to end the sitting here for today. The court, noting that there is insufficient time for the parte civile witness to testify, orders that he testify at a later stage in the proceedings.
14:53 The court orders that GO and Vodafone representatives exhibit call logs, in particular those between Lawrence Cutajar and Edwin Brincat il-Ġojja, from November 2019 to date.
14:50 The court is now checking whether the prosecution had appointed a court expert for the examination of electronic devices seized by the police. Inspector Keith Arnaud, who has only just entered the courtroom, says he has no objections for the request to be upheld. The court says it will hand down a decree on this issue in chambers.
14:47 The cross-examination is suspended.
14:46 The court informs the defence, to peals of laughter from the public gallery, that it had put the sticky note there itself.
14:46 Zahra: “I have an index on the front, I have no need for a sticky note.”
14:45 The witness says this was definitely not the case.
14:45 The defence suggest that the inspector left a sticky note with Lawrence Cutajar’s initials on the notes, referring to the missing pages.
14:39 The inspector says that this is a document which he uses for himself. He is sure that he did not have any notes related to this testimony on it, he adds.
14:37 Zahra explains that these are related to the presidential pardon. The defence wants to know if there is anything else which is relevant to the case in these missing pages.
14:36 “There are missing pages in the notes exhibited by the inspector,” the defence insists.
14:36 The defence is insisting that he should answer this right away and the witness is saying that he needs to verify the content of the conversations.
14:33 The interrogators had made reference to conversations between Theuma and Brincat during the interrogation, the defence suggests. Zahra says he is sure that no recordings were played to him but had to check whether wiretaps were played.
14:32 The defence lawyers refer to Zahra’s notes on the interrogation. Edwin Brincat, known as il-Ġojja (his proper name is Edgar Brincat but is known by everyone as Edwin), was interrogated by Zahra and did not answer any of the questions put to him.
14:30 Inspector Kurt Zahra is asked whether he had spoken informally to Yorgen Fenech during his questioning. He says he hadn’t.
14:30 The court is back in session.
14:12 The court is having a short break. We will be back as soon as proceedings start again. Stay with us for more.
14:00 The court is unmoved and says that this also applies to the compilation of evidence stage. The cross-examination is suspended.
13:58 The court says it is not procedurally admissible for two lawyers to carry out the cross-examination. Mercieca says this only applies to the Criminal Court.
13:58 Caruana Curran hands over questioning to defence team colleague Charles Mercieca to continue the cross-examination.
13:57 The inspector replies that this is the case. He says then justice minister Owen Bonnici was also mentioned in the tapes. No context is given as to how these people were mentioned.
13:56 Caruana Curran: “Keith Arnaud, Keith Kasco and [Silvio] Valletta were mentioned in the tapes.”
13:55 Zahra: “Yes and after the recordings were heard we arrested other people.”
13:54 Caruana Curran: “When you heard these tapes did you not feel the need to arrest other people?”
13:54 The inspector says that when Yorgen Fenech was under arrest he hadn’t heard all the recordings.
13:50 The court hears how hundreds of recordings – nearly 200 – were recovered from Melvin Theuma.
13:50 Zahra: “Yes, but that was what we had available at the time.”
13:50 Defence lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran: “Do you agree you played him just four tapes?”
13:49 Zahra: “We played them all the recordings we had at the time.”
13:49 Beyond the interrogation, what disclosure was given to the defence, asks the court.
13:48 Zahra: “No…. We let them hear everything but did not give them copies.”
13:47 Caruana Curran: “Were Adrian Vella’s and Johann Cremona’s statements given to the defence?”
13:47 Zahra: “No, no, no.”
13:47 Caruana Curran: “Were Melvin Theuma’s statements shown to Yorgen Fenech?”
13:46 The prosecution had given full disclosure of the recordings which were available at the time, replies Zahra.
13:46 The court asks him to confirm at a later sitting. Zahra is now being asked about disclosure.
13:45 Caruana Curran asks if the police had secret service phone taps. The inspector says he cannot comment on that since he had no connection.
13:43 Caruana Curran: “Lawrence Cutajar had testified that he had informed the Task Force as soon as he had left the meeting with Ġojja.”
13:43 Zahra: “As far as I know, we were made aware of the friendship after the arrest.”
13:42 Caruana Curran asks him when these meetings between Ġojja and the ex-commissioner took place. “Did they take place before Ġojja’s arrest or after?”
13:35 Zahra: “I don’t believe that the police commissioner was present during the interrogation of Ġojja, but I can’t exclude the possibility that he came in at a point.”
13:34 Zahra says Ġojja was asked about what he knew about the homicide and what Melvin Theuma might have told him. “I do not exclude other lines of questioning but this is what I am sure of.”
13:34 The defence is asking a lot of questions about Fenech’s stay in hospital but the inspector has no information about it. He is asked about Ġojja now.
13:31 However, Zahra says he is unable to explain what was seized in those raids. “That is the subject of the testimony by Inspector Nicholas Vella.”
13:30 The defence suggests that a number of Theuma’s family members were arrested at the same time as Theuma but the inspector says he was not personally involved in this. “The Economic Crimes Unit had carried out raids on Theuma,” suggests the defence and this is confirmed by the witness.
13:27 Zahra denies ever receiving any go-slow orders from the Attorney General. He insists that Fenech was given all the time in the world, having also been on police bail multiple times. “These were delaying tactics,” the inspector insists.
13:26 Zahra: “Yes.”
13:25 Caruana Curran: “So, you did absolutely nothing with this information?”
13:25 Zahra: “This had allegedly taken place a day before he was arraigned. There was the police commissioner present with us at the time. He was aware. Arnaud and I noticed delaying tactics. We were only dealing with the murder.”
13:22 Caruana Curran: “There are also recordings which state that Lawrence Cutajar was paid for the pardon. Fenech had offered to give information on high level corruption. What had been done with this?”
13:21 Zahra: “Yes. Before il-Ġojja testified it emerged that Cutajar had contacted Ġojja.”
13:20 Carruana Curran: “This is the same Lawrence Cutajar who was a friend of il-Ġojja, correct?”
13:20 Zahra: “Keith Arnaud and I passed on our report to the police commissioner. The AG also drew up a report but I don’t know if it went straight to Cabinet or through the police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar.”
13:19 Caruana Curran asks how the exchange of information for the pardon was made.
13:14 The defence asks where Zahra’s notes from the interrogation were. He replies that he is not sure but points out that the entire interrogation was recorded audio visually.
13:13 Defence lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran asks the inspector about the so-called burner phone. This number had been given by Fenech to the police, suggests the lawyer. Zahra confirms.
The Electrogas power station – Daphne Caruana Galizia received a leak of over 600,000 emails about the deal in the months prior to her death.
13:12 Azzopardi suspends his cross-examination. The defence begin theirs.
13:12 The magistrate rebukes him. The inspector says that the investigation is still ongoing.
13:12 Zahra says that investigations showed there was an attempt to import cyanide by Fenech. Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca objects, saying that this is entirely not true.
13:11 Azzopardi asks whether the investigation was still ongoing. “Yes, it is now in the third phase,” says the inspector.
13:10 Zahra says that it emerged that Daphne Caruana Galizia had received a leak in early 2017 of over 600,000 emails about the Electrogas deal. “That’s why we say she was murdered because of something she was going to release, not because of something which she had already written about. This is the subject of a separate police investigation by the Economic Crimes Unit.”
13:02 Zahra says Fenech had not explained to the police how he knew the date of the 2017 election before it was announced.
13:01 Zahra: “Melvin told Fenech this information about the raid of the 5 December… Fenech said that Theuma wasn’t believing that Koħħu (one of the three men accused with the murder) was talking to the police and so he had asked Keith Schembri to pass on the code that was used to detonate the bomb as proof.”
13:00 Azzopardi: “Yorgen Fenech said that Schembri had given him the date of the arrest and particular details of the investigation. What had he done with them?”
12:59 Zahra: “No, he never showed any remorse.”
12:58 Azzopardi asks about a detail from the statement given by Yorgen Fenech. “Had Fenech shown any remorse for the murder of Daphne?”
12:58 Zahra: “Yes.”
12:58 Azzopardi: “You sent for Dr Joseph Muscat recently. Was he questioned under a caution?”
12:57 Zahra recounts how Fenech had said that Keith Schembri would pass on a lot of information to him, including that his phone was tapped.
12:56 QUICK RECAP: We are hearing the testimony of Inspector Kurt Zahra. Zahra is being cross-examined by parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi. Zahra is testifying about what Yorgen Fenech had told police during interrogation last year.
12:55 The questioning turns to the price of the murder. When the police had suggested €150,000 Fenech said it was €120,000. Theuma had said that Fenech had handed over €30,000 when he drove him to the airport. Fenech had confirmed this but said €50,000 were issued. Fenech had told police he was not sure that the money was a deposit for the murder. “Don’t forget Keith Schembri told me to go ahead with it,” he had told the police, Zahra recounts.
12:50 Azzopardi says Fenech had claimed to be scared of Theuma. Theuma had passed on the recordings he made as an insurance policy on his life to Fenech and Fenech had discarded them. “So on this point, Fenech and Theuma are in agreement. But Fenech didn’t feel curious enough to listen to them,” says Azzopardi.
12:49 Zahra: “Yorgen Fenech’s version was that there was a conversation at Castille where Joseph Muscat and Fenech discussed the recordings and said they shouldn’t trust Theuma. Investigators had asked Fenech about the secret group chat between him, Schembri and Muscat, in which Fenech said they were like brothers. Melvin was scared for his life because he stood between the executors and Fenech, and the three men who carried out the murder didn’t know Yorgen Fenech.”
12:46 Zahra continues testifying that Fenech told police how in January 2019, he had met Joseph Muscat twice – once at Girgenti, the prime minister’s official residence – and then another time at Castille.
12:44 Zahra continues to testify that at one point in the interrogation, Fenech had said that even former prime minister Joseph Muscat knew that Theuma was recording conversations with his mobile phone. Zahra reiterates that Fenech had indicated that three people know about the murder after it happened – family doctor Adrian Vella, Fenech business associate Johann Cremona, and Muscat.
12:37 Zahra: “There are recordings of the pair in a car with some children (thought to be Fenech’s). I saw it strange that this man was feeling threatened while meeting Theuma in front of his children and other family members.”
12:36 The inspector describes the relationship between Melvin Theuma and Yorgen Fenech as “a friendly one”.
Middleman Melvin Theuma entering court last year. Police Inspector Kurt Zahra said that the relationship between him and Fenech was “a friendly one”
12:35 Zahra says Fenech told investigators that he gave Theuma money to get rid of him. According to the police inspector, Fenech never said he was threatened or felt that way before his arrest.
12:35 Zahra confirms that recordings show that during the bail request of the three men charged with carrying out the murder, Theuma and Fenech referenced Schembri. “Theuma tells Fenech to speak to Schembri. Fenech replied: ‘When I told him, he went cold.’ This is subject to interpretation.”
12:33 Zahra: “Theuma said that the day after the murder, he visited Club 22 to speak to Fenech and there he saw Turab Musayev of Electrogas. The localisation data of Melvin Theuma puts him in Portomaso at the time. Yorgen Fenech had started his statement by saying that the homicide was not started by him but by Keith Schembri. I had asked him why Melvin Theuma hadn’t gone to Keith Schembri directly, and he replied that he hadn’t known him well enough. Theuma was panicked, mostly by the promise of Kenneth Camilleri that the three executors will get bail and would take an amount of money. When this didn’t happen Theuma got very suspicious.”
12:31 Azzopardi: “Where did Theuma go the day after the homicide?”
12:30 Zahra: “After Melvin Theuma spoke to Alfred Degiorgio about the homicide in 2017 he was granted the phantom job.”
12:29 Azzopardi now asks the witness about Melvin Theuma, the pardoned middleman. Zahra is confronted with the questioning of Fenech, in which Theuma mentions the phantom job at Castille. “Does it emerge that the phantom job began in 2017?”
12:28 Zahra: “Normally they are cheap mobile phones, used for one criminal activity and are then discarded.”
12:27 Zahra is asked about a phone call from Fenech to doctor Adrian Vella on the burner phone. This is part of Fenech’s statement. The lawyer asks Zahra what a burner phone is.
12:26 After 45 minutes of legal arguments, Zahra finally takes the witness stand again. Parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi continues his cross-examination.
12:13 Mercieca says proof must be relevant and admissible, quoting from sections of the law which say that the AG is obliged to declare the relevance of the evidence. It is up to the judge or magistrate to decide this, he says. The compilation should collect relevant evidence to the accusations. “It is in the interest of truth to ask about relevance,” he says.
12:10 Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca asks to respond to the “allegations made about the defence”.
12:05 The magistrate dictates a summary of what Azzopardi has just said to be included in the acts of the case.
12:05 Azzopardi adds that there is an “orchestrated campaign to sabotage and create obstacles” to the work of the parte civile. The parte civile is asking for the court’s protection to continue with its work.
12:02 Azzopardi continues: “Thirdly, it is noted, by the parte civile that we were stopped from asking about the accused’s previous conviction in Texas, US. The parte civile can only make its submissions now. This is a compilation of evidence. If I want to ask the inspector what he ate last night even if it is not relevant it is admissible. It is at a later stage that relevance is decided.”
12:01 Azzopardi is quoting case law supporting his argument as the legal wrangling continues.
12:00 Lawyer Jason Azzopardi files a note for the parte civile. “”The parte civile points out that it has a voice only in this stage. Whenever the defence is interrupting it is harming the process of justice. Secondly, it is wrong that the defence is questioning the relevance of witnesses. This is the prerogative of the trial judge.”
11:56 On media leaks, Zahra says that copies of the data were made to allow other branches of the investigation within the task force to go ahead. The content of the mobile phone will be exhibited at a later stage, he insists.
11:54 Zahra says that the mobile phone is only in the possession of the Europol experts at The Hague so the Maltese task force only has the contents of the device. He says it is absolutely not true that the parte civile has any access to the contents.
11:52 Inspector Kurt Zahra asks to make some clarifications but the court gives the prosecution till tomorrow 9am to present its reply.
11:51 Mari Fenech tells the court that at around 2:30pm, last Friday, she found a missed call from her husband’s mobile phone. “When I tried to call back it was not in a position to respond. Soon afterwards I called my lawyers and we went to file this report,” she says.
11:49 Yorgen Fenech’s wife, Mari Fenech, takes the stand to exhibit the police report she filed.
Yorgen Fenech, above middle, enters court last November.
11:49 Deputy Attorney General Philip Galea Farrugia says it is manifestly not the right time for this.
11:48 Mercieca says the First Hall of the Civil Court should determine whether the police, who have the evidence at hand, both in favour and against the accused, are denying Fenech access to it. The court should also determine whether this constitutes a breach of Fenech’s human rights.
11:47 Mercieca says that as a consequence of this, the accused is going to request that in the eventuality, he would request the nullity of all the proceedings at this stage as these are being carried out in a flagrant breach of his rights. The lawyer requests the court to refer the matter to the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction.
11:45 Mercieca continues: “The fact that the prosecution and parte civile, as evidenced by Facebook posts by the parte civile, indicate that third parties have access to a raft of evidence that Fenech does not have access to, is an obstacle to the operation of the defence and a disadvantage that would be too late, even if the evidence is brought forward at a later stage, to remedy because the defence will be unable to do its job.”
11:43 The magistrate interrupts Mercieca, telling him off and saying he is taking too long and that these requests should be made by an application, not during the sitting proper. “Don’t use the verbal to make submissions,” the magistrate cautions the lawyer.
11:42 The court continues to minute the defence’s arguments that the accused is being obstructed from preparing his defence when the case eventually end up in front of a jury. “This evidence will only be the fruit of work done by the prosecution and parte civile, without the defence having any control over it,” Fenech’s lawyer argues.
11:39 The court dictates a note: “The defence claims that Mari Fenech [Yorgen Fenech’s wife] received a phone call from the accused’s mobile phone on Friday at 2:30pm [last Friday]. The phone had been seized by the police and is exhibited in the acts of the homicide case. The defence also explains that a police report was filed about this issue and that despite the fact that the accused had been requesting a copy of the information extracted from his own mobile phone from the date of his interrogation, not only to date had the information not been given but the parte civile has access to the content of this phone and that this content is being broadcast on the media. The defence argues that in these circumstances, where third parties are in possession of the information and it is being published, this breaches the accused’s rights under Article 6 and 39 of the Constitution.”
11:32 Mercieca asks the court to seek a constitutional remedy.
11:31 Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca asks to make submissions to rebut what happened in the last sitting when the parte civile, police and media appear to have had access to Yorgen Fenech’s mobile phone. “It appears that the data has been made available to the local media by a third party… at the same time the defence had not been given a copy of the mobile phone data,” he says. He adds this was reported to the police.
11:28 The court asks who will be testifying and is told that Inspector Kurt Zahra and Matthew Caruana Galizia will be testifying.
11:25 Magistrate Rachel Montebello enters the courtroom and the sitting begins.
11:20 The atmosphere in the courtroom seems more tense than usual. There is none of the usual jovial greetings between lawyers, press and other courtroom players.
11:19 Daphne Caruana Galizia’s three sons, Matthew, Andrew and Paul, are also present.
11:17 All the lawyers are inside the courtroom. Yorgen Fenech is here as well and his family is here in force. We are waiting for the magistrate to emerge from chambers.
10:53 In the meantime, you can catch up with what happened in last week’s sitting on The Malta Independent here.
10:45 Compilation proceedings are expected to start at 11am.
10:41 Fenech stands charged with masterminding the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. However, last November, after being refused a presidential pardon, Fenech told police the murder plan was hatched by Keith Schembri.
10:40 After last week’s explosive testimony by police Inspector Kurt Zahra about what Yorgen Fenech had told investigators during interrogation, we are back in court for another sitting in the compilation of evidence against the businessman.
10:39 Good morning.