Sunday, 22 December 2019, 08:30 Last update: about 1 hour ago
Questions have been raised as to why Keith Schembri’s “lost” phone remains missing, with police sources pointing towards the Malta Security Service and asking why usually successful methods at tracing mobiles have not yielded results in this case.
It emerged in court this week that the former OPM chief of staff told investigators that he had lost the phone he had used to communicate with alleged mastermind Yorgen Fenech before the latter tried to flee the Maltese islands. The search for the device is still on, and Schembri is still being investigated in connection with the murder, a court heard.
Schembri, who on Friday resigned from the Labour Party, testified on Wednesday in the compilation of evidence against Fenech. Lead inspector Keith Arnaud then continued giving evidence on Thursday, saying that Fenech repeatedly claimed Schembri would leak him information from the investigation. Schembri, who was aware Fenech was being watched by police and attended briefings on the investigation, denies having ever passed on information to Fenech.
Schembri said this week that Yorgen Fenech had called him on the day before he tried to flee and informed him he was planning to go to Sicily. Schembri told him this was not a good time to go abroad. Replying to questions by the defence lawyers, Schembri said he knew back then that Yorgen Fenech was being treated as a suspect but said he could not tell Fenech. “In my position, I could not give information.”
More importantly, he did not inform the police that Fenech was planning to escape.
“No I didn’t. With hindsight, I know it appears to be bad. I did what I had to do. I had told no one of my friendship with Yorgen,” Schembri said. “We can say that the objective was attained, I did my duty,” he continued.
The following day, Arnaud said Schembri had claimed he had lost the phone. A number of electronic devices were collected from Schembri’s home and Castille office but his mobile phone was never found.
Police sources said they were finding it hard to understand how the phone was never found. In other cases, phones were located in a short time frame. “In the case of drug kingpin Jordan Azzopardi, MSS tracked the phone in less than an hour,” one source said.
In the case of Schembri, however, the police have failed to locate it and have even been unable to determine its last known location. This newspaper is informed, however, that the police are looking into the possibility that Schembri was using more than one phone.
The sources also pointed out that, if Fenech was under surveillance, his phone call with Schembri, which Schembri said was 24-minutes long, should have been flagged.
The sources also explained that the Degiorgios’ case was busted wide open by the FBI experts who came to Malta following the murder. In fact, the investigative team even managed to track the movements of unregistered phones that were being used by the suspects, apart from their personal devices. One source said that the MSS could have easily employed the same methods to solve that part of the case.
Questions have also been raised as to why Schembri is not on police bail, given that he is still under investigation, as Arnaud confirmed this week in court. He is being investigated not only with relation to the murder but also with regard to alleged obstruction of justice. This newspaper understands that the police are yet to establish whether Schembri knew of the murder before it was committed or whether he was only informed afterwards by Fenech.
The Malta Independent on Sunday is informed, however, that the investigators had requested to release Schembri on police bail but this request was denied by “higher up.”
Another big question mark is the fact that Keith Schembri’s Castille office was only searched ten days after his arrest. The former chief of staff was arrested on 25 November but the police said on 29 November that he had been released without charge. His office was only searched on 5 December, Arnaud told a court this week. The inspector said that, with hindsight this might look bad but added that Schembri’s office had been sealed.
The sources have also questioned why Yorgen Fenech’s uncle, Ray, and his brother, Francesco, have not been placed under investigation. It emerged in court this week that Ray Fenech had spoken to Yorgen Fenech about his escape, warning him not to use his own boat and to avoid using his credit card.
The uncle also allegedly told Fenech about rumours by a journalist that Yorgen was to be arrested. Times of Malta journalist Ivan Camilleri has been fired in connection with the claim. He denies the allegations.
The court also heard that Yorgen and his brother Franco met at a doctor’s Gozo villa to discuss Yorgen’s escape. The two had planned that Yorgen should escape by boat and go to Tunis, and later travel to Dubai. The doctor, Adrian Vella, was not aware of what was being discussed, Arnaud said. Vella had also passed on two notes from Schembri to Fenech while the latter was in hospital and in police custody, the court heard. In the letters, Schembri allegedly told Fenech what to say to the investigators. The letters were later found at Fenech’s Portomaso apartment.
The sources who spoke to this newspaper said could not understand how Ray and Franco Fenech have not been arrested for aiding and abetting Yorgen Fenech hatch his escape plan. It is understood that the police are trying to determine whether they knew what Yorgen had done and when they learnt of his actions – before or after the murder.
The sources said the apparent lack of action by the investigative team could stem from the fact that they lack the backing of their superior officers.