Who can live under the sword of blackmail?

There has been constant rumour-mongering, and recently, a blackmail of sorts about WhatsApp chats being published. The origin? None other than... Jason Azzopardi

For the past six years, I have sustained accusations of having been close to the powers that be.  

There has been constant rumour-mongering, and recently, a blackmail of sorts about WhatsApp chats being published. The origin? None other than... Jason Azzopardi.

Because of the nature of my business – a media company, I have always kept an open line to numerous people - those in politics and business included of course. The narrative being fanned now is that since I knew someone directly or indirectly connected to the accused in the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination, then I deserve maximum reputational damage. 

Daphne and I were each other’s critics. It was a war of words – not bullets. We both employed styles that were direct, cruel and unrelenting.

But it was not until 19 November, 2019, when Yorgen Fenech was arrested, that it became clear to me that Keith Schembri and Joseph Muscat had hidden facts, and deceived and manipulated people to allow for another storyline to develop. I could never have imagined the extent of this deception and the malicious intent of these people.

I had given the Muscat administration more than the benefit of the doubt.  Unlike a vociferous posse of viscerally anti-Labourites, I do not subscribe to the creed that the Labour Party is all wrong.

I do not feel the need to apologise for believing that Muscat was a worthy replacement for the stuffiness and apartheid politics of the Gonzi years. And back then, I had no reason to believe that a successful paper merchant, Keith Schembri, could be a shady character and had mapped out a roadmap of riches through his immersion in the structures of power. And then, all the way up to November 2019, I also could not believe that the Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech, the man who inherited an empire from his father George, had been suspected of masterminding a journalist’s assassination. 

Our errors of judgement abound without the daylight of facts. 

I knew Yorgen Fenech as a former student of mine, he was quiet and unassuming when I was a teacher at a private senior school. I knew his family and his father George, the CEO of the Tumas Group who also courted the entire gamut of politicians, businessmen, and for some, even journalists, Daphne included.  I had differences with his father, because of the Hilton project which I vehemently opposed and his sponsorship for several years of the Press Club (IGM).

In my mind, I would have never imagined that Yorgen – now the CEO of his father’s business empire – was a suspect in this assassination. To be clear, I was not part of these circles of high-flying businessmen. I remember his father, just before his death, telling me to “look after his son” – a kind of gentle appeal to a former teacher, I thought, who now had become a newspaper owner. 

In 2014, after his father’s demise, the young and wealthy Yorgen asked me to be his consultant and of course, I did not accept.

Yet only last week a journalist from Newsbook asked me if I was Yorgen’s consultant making reference to chats. I asked that journalist to look at some of the past directors appointed in January 2020 of Beacon Co. Ltd, the owner of Newsbook, if he wanted to root out Yorgen’s PR consultants and business associates.  

Before 2019, Yorgen Fenech was not a derided character, on the contrary, he was sought after by dozens of professionals, politicians and businessmen of all colours and creed.  Indeed in a confidential document prepared by Europol and given to Magistrate Anthony Vella in May 2018, Yorgen Fenech was not even mentioned once.

Other private and public people were noted as persons of interest and they included people known to Jason Azzopardi, who leaked the document to select members of the press. Strangely, for reasons which I know not of, this Europol report has disappeared as a court document.

On the very few occasions I met Yorgen, I met him to seek advertising campaigns, naturally to benefit my media house. Compared to other newspaper titles, our share of this Tumas pie was very minimal to say the least. On other occasions, Fenech would ask me for advice on tackling the media.

I confronted him about the 17 Black rumours, asking him if it was true. He naturally enough, vehemently denied, told me he had nothing to do with it, and then narrated a fantastical story. I asked him to deny it. He did not. And my editors and newspapers never faltered from lambasting the 17 Black/Yorgen connection as is expected from independent newsrooms.

In the six years from 2014 to 2019, I met Yorgen Fenech once for lunch at the Hilton, and another time, socially. Nothing inappropriate took place at these meetings. 

In November 2019 just before Yorgen’s arrest, his uncle Ray Fenech – known to many as ‘Jumbo’ – asked to meet me. When we did meet he said he was very worried over his nephew.  “Something is wrong… can you meet up with him and see what is the matter?” 

Ray Fenech also expressed his concerns over the Electrogas allegations; I told him that he should come clean and tell the media his side of the story. 

Attempts to meet Yorgen at this point never materialised and I was completely unaware of his dependency on drugs or his other intentions before his eventual arrest.

In November 2019, at Fenech’s arrest, everyone was shocked by the revelations and worse still the direct link to Castille.  In that instant moment of realisation, I volunteered to give evidence to the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry. It was very hard for me but I was willing to swallow my pride and to tell it as it is.  I gave evidence in four, very long private sessions in which I presented a very detailed timeline of events, provided new information that could shed light on the attempts by the powers that be to deceive, steer the media and journalists away from the real facts, and the intention of the culprits and players in this very upsetting dark episode. I left no stone unturned and recounted everything I knew.

What I revealed to the public inquiry contained very pertinent facts, which I willingly did despite not being obliged to. Hopefully I will publish my deposition when the time is opportune.

My deposition took place in the presence of the Caruana Galizia family and their legal counsels, including Jason Azzopardi.

The reason I bring this up once again for the umpteenth time is because over the course of the last few weeks, I have been under constant threat – yet again –  because of WhatsApp texts exchanged with Yorgen Fenech in 2019, being leaked... even though there is nothing remotely incriminating about them.   

Fenech’s messages were downloaded by Europol and then one person with access to them (Jason Azzopardi) selected particular messages of his choice, unrelated to the case and weaponised them for his own intentions conveniently ignoring his own recent personal connections to the Tumas Group.

Even though there have been clear court decisions pertaining to a ban on the public dissemination of these chats, more so those which are not relevant to the criminal proceedings, Jason Azzopardi has leaked chats with the specific aim of causing as much damage he can to certain people or companies. He not only abuses his position but is breaking the law. 

Before the Yorgen Fenech arrest he leaked other documents to journalists including part of the Europol report finalised in May 2018 which at the time made a reference to a well-known businessman (not Yorgen) as a person of interest in the murder of Daphne. It turned out to be a false alarm.

The chats, seized from Fenech’s mobile phone, are in the possession of several lawyers, naturally with the privilege to handle the relevant evidence for their own case in a court of law. One of the lawyers is Jason Azzopardi who as a former Nationalist MP had no qualms in asking the Fenech family for freebie stays for him and his partner at the Hilton in Tel Aviv, or free meals and days spent at the Hilton pool at Portomaso, Malta.

Jason Azzopardi’s malicious intent was not restricted to me. In 2020, Adrian Delia, then PN leader, presented a judicial protest accusing Azzopardi of trading in falsities based on the privileged information he had.

I have learnt that several people were also in the know of particular private chats with Yorgen Fenech thanks to Jason Azzopardi. The intention, as I understand is for Azzopardi to portray others as being party to the conspiracy to kill a journalist.

Jason Azzopardi has blamed me since March 2022 for his failure to get elected to the House.

I know that he only has himself to blame and no one else.    

I also understand how chats, whatever their relevance quench the thirst of readers who are given unprecedented access into the private lives of others, or those in power. I will not speak for anyone else, but only for myself.

In normal media environments and different jurisdictions in Europe the use of privileged data to blackmail people and to cause reputational damage is taken very seriously. I was in the dark about Fenech’s intentions and his business arrangements with Schembri; and sure enough, I was entirely in the dark about Fenech being a suspect in Daphne’s assassination. 

As someone who raises funds for my media companies, I engage freely in conversations with many people from all walks of life, always with an expected level of privacy. In the world of the media, owners and editors are sought out by all: prime ministers, powerful CEOs, the defenceless, and even criminals. In Yorgen Fenech’s case I was asked for my opinion as a newspaper owner several times. My advice to him, given how I interpreted his umbrage over certain press reports, was always to say the truth. 

As was the case when he sent me a statement on David Thake (after a story in MaltaToday reporting then MP Jason Azzopardi on Adrian Delia’s alleged attempt to derail David Casa’s re-election) about Adrian Delia and I told him that if what he is saying is not true I cannot simply tell the journalist to change it, he should publicly deny it.  He then sent me a draft to see and later I told him he should send it to all the press and the editor of MaltaToday and not to me.  At the time it would never have crossed my mind that he harboured the darkest of plots. 

When he complained like so many others would do  – in this case about a picture of himself and a title about 17 Black in MaltaToday – I did nothing about it even though I gave the false impression that I had scolded the journalist. So much so the story and picture were never changed. As is the case with numerous complaints, from politicians, businessmen, legal, audit firms and individuals who pester me incessantly as a media owner to remove or edit stories... all my editors past and present will attest for their editorial independence.

Many are the conversations that take place by texting (with its implied risk of leak…). To simply shun potential sources of information is not really part of the trade. I entertain most approaches, before passing judgement. Naturally, my conversations take place with an implied expectation of privacy. 

This idea that one is guilty by association after having spoken to, met with Yorgen Fenech, is unacceptable. Multitudes of private citizens, businesspeople and many from the political class including former prime ministers,  from both sides of the political spectrum would be guilty of the same. 

I cannot accept to live under the sword of blackmail. I write this now because I have been in recent days blackmailed to shut up or face the wrath of maverick leakages when it best suits my detractors. 

I do not point my finger at journalists who ask questions. I point my finger at Jason Azzopardi, who gleefully some weeks back celebrated on Facebook the false claims against me by fuel smuggler Darren Debono, just days before the Rosianne Cutajar WhatsApp leaks. I knew then, upon learning that even my private chats had been leaked, that those with privileged access to the criminal evidence were illegally leaking selected chats to selected journalists or bloggers. 

Azzopardi revels in malice, hypocrisy, association by guilt and manipulation – the values no person should aspire to have - and I find that to be evil. I have lost my patience with the coordinated attacks on my media companies, and not only from Jason Azzopardi.  In recent weeks I reported the leak of Jason Azzopardi to the police. I blame him for this state of affairs. I have provided hard and irrefutable evidence of Azzopardi passing on privileged information (chats) to third parties. And what I write here about this former MP is only an infinitesimal small percentage of all things he has hidden from the public, including his cosy relationship with the business community some of which he once reviled or accused of being behind the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

I have lost my patience. I will if necessary fearlessly confront this campaign aimed at causing damage to my companies, while others look on, praying that they will not be touched by these underhand attacks based on the premise of association by guilt - fearful to speak up lest they are attacked and shamed.