Yorgen Fench told police he knew of early election seven months before

Inspector Kurt Zahra tells Caruana Galizia public inquiry that murder suspect Yorgen Fenech said under interrogation that he knew of the early 2017 election in December 2016

Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb just outside her Bidnija house on 16 October 2017
Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb just outside her Bidnija house on 16 October 2017

Yorgen Fenech had told police that he knew in December 2016 that an early election would be called, one of the inspectors prosecuting the suspected Daphne Caruana Galizia murder mastermind has testified.

Inspector Kurt Zahra, who was was testifying on Wednesday before the public inquiry in the Caruana Galizia assassination, said that Fenech had told police, while being interrogated, that he had known at the end of 2016 that an early election would be held.

Zahra, along with inspector Keith Arnaud, is leading the prosecution in the compilation of evidence against Fenech.

Responding to questions from Caruana Galizia family lawyer Jason Azzopardi, Zahra confirmed that Fenech had known months in advance that an early election was on the cards.

The snap general election, which was held on 3 June 2017, had been announced by then prime minister Joseph Muscat a month earlier, on 1 May.

Azzopardi also asked Zahra about sim cards which the three hitmen in the murder - Alfred Degiorgio, George Degiorgio and Vince Muscat - had purchased towards the end of 2016.

Zahra said that the sim cards had been used by the three in burner phones. He said they had stopped using them after the October 2017 car bomb murder.

The inspector told the inquiry board that briefings given to the prime minister and OPM officials about the progress of the murder investigations used to be attended by either former deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta, or by inspector Arnaud.

He also confirmed that, in the course of the investigation, he would always answer to, and inform of any developments, Valletta and ex-police chief Lawrence Cutajar.

Zahra's testimony before the inquiry board continued behind closed doors.

Former acting police commissioner and assistant commissioner Carmelo Magri and Manoel Theatre chairperson Michael Grech also gave testimony.

Magri told the inquiry that Ian Abdilla - who was replaced as head of the police's Economic Crimes Unit yesterday - would be best placed to speak about the lack of cooperation by the United Arab Emirates on requests by the Maltese police force and Europol for information on certain off-shore companies, including 17 Black and Macbridge.

Grech testified before the inquiry about a script for a play, called "Min Qatel lil Daphne Caruana Galizia", which former V18 artistic director Mario Philip Azzopardi had submitted to the Manoel Theatre's board in 2016, before Caruana Galizia had been murdered.

The script, Grech said, had been rejected.

After the murder, Azzopardi had submitted another script, this time for a play called Ix-Xiħa, in which one of the characters was a blogger modelled on Caruana Galizia. This script was also rejected.

Caruana Galizia's widower, Peter Caruana Galizia, also took the witness stand. He told the inquiry board about a video of a press event which took place on 16 October 2017. The video, which was found by Daphne's son Matthew, is available on YouTube and appears to show that, at around the time the car bomb which killed Daphne had exploded, Joseph Muscat had been attending a press event.

The date the video was taken was deduced through the timestamp apparent on the screen of a video camera which was filming Muscat, which shows up around 57 seconds in.

The video, Peter Caruana Galizia said, cast doubts on claims by Keith Schembri that he had been with Muscat and former OPM communications head Kurt Farrugia when he got to know about the murder. Schembri does not appear in the video of the press event.

The public inquiry is tasked, among other things, with determining whether the State did all it could to prevent the murder from happening.

In the previous sitting, a technical analysis of the geolocation data for Chris Cardona's mobile phone could not conclude with precision whether the former minister was at a conference or a brothel, while in Germany in January 2017.

The expert only had information from one cell tower which was close to the German city of Essen, where the conference had taken place.

READ ALSO: Caruana Galizia public inquiry: location data for Cardona's mobile phone in Germany inconclusive

The inquiry is led by retired judge Michael Mallia, former chief justice Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro.

11:47 The inquiry is expected to continue behind closed doors today. We will be concluding our live blog here. Thank you for following. Massimo Costa
11:34 The media have now been ordered to leave the courtroom. Kurt Zahra's testimony will continue behind closed doors Massimo Costa
11:34 Lawyer Azzopardi asks Zahra about the sim cards, bought towards the end of 2016, which had been used in burner phones utilised by the three hitmen in Daphne’s murder. Zahra says they had stopped being used after the murder. He confirms the sim card were bought in Malta Massimo Costa
11:33 Zahra also confims that it had emerged from Yorgen Fenech’s interrogation that Fenech had known months in advance about the early 2017 election. Zahra says Fenech had known about it since December 2016 Massimo Costa
11:32 Caruana Galizia family laywer Jason Azzopardi now takes over the questioning. Kurt Zahra confirms that Yorgen Fenech had been informed on the terms of the presidential pardon granted to self-confessed middleman Melvin Theuma to tell all he knew about the Caruana Galizia murder. Zahra doesn’t know who informed Fenech, however Massimo Costa
11:30 Zahra says that an investigation into the information leaked to the hitmen about the potato shed raids is underway Massimo Costa
11:29 Comodini Cachia now asks about leaks in the investigation. “There were times when you were placed in danger by information which was made public,” the lawyer says. “A lot of the information [on the investigation] wouldn’t just be in the hands of the police. Security services, court experts, and so on, would have access to it,” Zahra explains. He says it was always unpleasant to find out about leaks. “For example, when it came to the potato shed raid, I remember that, while on the [police] boat [on the way to carry out the raid] I was thinking that we needed to get ashore as quickly as possible, because of the risk of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)… and then we saw our fear that information had been leak materialise in front of us, on the ground - this was very ugly.” It appears Zahra is referring to court testimony by Melvin Theuma that the Degiorgio brothers and Vince Muscat knew about the impending raid on the potato shed Massimo Costa
11:24 The subject now moves on to the police raid of a bank, ABLV, in Latvia last week (the bank is understood to have a link to Yorgen Fenech’s 17 Black, having been used to transfer funds to the Dubai secret company). Kurt Zahra says that it was possible that an investigative team would be set up to look into this, but that he would not be informed on it. The board asks if Ian Abdilla - who was replaced as ECU chief yesterday - would have known about this, with Zahra agreeing that he would have Massimo Costa
11:15 The inquiry board asks Zahra whether Europol’s involvement in the investigation is as part of a Joint Investigate Team (JIT). Zahra replies in the negative. He says there is a liaison officer who coordinates with Europol., assistant commissioner Michael Mallia. The structure of the task force, however, means that everything seen by one set of investigators is seen by the others, Zahra says Massimo Costa
11:13 The inquiry board now ask about previous unsolved car bombings. “As far as I know, the Daphne Caruana Galizia car bombing was the only one which was solved in Malta,“ Zahra says Massimo Costa
11:12 Zahra tells the inquiry board that the three hitmen charged with the car bombing didn't have very extensive criminal records, but were well-known to the police. They were being investigated on other issues which he will speak about behind closed doors, he tells the inquiry Massimo Costa
11:11 Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia continues questioning Zahra. She now asks about briefings given to the prime minister and OPM officials on Daphne’s murder. Zahra says he didn’t attend such briefings. “A few times Silvio Valletta would go, other times Keith Arnaud. I can’t say for certain whether Arnaud would go with Valletta or alone.” Massimo Costa
11:09 Zahra tells the inquiry that he felt the question asked by the press had been directed towards him, because at the time (before Fenech’s arraignment) it had been him who was interrogating Fenech. Zahra says that, from his end, he had sent the reply (to the journalist’s question) to CMRU. In the press statement published the next day by CMRU, Zahra’s reply was not included, however, he says Massimo Costa
11:08 Zahra is now being asked about the role of the CMRU - the police’s communications arm. This isse revolves around a question Zahra was asked by a journalist last week on whether it was true that Yorgen Fenech, two days before his arraignment, had asked to speak to Ian Abdilla about corruption and it was alleged that the ECU didn’t accept to speak to him. Comodini Cachia asks Zahra whether the CMRU any involvement in the answers given to the press, because it appears that not all questions on the matter were answered Massimo Costa
10:56 Zahra also confirms that he would always answer to, and inform of any developments, Silvio Valletta and Lawrence Cutajar Massimo Costa
10:56 Zahra tells the inquiry board that, during the 11 days after the arrest of Melvin Theuma, Lawrence Cutajar had always been present during meetings. The Commissioner had also been updated about the raid on the potato shed in Marsa in December 2017 (which led to the arrest of Alfred and George Degiorgio and Vince Muscat), he confirms Massimo Costa
10:54 Zahra says the police chief would not be involved in operations such as searches, inquiries and sweeps. He would be frequently updated about them, however Massimo Costa
10:54 Therese Comodini Cachia asks about the role the police commissioner had within Kurt Zahra’s unit, and how the police commissioner participates within it. "Its more supervisory level. You give updates, and, if you need tools you approach him, you do so through your direct superior - at the time Silvio Valletta. The investigations and interrogations would be done by us, the commissioner would be more for direction,” Zahra replies Massimo Costa
10:49 The inspector is now asked whether, on the occasions he had read Daphne’s blog, he had thought she had been “treading on dangerous ground” because of her stories. Zahra responds that, as a reader, he didn’t think Daphne could be killed in a car bomb. The car bombings are the time had been gang-related, he says Massimo Costa
10:47 Asked whether he had ever been involved in the providing of police security for Daphne, Zahra replies in the negative Massimo Costa
10:46 Zahra says that, at the beginning of the investigation in October 2017 - and until the three executors of the crime were arraigned the ECU was not directly involved in the investigation as part of the task force. The ECU had joined the task force after Melvin Theuma's recordings were revealed. The investigation also covered clandestine lotto and money laundering, so the ECU were spearheading the investigation into these aspects, Zahra says Massimo Costa
10:45 Kurt Zahra’s testimony continues. He says Daphne’s blog was “part of her life.” Experts were appointed to analyse the blog, and the cyber-crime and Economic Crimes Unit (ECU) were tasked with investigating the stories she had posted on it Massimo Costa
10:44 Zahra tells the board that, after Daphne’s assassination, a task force was set up with the Maltese Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) and the FBI. The focus of the task force was on Daphne’s homicide originally, but this has now broadened Massimo Costa
10:43 Inspector Kurt Zahra is now asked about information sharing. He says that, untill recently, there was no structure for information sharing in place. Inter-departmental sharing was done on an ad hoc basis. There now has been an analysis unit set up which has a holistic overview of all investigations, Zahra tells the inquiry. The unit is headed by Malcolm Bondin Massimo Costa
10:41 Judge Abigail Lofaro asks Zahra to clarify who his superior was at the time of Daphne’s murder. Zahra says there was no superintendent at the time, so he answered to assistant commissioner Kevin Farrugia, deputy commissioner Silvio Valletta, and to police chief Lawrence Cutajar Massimo Costa
10:40 Zahra says he was transferred to the homicide squad to assist inspector Keith Arnaud after a spate of car bombings. His immediate superior is superintendent Raymond Cassar, Zahra says Massimo Costa
10:39 Zahra tells the inquiry board that he has been in the police force for 17 years, progressing up the ranks from constable. He gives an overview of his career. He says he dealt with transnational organised crime and property crime originally Massimo Costa
10:33 Inspector Kurt Zahra is next to take the witness stand Massimo Costa
10:33 Carmelo Magri’s testimony now concludes Massimo Costa
10:33 The inquiry board goes on to ask Magri about Montenegro and about the 17 Black Dubai company, which was owned by Yorgen Fenech. Magri says he knows nothing about the Montenegro scandal and was not involved in the deal with Enemalta. Inquiry board member judge Abigail Lofaro asks whether Ian Abdilla would know about the deal. Magri affirms that Abdilla would know Massimo Costa
10:31 Comodini Cachia continues questioning Carmelo Magri. She mentions several off-shore companies, including 16 Black, Macbridge, MayorTrans and Lazar. On 19 April, 2018, Comodini Cachia says the Maltese police as well as Europol had asked the United Arab Emirates for information about the off-shore companies. But the UAE did not comply, not even to Europol’s request. She asks Magri why the UAE was not cooperating, but Magri says he is unable to answer. Asked who could shed light into this, Magri says “I think nobody is better-placed to answer than Ian Abdilla.” Massimo Costa
10:28 Carmelo Magri says he is unable to answer such a question Massimo Costa
10:28 “If this is a person who needs protection during the election, doesn’t she also need protection after the 2008 election, if her writings are controversial?” Comodini Cachia asks Massimo Costa
10:22 Caruana Galizia family lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia asks if the police patrol would pass near Daphne’s house during the time when John Rizzo was police chief, to ensure all looked ok. “That’s when it started,” Carmelo Magri replies Massimo Costa
10:21 Former acting commissioner and deputy commissioner Carmelo Magri now takes the witness stand. He will be testifying about the fixed point and security patrols near Daphne’s home Massimo Costa
10:19 Peter Caruana Galizia says that his son, Matthew, had found the footage after doing some research Massimo Costa
10:19 Peter Caruana Galizia tells the inquiry that at 57 seconds into the video, the date and time stamp of the camera which was filming Muscat can be seen. It indicates that Muscat was in Sliema at 3:13pm on 16 October 2017 - around the time the car bomb exploded. Silvio Schembri and Chris Cardona were there too Massimo Costa
10:17 Peter Caruana Galizia takes the witness stand. A video of a press event which took place on 16 October is submitted. The video (found on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3RLnlO5_bo&feature=youtu.be&app=desktop) shows that, at the time that the bomb which killed Daphne exploded, Joseph Muscat was at the press event Massimo Costa
10:13 Retired chief justice Joseph Said Pullicino says that if the video is to be exhibited to be preserved, this would be allowed. He says, however, that it is not permitted that the inquiry board substitute the role of the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech Massimo Costa
10:11 Peter Caruana Galizia says that there is a video filmed by TVM which shows that Keith Schembri was in fact not with Joseph Muscat when he got to know about Daphne’s murder Massimo Costa
10:08 Daphne’s widower, Peter Caruana Galizia, requests to testify about how former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri was informed of his wife’s murder. Schembri had testified, during the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, that he had been with former PM Joseph Muscat and former OPM communications head Kurt Farrugia when he heard the news Massimo Costa
10:05 Michael Grech's testimony has ended. He steps off the witness stand Massimo Costa
10:04 "It was the time of the Panama Papers, Daphne Caruana Galizia was very active on her blog. I felt that the title would have been incitement,” Michael Grech tells the inquiry Massimo Costa
10:04 Therese Comodini Cachia asks the witness the elaborate on what he said was the “socio-political situation” at the time the first play script - “Min qatel lil Daphne Caruana Galizia” - was submitted by Mario Philip Azzopardi Massimo Costa
10:03 “The blogger character was an incidental one but I felt that it was not ideal to have it in the theatre,” Michael Grech says Massimo Costa
10:01 Caruana Galizia family lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia asks Michael Grech if Matthew Caruana Galizia had made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request in connection with the play. Grech says he is “almost certain” the script was not circulated to others Massimo Costa
10:00 Michael Grech goes on to tell the inquiry board about the script for the proposed “Ix-Xiħa” play which was submitted in the last year. "I saw this script. There was a character in this script, a blogger in my opinion made in the likeness of Daphne Caruana Galizia. I didn't finish reading the script. The board also made the decision to reject it... the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia is an ongoing situation and I don't think it's a good thing [to run plays about it]" Massimo Costa
09:58 Michael Grech says that, in the past 12 months, another script, called “Ix-Xiħa”, had been submitted by Azzopardi’s theatre company Massimo Costa
09:57 "In the socio-political climate of Malta I felt it was not fitting to run it,” Michael Grech tells the inquiry, in reference to the socio-political climate in 2016, when the script was submitted. Grech says he didn't know how Mario Philip Azzopardi had reacted to the script being rejected, as he had not spoken to him in person Massimo Costa
09:55 Manoel Grech tells the inquiry that he told the CEO that he should reject Mario Philip Azzopardi’s script for the “Min qatel lil Daphne Caruana Galizia” play. "I told him, Ray, don't bother even circulating it. Inform Mario Philip Azzopardi that it was rejected,” Grech says. The Manoel Theatre board had subsequently unanimously rejected the script as well Massimo Costa
09:54 In 2016, Manoel Grech says he said he received a call from the CEO informing him of the submission on the play’s script by Mario Philip Azzopardi - this was of course before Daphne was murdered Massimo Costa
09:53 Manoel Grech tells the inquiry that Mario Philip Azzopardi has submitted a script for a play called “Min qatel lil Daphne Caruana Galizia.” Massimo Costa
09:52 Three original scripts every year had to be drawn up, according to the agreement. The scripts are presented to the Manoel Theatre, with the theatre having the right to refuse them. Typically, Michael Grech says, the script is sent to the theatre’s CEO and artistic director for first reading. The board would eventually take a decision about it Massimo Costa
09:51 Michael Grech tells the inquiry that, about six or seven years ago, the theatre started encouraging drama plays in Maltese, with the Finance Ministry being involved. The theatre entered an agreement with a company run by Azzopardi, with €20,000 per year allocated to such plays Massimo Costa
09:49 Grech is asked about a play proposed by film director Mario Philip Azzopardi on Daphne’s murder Massimo Costa
09:46 The judges have entered the courtroom. The first witness is called in, Michael Grech Massimo Costa
09:37 Reminder: Inspector Kurt Zahra is one of the inspectors prosecuting Caruana Galizia suspected murder mastermind Yorgen Fenech Massimo Costa
09:36 Former acting police chief Carmelo Magri, inspector Kurt Zahra, and Manoel Theatre chairperson Michael Grech are expected to testify today Massimo Costa
09:35 Good morning. We are back in court for the continuation of the public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder Massimo Costa

Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb just outside her Bidnija house on 16 October 2017. Three men, George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat, have been charged with carrying out the assassination, while Yorgen Fenech is charged with masterminding the murder.

Melvin Theuma, who acted as a middleman between Fenech and the three killers, was granted a presidential pardon last year to tell all.