Yorgen Fenech funded Degiorgio brothers' legal defence, court hears

Yorgen Fenech used to pass money to Melvin Theuma, who would then pass the sums to the Degiorgio family to hire lawyer William Cuschieri

Yorgen Fenech helped fund the Degiorgio brothers' legal defence following their arrest, the court heard on Monday.

The compilation of evidence against Fenech continued this morning, with middleman-turned-state witness Melvin Theuma testifying before the court.

The hearing hinged on three documents held by Theuma and presented to the police following his arrest. The documents were receipts handed to Theuma by Mario Degiorgio, brother to Alfred and George Degiorgio, to show the flow of money from Fenech to the Degiorgios. 

According to Theuma, he had an agreement with Fenech to support the Degiorgios following the murder and their arrest. The receipts in question show large sums of money passed on to the Degiorgios so that they can hire a lawyer.

In fact, the receipts are all signed by William Cuschieri, who is defence counsel for Alfred and George Degiorgio. The two stand accused of carrying out the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Theuma said that he kept these receipts served as proof in case Fenech started to question where all this money was going.

When Theuma first spoke to Alfred Degiorgio after his arrest, his brother Mario Degiorgio told Theuma that he needs €30,000 to hire a lawyer for his brothers. Theuma went to Yorgen Fenech to obtain this money.

Initially, Theuma was giving Mario Degiorgio €2,000 to €3,000 per week, covering all food, school and insurance expenses. Afterwards, Theuma would instead call Yorgen Fenech whenever the Degiorgios needed money. These sums were over and above the sums given in the receipts.

Theuma added that he would occasionally fork out some money himself, to avoid bothering Yorgen Fenech. 

Fenech was arrested in November 2019 and is charged with masterminding Caruana Galizia's murder. He denies the charges.

The evidence against Fenech primarily rests on the testimony of Theuma, who acted as a middleman between the business magnate and the three men who carried out the assassination. Theuma had secretly recorded various conversations between himself, Fenech and others, and was given a presidential pardon to tell all in 2019.

Caruana Galizia was murdered on 16 October 2017 just after leaving her house in Bidnija. A bomb placed inside her car was detonated remotely by an SMS.

Magistrate Rachel Montebello is presiding over the case. Superintendent Keith Arnaud and Inspector Kurt Zahra are prosecuting, aided by Deputy Attorney General Philip Galea Farrugia.

Fenech’s defence lawyers are Marion Camilleri, Charles Mercieca and Gianluca Caruana Curran. Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia are appearing parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family.

12:18 The sitting is over. The next hearing will take place next Thursday at 10am. Thanks for following this morning's hearing with us. We will provide a write-up on the case shortly. Nicole Meilak
12:17 The Magistrate is ordering that the prosecution drafts a note on which experts are yet to complete their assignment, so that they can appear before the court to testify. Nicole Meilak
12:14 The issue is that several witnesses are yet to be summoned to testify in this case. Mercieca makes a heated point, that one must be sensitive to the fact that Fenech has been facing these proceedings for two years, and so the necessary witnesses must be brought to testify. “I hope we aren’t all being taken for a ride,” he said. This was in response to a comment from the prosecution over Kenneth Camilleri, who faces a separate investigation and who will testify “at the opportune time”. Nicole Meilak
12:04 Reminder: Theuma had been approached by Kenneth Camilleri, or “Kenneth from Castille”, who passed on the message that the three men accused of the murder were to receive “one million each after getting bail”. Nicole Meilak
12:01 Mercieca brings up the fact that Kenneth Camilleri has not testified before the court in this case. Galea Farrugia clarifies that he was brought to testify, but chose not to due to ongoing proceedings. Nicole Meilak
11:59 The parties are now deliberating over a separate issue relating to experts. Nicole Meilak
11:54 The Magistrate orders the Attorney General’s office to formally reply to the defence’s access request within the next 24 hours. Nicole Meilak
11:53 While Galea Farrugia pointed out that this would prejudice the rights of third parties, Mercieca argues that access to the inquiry would not result in any prejudice any third-party rights, because the defence counsel is in no position to take action that could impact those same third parties. Nicole Meilak
11:51 The Magistrate states that the defence should have access to the exhibits, and in agreement with the prosecution, the defence can indicate which parts of the inquiry are relevant to the case and would in turn like access to. Nicole Meilak
11:47 On behalf of the defence, Mercieca suggests that both parties are given full access to the inquiry exhibits. Nicole Meilak
11:46 Philip Galea Farrugia argues that these items should not be accessed as of yet, due to matters of privacy and because the items concern three parties facing their own charges and proceedings. Meanwhile Mercieca argues that there are some pieces of information in that inquiry that are highly relevant to the case, and so the defence would like access to these items. Nicole Meilak
11:42 The defence foregoes cross-examination, and the witness steps off the podium. The prosecution and defence are now discussing the logistics on how the items exhibited will be distributed. The Attorney General describes the situation as sui generis, because the inquiry exhibited is not directly related to this case. Nicole Meilak
11:39 The witness is listing the several items exhibited during the inquiry, including USB drives and a hard disk. Nicole Meilak
11:38 The defence stops its cross-examination, and Arnaud steps away from the podium. The next witness is exhibiting and the magisterial inquiry regarding Melvin Theuma’s money laundering activities. Nicole Meilak
11:35 Mercieca continues pressing on this off-record matter. Arnaud says that Theuma testified before the inquiring magistrate on the sums of money received by Yorgen Fenech. Nicole Meilak
11:32 Arnaud says that these payments were most likely mentioned in the recordings. He adds that he always spoke with Melvin Theuma in the presence of his lawyer. Mercieca continues to question why these documents weren’t mentioned during on-record interrogations with Theuma, and Arnaud reiterates that Theuma mentioned these payment quantities during interrogations. Nicole Meilak
11:29 Arnaud testifies that in December 2019, he was notified that there were some documents hidden in Theuma’s cooker hood. Mercieca asks Arnaud whether he had spoken to Theuma off-record, pointing out that there was no reference to these documents in Theuma’s statement to the police. Nicole Meilak
11:26 Theuma now steps off the podium as his testimony comes to an end. The defence asks to cross-examine Inspector Arnaud, and so he returns to the podium. Nicole Meilak
11:26 Azzopardi then asks about the €2,000 a week given to Degiorgio. Theuma reiterates that he had originally started paying €300 per week himself, but this eventually went up to €2,000 a month towards Degiorgio. Theuma started paying this money to Degiorgio in January 2018 up until his arrest in November 2019. Nicole Meilak
11:24 Before Theuma’s arrest, he approached Fenech and told him that he had forked out €12,000 for Mario Degiorgio. Fenech then gave him €20,000. From this €20,000, €12,000 covered Theuma’s expense, and €2,000 was given to Mario Degiorgio. The remaining €6,000 was kept by Theuma until the next payment. Nicole Meilak
11:22 Earlier in the hearing, Theuma referred to some experts the Degiorgios hired. Theuma clarifies that these were Italian experts hired to help the Degiorgios for their defence. Nicole Meilak
11:18 Theuma says that he would contact Yorgen Fenech over these payments through Signal, an encrypted messaging mobile app. These payments would be given in €50, €100 and €500 notes. Nicole Meilak
11:16 Theuma confirms the accuracy of these photos, and Arnaud stops his examination. Parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi will now question Theuma over the matter. He asks from where this money would be collected, and Theuma says that it would be collected from Fenech’s Portomaso office or from his Zebbug ranch. Nicole Meilak
11:14 Arnaud now presents Theuma with the photos presented by a previous witness. These photos were taken in Theuma’s Marsaskala residence, showing where the receipts were hidden on the property. Nicole Meilak
11:12 “Yorgen and I agreed that we would take out the money to support them. We weren’t going to abandon them!” Theuma tells the court, after being prompted by Arnaud on the reasons for such an agreement. Nicole Meilak
11:10 Theuma adds that he would occasionally fork out some money himself, to avoid bothering Yorgen Fenech. Arnaud tries to prompt him on how much money he spent from his personal funds, but Theuma can’t remember. “If I say €50,000 or €100,000, I’d be lying,” he motions to the Magistrate. Nicole Meilak
11:09 Moving on to the documents, Theuma says that the first receipt shows a €15,000 payment. The second receipt references a €50,000 payment, but Theuma says with certainty that this sum of money wasn’t given all at one go. This was money to pay their lawyer. The third receipt also involves money for a lawyer. Theuma says the Degiorgios took more money than this, but at least these three documents provided some proof to show to Yorgen Fenech if he starts questioning where his money is going. Nicole Meilak
11:07 Initially Theuma says that he was giving €2,000 to €3,000 weekly to Mario Degiorgio, to cover all food, school, and insurance expenses. Theuma would later call Yorgen Fenech up whenever the Degiorgios needed money. These sums were over and above the sums presented in the documents. Nicole Meilak
11:02 The summary of events is that Yorgen Fenech was funding the Degiorgio brothers so that they can hire a lawyer. Arnaud is asking Theuma to give a breakdown of the money payments mentioned in the documents. Nicole Meilak
11:00 Arnaud tries to anchor these anecdotes into a proper timeline of events. When Theuma spoke to il-Fulu (Alfred Degiorgio) for the first time in prison, and that same day Mario Degiorgio said that he needs €30,000 for a lawyer to defend his brothers. Theuma went to Yorgen Fenech to obtain this money. Nicole Meilak
10:55 Theuma takes a sip of water. He’s visibly shaking. He continues his testimony, mentioning how after his arrest he called over two policemen to pass on the documents to them. Theuma says he kept these receipts to show to Yorgen Fenech where his money was going. He clarifies that the money was provided by Fenech to the Degiorgio brothers for the purposes of hiring a lawyer. Nicole Meilak
10:52 Theuma says that it was Mario Degiorgio, and his brothers George and Alfred, that provided the documents to Theuma, to show where the money was going. He tries recalling when the documents were passed on to him, but struggles to do so. Theuma says that the sum stood at around €70,000, and that he called Yorgen Fenech soon after receiving the documents. Nicole Meilak
10:49 Melvin Theuma is next to take the stand. Arnaud will question him over the previous documents presented to the court. Nicole Meilak
10:49 Gatt says that the whole exercise was a 10-minute job. Mercieca asks whether the witness was involved in any other raids relating to Theuma, but Gatt replies in the negative. With that, his testimony comes to a close. Nicole Meilak
10:47 Mercieca is asking how Theuma entered the property, and whether there was police tape surrounding the residence. Gatt says he doesn’t remember, but he recalls having taken a photo of the house’s façade with his mobile phone. However, he no longer has the photo. Nicole Meilak
10:46 Police constable David Gatt is back on the podium for cross-examination. Mercieca asks him whether he knew to whom the residence belongs, or if he asked Theuma who the owner of the residence is – the residence being the location from where the documents were obtained. Nicole Meilak
10:44 Arnaud doesn’t exclude future conversations with them on the matter, but says that it depends on where the investigations go. He steps off the podium and the next witness takes the stand. Nicole Meilak
10:43 Mercieca asked him whether the individuals mentioned in the documents were questioned over the matter. The individuals here are Cuschieri and Mario Degiorgio, brother to the other Degiorgio brothers. Nicole Meilak
10:42 The documents appear to refer to the funds Fenech would pass on to Theuma, and that Theuma would eventually pass on to William Cuschieri. During Arnaud’s cross-examination, Mercieca asks where the original copies were. Arnaud replies that they were presented in the separate proceedings against the Degiorgio brothers. Nicole Meilak
10:39 The first is a handwritten document signed by lawyer William Cuschieri. He is lawyer to the Degiorgio brothers, who are being charged separately for having carried out the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. The second and third documents are typed documents, also signed by Cuschieri. Nicole Meilak
10:36 Superintendent Keith Arnaud is now testifying. He presents Daphne Caruana Galizia’s death certificate, obtained from the public registry. He’s also presenting three documents that the previous witness, David Gatt, was referring to. These are the documents that were being held by Melvin Theuma in his kitchen. Nicole Meilak
10:35 The Magistrate announced that his counter-examination will be suspended, but defence lawyer Charles Mercieca quickly shot up asking to see copies of these photos. The Magistrate tells him that copies of these will be made in due time. Nicole Meilak
10:34 He had been alerted to Melvin Theuma’s money laundering activities, and when police went to Theuma’s Marsaskala residence, Theuma referred them to documents he was keeping safe under his kitchen hood. Gatt is now presenting photos taken of these documents within Theuma’s residence. Nicole Meilak
10:32 Next up is a police constable, David Gatt. Arnaud takes him back to December 2019, when he was stationed, and still is, at the Financial Crimes and Investigations Department at Santa Venera. Nicole Meilak
10:30 Inspector Keith Arnaud presented an autopsy report to her, and she confirmed that the report was signed by her. Her testimony ends there, and she steps off the podium. Nicole Meilak
10:29 The hearing against Yorgen Fenech has now started. All the key players have taken their place in the courtroom, while the accused is sat in the dock. The first witness is a woman who was tasked with carrying out an autopsy on the body of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Nicole Meilak
10:21 The Magistrate has emerged from her chambers, but is presiding over a different case first. The case barely lasted two minutes before being suspended to another date. Nicole Meilak
10:15 So far, all the key players are present in the courtroom, bar the accused. Superintendent Keith Arnaud and Deputy Attorney General Philip Galea Farrugia are chatting by the podium with lawyer Jason Azzopardi, who is appearing parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family. Nicole Meilak
10:07 Today Melvin Theuma is expected to testify in the case. He had been the middleman between the Tumas Group business magnate and the three men who carried out the assassination. Nicole Meilak
10:02 Good morning. We're live from Hall 22 to cover the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, who is being charged with masterminding the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Nicole Meilak