Court told of chilling message to Melvin Theuma from prison: ‘Fear those on the inside, not the outside’

Mario Degiorgio, brother of the alleged Daphne Caruana Galizia hitmen, would make regular requests for money to pay for George Degiorgio’s children’s education expenses, insurance payments, legal fees as well as other daily expenses for the alleged hitmen and their families

Murder middleman Melvin Theuma
Murder middleman Melvin Theuma

Melvin Theuma, the self-confessed middleman in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder, has told a court how one of the men accused of murdering journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, George Degiorgio, had once delivered a chilling message, via his brother Mario, telling him, to fear those “on the inside.”

Theuma was testifying before magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, as criminal proceedings against Mario Degiorgio - the eldest brother of the alleged hitmen - continued on Monday.

Arraigned last week, Mario Degiorgio is pleading not guilty to money laundering and blackmail charges. 

The witness recalled from the witness stand how George Degiorgio had once delivered a message to him through his brother, telling him to “fear those on the inside not those on the outside,” (“ibza’ mhux minn ta’ barra imma minn ta’ gewwa.”)

Theuma said that after receiving the message, he had felt that his back was against the wall.

“I continued to hand over everything that Mario asked for till the very end, till the time of my arrest. I felt blackmailed,” he said.

Theuma insisted in court that he had never disclosed his role as middleman in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia to Mario Degiorgio, but had passed on money to him for his brothers in jail on behalf of the alleged mastermind Yorgen Fenech.

Theuma said he had done so because he felt threatened. 

The witness also insisted that he had never mentioned Yorgen Fenech’s involvement to the accused. He told the court that after Caruana Galizia’s murder in October 2017, he had not. 

Theuma testified that after the murder, he never heard from the alleged hitmen until their arrest, two months later. After the Degiorgio brothers’ arraignment, he had started sending over money and food to them while they were being held in pretrial detention.

This was initially done through a third party known as “il-Lolly,” Theuma said, but he added that as time went by, he got to know the Degiorgios’ brother, Mario, who began to pass on messages from his brothers in jail.

Asked in court whether Mario knew of his role as middleman in the murder, Theuma replied, the he had “never admitted that I was the middleman.”

Mario Degiorgio would make regular requests for money to pay for George Degiorgio’s children’s education expenses, insurance payments, legal fees as well as other daily expenses for the alleged hitmen and their families, Theuma said. 

The meetings with Mario Degiorgio would take place inside his car at Pjazza Magri, Marsa or at Degiorgio’s Marsa home.

Asked by presiding magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech whether Mario Degiorgioe knew that the money was coming from the alleged mastermind, Theuma said that “he would have assumed.”

Theuma said he would also pay around €200 every week - €100 for each of the brothers - out of his own pocket, in addition to the €2,500 he would receive from Fenech.

Another €60,000 to cover potential bail guarantees together with around €70,000 for Degiorgios’ lawyer, William Cuschieri was also disbursed by the witness, the court heard.

Mario Degiorgio would provide Theuma with receipts from the imprisoned men which Theuma would, on occasion, pass on to Fenech in order to show him where his money was going.

“I ended up with my back against the wall to such an extent that I gave them all they asked for,” Theuma told the court.

“But did anyone tell you anything?” asked the magistrate.

Theuma replied that George Degiorgio had once delivered him a message through his brother, telling him, “Fear those on the inside not those on the outside, (“ibza’ mhux minn ta’ barra imma minn ta’ gewwa.”)

This had made the middleman feel even more cornered, he said, adding that he “felt blackmailed.”

Prosecuting Inspector Lianne Bonello was also cross-examined by Mario Degiorgio’s lawyers, telling the court that Theuma had told the police that he continued to make payments to Mario Degiorgio because he was afraid that he would be betrayed.

Replying to a question by defence William Cuschieri, she said Mario Degiorgio had received a Chow Chow dog in return for his services, explaining that Theuma claimed to have handed over some €5000 for the dog which the accused had bought from China.

Police investigators had corroborated this information, tracing three bank deposits made by Mario Degiorgio to a person in China for the purchase.

Prison records showed that the accused had handed over some €25,000 to his brothers, added the inspector, exhibiting the deposit slips in court.

Bonello added that in view of the fact that Mario Degiorgio was a pensioner and had last worked in 2004, he could never have provided those amounts from his own funds.

The court was also handed a list of items seized from the accused’s residence when Degiorgio and his wife were arrested. The items seized include €8,050 in cash, the dog’s pedigree certificate and a large number of CDs the contents of which were not yet known.

The magistrate remarked that the police were duty bound to present only relevant exhibits, telling the inspector that her court would no longer tolerate being used as a filter. That was the police’s job, said the magistrate.

When it was explained that the police lacked the manpower to sift through the evidence contained in those CDs, the magistrate highlighted that this would ultimately result in higher court costs which would be paid for by the taxpayer.

A bail request filed by Mario Degiorgio is to remain pending until other civilians’ witnesses gave their evidence at the next sitting.

Inspectors Lianne Bonello and Christopher Ellul prosecuted, assisted by lawyers Francesco Refalo and Marthese Grech from the Office of the AG.

Lawyers William Cuschieri and Lennox Vella are defence counsel.

Lawyers Kathleen Calleja Grima and Matthew Brincat assisted Theuma.