Court to rule on admissibility of third party statement as Melvin Theuma sham job case continues

A magistrate compiling evidence against men charged in connection with a fake government job given to Melvin Theuma is to rule on the admissibility of a third party’s police statement

Former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri (left) and Melvin Theuma
Former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri (left) and Melvin Theuma

A magistrate compiling evidence against five men charged in connection with a fake government job given to a man involved in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia is to rule on the admissibility of a third party’s police statement.

The case against the former chief of staff at the Office of the Prime Minister, Keith Schembri, former Tumas Group CEO Yorgen Fenech, former OPM customer care chief Sandro Craus, former private secretary in the family ministry Anthony Ellul and former Housing Maintenance and Embellishment Co Ltd CEO Anthony Muscat, continued before magistrate Monica Vella on Friday. 

Police Inspector Nicholas Vella took the witness stand today, informing the court that after reviewing the evidence already submitted, the prosecution wished to exhibit further documentation.

Amongst these was a statement issued to the police on 7 December 2019, by Carlo Stivala, said the inspector, adding that Stivala had refused to be assisted by a lawyer before releasing this statement and had signed a declaration to that effect.

A sergeant from the police Criminal Investigation Department was then called into the courtroom to testify about Stivala’s statement, which he had witnessed.

But defence lawyer Edward Gatt, representing Schembri in the proceedings, interrupted the testimony. “You cannot exhibit a statement given by a person who is not one of the accused,” stated the lawyer.

The testimony was suspended and the witness was sent out of the courtroom until the magistrate examined the documents exhibited by the inspector today.

Gatt dictated a formal objection to the exhibition of Stivala’s statement, arguing that statements released by individuals who were not charged were not admissible as evidence.

Inspector Vella replied that during the initial stages of the investigation, the police could not know who would be charged or not and argued that the prosecution had an obligation to exhibit all evidence in favour or against the accused.

"Agreed but the evidence must be admissible,” replied Gatt. The magistrate announced that a decree on this point will be handed down at a later stage.

The witness was called into the courtroom again, testifying that Stivala had asked to consult with Gatt before releasing the statement. Gatt told the magistrate that he had no recollection of this having happened.

Former police inspector Keith Vella also testified today, recalling that he had been asked to show photos of Anthony Muscat and Anthony Ellul to Melvin Theuma and ask whether he recognised them.

Vella had gone to Theuma’s home in 2018, together with another police officer, Mario Francalanza, and had shown him the photos. Theuma had recognised Muscat as the person who would give him a cheque every month, and also recognised Ellul as having been part of the interview panel.

This account was confirmed by Francalanza, who was the next witness.

Asked whether any further witnesses had been summonsed for today’s sitting, Inspector Vella replied that Francalanza was the last witness for today as he had only received the updated list of witnesses requested by the Attorney General on Wednesday.

The sitting was adjourned to next month.

What is this case about?

Taxi driver Melvin Theuma, who admitted to acting as the middleman in the Caruana Galizia murder, had been granted a presidential pardon in exchange for his testimony. He had testified in the compilation of evidence against the men who had carried out the assassination, explaining how he had arranged the murder after being instructed to do so by Yorgen Fenech.

But Theuma had also testified to having been given a sham employment contract with the Housing Maintenance and Embellishment Co Ltd on 1 May 2017, for which he had drawn a salary, despite never actually turning up for work. This claim had been investigated by the police, which led to the five men being charged with theft and misappropriation.

Yorgen Fenech is being represented by lawyers Charles Mercieca, Gianluca Caruana Curran and Marion Camilleri.

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo are defence counsel to Schembri.

Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Maurice Meli are appearing for Anthony Muscat

Lawyers Vince Micallef and Ryan Ellul are representing Anthony Ellul.

Lawyer Michael Sciriha is representing Craus.