Wasted sitting in Melvin Theuma phantom job case

Prosecutors admit they did not see case file since last hearing, leading to a wasted sitting in the Melvin Theuma phantom job case

Former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri (left) and Melvin Theuma in Castille before the latter was given a phantom job with a government company (Photo: Times of Malta)
Former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri (left) and Melvin Theuma in Castille before the latter was given a phantom job with a government company (Photo: Times of Malta)

Lawyers for five men accused of putting Melvin Theuma on the government payroll for an inexistent job have accused the prosecution of challenging the authority of the court.

The accusation was made on Wednesday after prosecutors told the court that they had failed to consult with the case file since the previous sitting.

Keith Schembri, the former chief of staff at the Office of the Prime Minister, and Yorgen Fenech, together with 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 are accused of theft and misappropriation of public funds.

Theuma, who had confessed to having acted as the middleman between Yorgen Fenech and hitmen George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat in organising the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, had testified in other proceedings to having been gifted an employment contract with the Housing Maintenance and Embellishment Co Ltd on 1 May 2017.

Theuma had drawn a salary from the government-owned company despite never actually turning up for work. Theuma, who was granted a pardon to tell all about the Caruana Galizia murder, had visited the Office of the Prime Minister before being given the job. He also took a photo with Schembri on that day.

When the compilation of evidence resumed before Magistrate Monica Vella this morning, the defence accused the prosecution of using delay tactics.

Lawyer Stefano Filletti, for Anthony Muscat, replied that during the last sitting a bank representative had testified and exhibited documents “which the prosecution had not known about and which had not been exhibited.”

Anthony Muscat’s successor had also testified, said the lawyer, with the prosecution then insisting on asking that witness questions to clarify his testimony, even though the testimony was simply an extension of what had already been preserved in the magisterial inquiry.

“The last sitting was supposed to have been for the remaining prosecution evidence,” said the lawyer, pointing out that the Attorney General had only indicated the previous two witnesses, bar further evidence from the police. “This, when the police had already declared they had no further evidence.”

In the last sitting the defence had already argued that the prosecution was uselessly prolonging the proceedings and during that sitting the prosecution had said it was unable to declare whether it had new evidence to exhibit.

In order to avoid further delays, the court had ordered that the case file was to remain in its possession and not be sent to the AG, as this would cause weeks of further delays.

The prosecution had been allowed to view the file in court and were supposed to identify what evidence remained to be exhibited, to the magistrate and parties.

The defence jointly noted that the court had spared no effort to ensure that the transcripts of the testimony were ready and present in the acts by today’s sitting.

There was no reason for the prosecution officials not to have read the file, said Filletti.  He added that the prosecution had not attempted to give a reason to explain why it had not followed the court’s direction.

“The order was not exceptional in nature, because all it had done was order the prosecution to do that which every practising lawyer does in court, that is to read the case file that is stored in court,” the lawyer said.

“That today the prosecution tells us that it is not in a position to make submissions because the file had not been sent to them, when the prosecution had already failed to indicate the remaining evidence in the last sitting, is not justifiable,” dictated Filletti.

“Mr Muscat objects to this useless delay, which is not only prejudicial to himself, not only unjustifiable prejudices his right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time, but with all due respect is now a challenge to the court’s authority in faciem curiae (to its face).”

The lawyer asked the court to declare the stage of the prosecution’s evidence to be closed. The other defence lawyers voiced their agreement with Filletti’s arguments.

The magistrate said she would be making a ruling on the defence’s request at a later stage, adjourning the case till 14 February.

“The court makes it clear to both the prosecution as well as the Office of the Attorney General, that behaviour like today’s is no longer acceptable,” remarked the magistrate, adding that she had already made it clear that her chambers were never closed to any lawyer or party who wanted to view the case file.

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.

Lawyer Stefano Filletti is appearing for Anthony Muscat.

Lawyers Vince Micallef and Ryan Ellul are representing Anthony Ellul.

Lawyers Michael Sciriha and Lucio Scriha are defending Sandro Craus.