Court expert testifies in Keith Schembri 'missing mobile' case

Testifying in court, the court expert tasked with finding the mobile phone said that someone had forgotten to list them as evidence in an internal form

A court expert, appointed to look for exhibits that Keith Schembri’s lawyers had claimed to have sinisterly “disappeared,” has said he could not recall checking whether the individual evidence bags were sealed.

Court expert Keith Cutajar took the witness stand as the money laundering case against Schembri, his father Alfio Schembri, and business associates Robert Zammit and Malcolm Scerri, continued before magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech on Monday.

The magistrate asked Cutajar to walk the court and the parties through what had happened on October 11, the date on which Schembri’s lawyers alleged that the magistrate had suspended a sitting and retrieved the missing device from her chambers.

The expert explained that he had been tasked with finding the phone which had been presented in a bag with several other exhibits.

The exhibits in question were soon found amongst the exhibits in the related case against the directors of Zenith Finance, who are accused of being part of a professional money laundering set-up for clients, which included the disgraced former OPM chief of staff. 

They had been placed there some six months after being collected and exhibited in court. A report as well as, a hard drive with data and the exhibits had been presented, he said. "It appears that the fact that the exhibits themselves were also presented was not recorded- it happens sometimes and is a result of the system used,” said Cutajar.

The magistrate asked the witness whether she or her deputy registrar had been there at the time, as Schembri’s court application had claimed.

“No. The problems were downstairs (in the evidence room). I went to the exhibit officers - who are in charge of documenting everything and who seem to change every two years. I have no key or access to the evidence room. I went down with the two exhibits officers…and I found the original evidence bag.”

“Many times, the exhibits officer would have started in his role years after the inquiry started, so I would usually be better placed to know where to look,” Cutajar explained.

He had then informed the magistrate, in open court, that the exhibits had been located.

Cutajar had also been told to take photographs and to document the state the exhibits were in. “I took them myself and sent them to the deputy registrar of this court on his official court email address.”

What he was looking for, and subsequently found, was a sealed bag, containing several exhibits. “It had a list of contents on the bag - laptops, CDs, mobiles, and so on.”

He confirmed under oath that neither the magistrate nor her deputy had accompanied him while looking for the exhibit and that he had taken the photographs himself.

Cutajar said he had handed over the exhibit, still in a paper bag which had now started to go mouldy, he said. He had also documented the generic situation in which he had found the exhibits, writing whether he had found them to have been opened, or tampered with. They had not, he said.

As part of the investigation, the expert and the exhibits officers had also searched the magistrate’s chambers and the office of her deputy registrar.

“They are in the strong room, not amongst papers in a court file,” concluded Cutajar.

Lawyer Mark Vassallo, representing Schembri together with lawyer Edward Gatt, asked for a transcript of Cutajar’s testimony, which the court ordered to be sent to the lawyer upon its completion.

Adjourning the sitting to December 18, the court sent the acts of the case to the Attorney General, for a decision on whether to file a bill of indictment or have the case heard by the Court of Magistrates.

The article has been updated to clarify that the expert could not recall whether the evidence bag was sealed or not.