Europol analyst testifies in compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech

Europol analyst cross-examined over contents of Europol analysis handed to Maltese police

Assassination suspect Yorgen Fenech
Assassination suspect Yorgen Fenech

The compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, indicted with complicity in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, continued before Magistrate Rachel Montebello on Thursday, with two experts – one from Malta and one from Europol – testifying.

Court-appointed expert Martin Bajada submitted a 106-page report on the data extracted from Daphne Caruana Galizia’s cloud data. He explained that the Criminal Court had instructed him to remove every reference from it that could lead to the identification of the murdered journalist’s sources.

Testifying via videolink, senior Europol analyst Jean Christophe Belle, was asked about a report which had been drawn up by his former colleague Marinus Martin Van Der Meij, who had worked as an analyst on Europol’s Weapons and Explosives project, but who had since left Europol.

Europol’s copy of the report had been held in Europol’s secure storage area, he said, which is only accessible to selected members of staff. Asked by the court whether he could list who else had access to the secure area in question, the witness replied that he was not privy to that information, but confirmed that he had found the report in the place where it was supposed to be.

The witness said that the difference between Europol reports and police reports is that Europol reports don’t usually go to court.  “When I was a police officer I would store [my reports] in a place to which only I had access, but this is not the case at Europol.”

Belle could not say whether anyone else had accessed the digital report in the years since it was compiled. He said the report had been sent to the Maltese authorities through a secure system as an encrypted zip file. Access to the report was on a “need to know” basis.

Under cross-examination, defence lawyer Charles Mercieca suggested that the report had been exhibited and disappeared in 2018 “under mysterious circumstances.” Was he in position to confirm that the report he has is the same as the one that went missing, asked the lawyer. “I don’t know what is in the hands of the Maltese authorities, so no.”

In reply to Mercieca’s suggestion that the report had been altered in Malta, he said that the report’s metadata did not indicate that it had been modified.

The fact that the report was stored by Europol did not mean it was Europol’s property, as Mercieca had suggested, said the witness. “The information contained in the report that was sent to Malta in February is owned by Malta. I would say there is no ownership of the report but I would say that it's our obligation to keep all of the data in our possession.”

The lawyer explained that Europol’s code of conduct precludes its employees from acting as court experts in “to avoid the situation we are currently in, where a document owned by a Maltese court is in Europol’s hands.”  Magistrate Montebello replied that her court would only be collecting the evidence requested by the Criminal Court and that besides this, the witness who was currently deposing  was not the ideal person to answer that question.

Mercieca was, however, permitted to ask the witness why a report belonging to the Maltese court is not in the hands of the court but Europol’s. “In every job we take instruction from our management, but there is an agreement between Europol and the country requesting the report, meaning the competent authority in that member state,” Belle said.

Mercieca asked the witness whether this was a reference to the police. “I don’t have the details here, but generally speaking, yes.”

After the witness finished testifying, the magistrate dictated a note, stating that in view of the fact that the witness was unable to answer the questions put to the agency by the Criminal Court, the Commissioner of Police was to identify the right person from Europol in order to testify about that specifically requested by the Criminal Court and answer the questions put to the witness today.