Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech pleads not guilty to Caruana Galizia assassination

Yorgen Fenech pleads not guilty to Caruana Galizia assassination, does not request bail

Yorgen Fenech
Yorgen Fenech

THE millionaire who was strutting in Valletta’s back streets, smoking, chatting to journalists, dressed in a wide pin-stripe suit on Friday evening, was yesterday charged – him, the mastermind behind the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the scion to the Tumas empire, Yorgen Fenech.

The businessman turned 38 last week, as the heat was turned up in a week where the Muscat edifice came crumbling down, signaling the end to one of Malta’s most popular prime ministers ever. The fall from grace has been nothing short of disastrous for Malta.

Fenech was yesterday remanded in custody after pleading not guilty to charges relating to complicity in the murder of journalist Caruana Galizia. But by then, he had brought down with him Muscat – whom he suggested is implicated in the affair – as well as his chief-of-staff Keith Schembri, and also the former ministers Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona.

In the brief arraignment before Magistrate Audrey Demicoli, attended by all of Caruana Galizia’s sons, her parents, sisters and nieces, Fenech spoke only once to confirm his details. His lawyers, Gianluca Caruana Curran and Marion Camilleri entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

Before the sitting began, Caruana Galizia’s widower Peter, her sons Matthew, Andrew and Paul looked sombre, the emotional toll of the past two years etched on their faces. The sons embraced their grandparents, Michael and Rose and other family members before sitting down. The tension in the courtroom was heavy as family members and reporters from around the globe sat, awaiting the arrival of the magistrate.

Earlier yesterday the Court of Magistrates threw out a request to have Fenech’s repeated arrest and release declared illegal, ruling that his release from police custody for a total of 22 hours made his release from arrest effective in terms of the law.

Lawyer Jason Azzopardi, appearing on behalf of the Caruana Galizia family, explained to reporters that the charges of complicity to murder carry with them the same punishment of murder: life imprisonment.

Fenech looked impassive as he sat in the dock in a charcoal grey suit, justice finally having caught up with him two years since the 2017 murder.

His charges were detailed and specific. He was accused of promoting, organising or financing a group with the intention of carrying out a criminal offence, actively participating in this criminal organisation by giving information, material means or the recruitment of new members whilst aware of the purpose of this organisation, complicity in the wilful homicide of Daphne Caruana Galizia, conspiracy to commit a crime in Malta punishable by imprisonment and complicity in causing an explosion which caused Caruana Galizia’s death.

There was also a request to have his assets frozen and have him suffer the costs of appointing experts in this case.

Magistrate Audrey Demicoli asked whether the validity of the arrest is being contested.

The defence said it wasn’t. Fenech entered a not guilty plea.
Police Inspector Keith Arnaud, prosecuting together with inspector Kurt Zahra from the police CID homicide squad, briefly explained the circumstances which led to Fenech’s arrest.

From the witness stand Arnaud told the court that Fenech was arrested on 20 November at 6:20am after police officers, who were monitoring his movements, noticed activity on his boat which then headed out to sea.

Fenech was later granted police bail several times, said Arnaud: once for health reasons and on other occasions “due to the nature of the investigation.”
Cross-examining the inspec-tor, defence lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran asked Arnaud whether the Prime Minister’s Chief-of-Staff, Keith Schembri was ever mentioned in the investigation. Arnaud said he had, but further questions along that line were disallowed by the court.

The court declared that it was satisfied that the arrest was valid and legal. There was no request for bail at this stage, Caruana Curran informed the court. Defence lawyer Marion Camilleri asked for clarification on the asset freeze. Many of the man’s assets pre-dated the murder and belonged to the family, she said.

After the sitting, outside the courtroom, there was no jubilation or recrimination by the Caruana Galizia family which at all times acted with poise and restraint.

20:21 With that the sitting ends and Fenech is led out of the courtroom. Matthew Vella
20:20 Fenech looks impassive as he sits in the dock in a charcoal grey suit. His passports, credit cards: BOV Visa cards, AMEX and others are exhibited. Matthew Vella
20:18 The court says it is satisfied that the arrest was valid and legal. There is no request for bail at this stage, Caruana Curran says. Camilleri asks for clarification on the assets frozen. Many of them pre-date the murder and belong to the family, she says. Matthew Vella
20:16 Caruana Curran asks Arnaud whether Keith Schembri was mentioned in the investigation. Arnaud replies in the positive. Further questions along this line are disallowed. Matthew Vella
20:16 The arrest was convalidated by the defence. Inspector Kurt Zahra and Keith Arnaud take the stand to explain the circumstances of the arrest. Arnaud says Fenech was arrested on 20 November at 6:20am after police monitoring his movements noticed activity on his boat which was heading out to sea. He was later granted police bail, once for health reasons and on other occasions due to the nature of the investigation. Matthew Vella
20:13 Magistrate Audrey Demicoli asks whether the validity of the arrest is being contested. The defence said it isn’t.
Inspector Keith Arnaud reads out the charges.
1. Participating in a criminal organization,
2. Complicity in murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia
3. Complicity in causing an explosion
Fenech is giving out his details. He says his profession is businessman. He pleads not guilty
Matthew Vella
20:08 Yorgen Fenech has just been led into the courtroom. He sits down on the front bench, beside his lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran with whom he has a brief conversation. We understand the charges will be conspiracy, criminal organization, complicity in willful homicide, complicity in causing an explosion. There will be a request to have his assets frozen. Matthew Vella
20:03 Inspectors Keith Arnaud, Kurt Zahra and Assistant Attorney General Philip Galea Farrugia have just entered the court room. All that remains is the magistrate and the sitting can start. Matthew Vella
20:00 The lawyers involved in the sitting today will be Gianluca Caruana Curran and Marion Camilleri for the defence, Jason Azzopardi for the family. Lawyers Therese Commodini Cachia and Eve Borg Costanzi are also present. It is unclear as yet in what capacity they are here. Matthew Vella
19:56 Defence lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran looks deep in thought as we await the arrival of magistrate Audrey Demicoli and the accused. The charges of complicity to murder carry with them the same punishment of murder: life imprisonment. Matthew Vella
19:54 Peter, Matthew, Andrew and Paul Caruana Galizia have just walked into the courtroom. They embrace their grandparents, Michael and Rose and other family members who are already present. The atmosphere is one of quiet anticipation. Matthew Vella
19:53 We are also live outside the courtroom on Facebook - maltatoday. Matthew Vella
19:51 Charges are expected to include complicity in murder, and membership in a criminal organisation. Matthew Vella
19:47 We are live from the courtroom:

Already some drama as Daphne’s sister warns a One TV reporter not to put her camera in her face. The tension in the courtroom is heavy, with Caruana Galizia’s parents, two of her sisters, and two nieces also present in the courtroom.
Matthew Vella

Schembri knew Theuma

Fenech has also claimed in court that he has recordings and a contract implicating the prime minister's former chief of staff Keith Schembri in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation. There is also a photo of middleman Melvin Theuma, who was granted a presidential pardon, at Keith Schembri's office in Castille, which MaltaToday has exclusively published.

Fenech attempted to have Inspector Keith Arnaud removed from the case in a court bid, by arguing that Arnaud was 'close to Schembri', a person Fenech has implicated in the murder.

Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat, who is expected to announce his resignation imminently but may stay on till the 18th January until a Labour leader is elected, has issued a public statement saying he had received a message that unless he advised in favour of a pardon for Yorgen Fenech, the magnate would implicate him over two telephone conversations.

Muscat, who is expected to resign imminently, said he had received a message saying that unless he advised in favour of a presidential pardon, “a testimony would be given by Yorgen Fenech to implicate that he had two telephone calls with him some months back.”

Muscat declared that no such calls were ever made. “This can easily be verified. The Prime Minister already said he met Yorgen Fenech at either social events or at meetings in his role as shareholder of one of the country’s biggest group of companies. The last such encounter was in February 2019.

“The Prime Minister refused an initial request for pardon by Yorgen Fenech following advice by the Attorney General and the Police Commissioner. The Cabinet refused a second request under similar advice after the Prime Minister withdrew from the meeting.”

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