Caruana Galizia inquiry: Malta police tipped off by Americans on dark web-bought silenced weapon sent to Portomaso address

Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry hears how the Americans tipped off the Malta police on a weapon bought on a dark web site called Berlusconi by someone who gave a Portomaso address

Maltese police were tipped off on the purchase of a weapon on the dark web with the delivery addressed to Yorgen Fenech's dead father at a Portomaso address
Maltese police were tipped off on the purchase of a weapon on the dark web with the delivery addressed to Yorgen Fenech's dead father at a Portomaso address

Maltese police received a tip off from their American counterparts in September last year of a weapon purchase on the dark web that was addressed to George Fenech at a Portomaso address.

The information was divulged by Superintendent George Cremona, head of the police Counter Terrorism Unit, when testifying in front of the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry on Wednesday morning.

George Fenech is the deceased father of murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.

Cremona testified that the tip off concerned a weapon, ammunition and silencer bought on the dark web from a website called Berlusconi. The witness said that Italian authorities had closed down the site before the Maltese police could arrange a controlled delivery.

Cremona then continued to testify behind closed doors.

When asked about the relevance of Cremona's testimony to the inquiry, lawyer Jason Azzopardi, representing the Caruana Galizia family, said things will be clearer in a few weeks time when Europol experts are called in to testify. Azzopardi remarked that the September 2019 date when the weapon was bought coincided with the period when pardoned murder middleman Melvin Theuma was fearing for his life.

At the time, police were closing in on Theuma over a money laundering investigation. He was arrested in November and a few days later Yorgen Fenech was also stopped from leaving Malta. Fenech was eventually charged with masterminding the Caruana Galizia murder, while Theuma was given a presidential pardon to tell all.

The inquiry also heard the testimony of two officials from the Accountancy Board, who justified their lack of action on Nexia BT partners Brian Tonna and Karl Cini on the basis of legal advice given by the Attorney General not to discipline the pair before a criminal conviction.

Matthew Caruana Galizia also submitted to the board a number of email exchanges between Henley & Partners and Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri, Jonathan Cardona and Owen Bonnici, in which the company was informing them of its intention to sue Daphne and Jason Azzopardi in London. Caruana Galizia also submitted copies of his mother's notes.

Caruana Galizia says that Schembri had suggested to Pilatus to nominate former Nationalist minister Tonio Fenech on its board to make it hard for the Opposition to be critical. Fenech had declined the post.

What happened last time

In the previous sitting of the inquiry, Education minister Owen Bonnici distanced himself from the actions of Henley and Partners chief Christian Kalin who threatened libel action against Daphne Caruana Galizia in an exchange with government officials.

READ MORE: Bonnici testifies in Caruana Galizia inquiry, distances himself from Henley libel threat against journalist

The public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is tasked with, amongst other things, determining whether the State did all it could to prevent the murder from happening.

Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb just outside her Bidnija home on 16 October 2017.

Three men, George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat, have been charged with carrying out the assassination, while Yorgen Fenech is charged with masterminding the murder.

Melvin Theuma, who acted as a middleman between Fenech and the three killers, was granted a presidential pardon last year to tell all.

The inquiry is led by retired judge Michael Mallia and includes former chief justice Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro.

13:17 That's it for today. Thank you for following. Kurt Sansone
13:17 The inquiry continues on Friday and Electrogas shareholders Paul Apap Bologna and Mark Gasan are expected to testify. The inquiry then continues on Monday afternoon. Kurt Sansone
13:16 This concludes today's testimony. Kurt Sansone
13:15 Daphne’s sister, Corinne Vella takes the stand. She says she was helping Daphne with research in the past and had found that a registrant of the josephmuscat.com domain is Jonathan Cardona. She later found that he is the CEO of Identity Malta. The registrant is now obscured, however, she says. Kurt Sansone
13:11 Caruana Galizia: “If Bonnici didn't object then he consented to it. He was minister for justice not some random person off the street copied in by mistake.” Kurt Sansone
13:06 Matthew Caruana Galizia says [former justice minister] Owen Bonnici is copied in the correspondence and some emails he interacted with. The board points out that Bonnici testified that he did not interact despite receiving the emails. Kurt Sansone
13:05 DCG’s notes: ‘Quarrel last October when ML Coleiro [former president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca] was engaged to speak. Both on Josephmuscat.com.’ Kurt Sansone
13:03 Daphne’s notes read: ‘JM stayed in suites paid for by H&P. KS writes notes to KC and refers to justice minister as Owen. Last February they gave H&P a recommendation in Montenegro.’ Kurt Sansone
13:01 Another email from Christian Kalin congratulating Joseph Muscat on a speech in his electoral campaign. Other correspondence deals with PAC hearings on the IIP. Another contains and instruction from Kalin to a staff member to arrange for cars to pick up Keith Schembri and his retinue at an airport in London. Kurt Sansone
13:00 Caruana Galizia is going through a series of emails. One is dated 9 December 2016: “Dear Tonio, as per our discussion, I am pleased to introduce to you Ali Sadr the owner of Pilatus Bank in Malta. I think it would be mutually beneficial to meet each other.” Kurt Sansone
12:58 An email dated 4 March from Christina Federle head of group legal and compliance Dubai, reads: “Is this the best time to pursue this libel case?” Kurt Sansone
12:54 Malta was a cumbersome and politically difficult jurisdiction for Henley and the intention was to intimidate the press into removing the negative press, Caruana Galizia says. Quoting from the correspondence: “Of course we have no intention to go to court about this.” Kurt Sansone
12:50 Kalin replied: “We need jurisdiction in the UK.” Daphne had written on the email, “why was Malta not chosen instead?” Kurt Sansone
12:49 Another email from Eric Major, CEO Henley reads: “Chris have you received approval from the OPM (Keith) to 'pick a fight' with JA and Daphne?” Kurt Sansone
12:48 A particular email says how they were seeking people in the UK who were ready to say that due to the negative comments on the company they suffered a loss of business. “I don't object,” Joseph Muscat replied. “Good move, Chris [Kalin],” Keith Schembri wrote. Kurt Sansone
12:46 Matthew Caruana Galizia is going through the chain of emails between Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri, Owen Bonnici, Jonathan Cardona and a partner at Henley and Partners. “I was sitting next to my mother as she was taking down notes. They wanted a sympathetic judge in the UK,” he reads from the emails. Kurt Sansone
12:45 A scan of the notebook, as well as a blog post (Why it was in November that the PM Chief of Staff threatened...) is presented. This dealt with the SLAPP lawsuit filed in the UK by Henley against Daphne. Kurt Sansone
12:44 He says he was present for a meeting with a source on H&P in spring before the 2017 election when the notes were taken. Kurt Sansone
12:43 Matthew Caruana Galizia says there is complete crossover between MFSP and Nexia when it comes to these companies, which also had bank accounts at Bank of Valletta. Kurt Sansone
12:42 Caruana Galizia says that Lester Holdings, belonging to Adrian Hillman and another company owned by Keith Schembri, and others held accounts at MFSP, a financial services firm. “They were all handled by Lorraine Falzon and Matthew Pace. They were aware that the UBO were these people. I saw the company's records with my own eyes,” he says. Kurt Sansone
12:40 Caruana Galizia says the advice to Pilatus Bank’s Ali Sadr was to involve Fenech to make it hard for the Opposition to scrutinise this bank. Fenech had spoken to Matthew Caruana Galizia after the murder and explained this to him, he says. Kurt Sansone
12:31 Former Nationalist minister Tonio Fenech was approached by Pilatus Bank to be part of the board of directors on Keith Schembri’s recommendation and he had refused, according to a note in the documents Caruana Galizia is presenting. Kurt Sansone
12:30 Matthew Caruana Galizia: “My mother was actively investigating those phone calls at the time. They are around the same time that she had reported about the kitchen safe at Pilatus Bank. There was a flurry of correspondence at that time.” Kurt Sansone
12:29 From his mother's notes there were also call logs involving Michela Spiteri and Yorgen Fenech. “The conclusion we can draw is that Yorgen Fenech's number was written down as having made or received a call to Keith Schembri,” he explains. This was before the elections in the spring of 2017. Kurt Sansone
12:27 “It's taken us a long time to go through my mother's notebooks and files and we are still going through them,” he explains as to why he is presenting them now. He is also presenting logs of phone calls between Keith Schembri and MaltaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan. Kurt Sansone
12:26 Matthew Caruana Galizia takes the stand to present some information and scans of his mother's notes from meetings with sources. This is linked to the testimony that concerned Henley and Partners and its relationship with government. Kurt Sansone
12:25 “You waited for four years,” observes Lofaro. The witness steps off the stand. Kurt Sansone
12:24 Comodini Cachia asks again about the enforcement of the code of ethics. “In this particular case, there is a provision which says that borrowing must not be material. The board investigated and was unable to ascertain whether there was money laundering or not as we do not have the investigative powers, so we waited for the police to conclude their investigation,” Spiteri says. Kurt Sansone
12:21 Spiteri is asked to present a number of documents to the board, including the exchange of communication with Nexia BT and The Quality Assurance report on Nexia BT. Kurt Sansone
12:20 Judge Mallia comments that this advice is always the same: to cater for the powers that be. He is frustrated by the fact that all the witnesses seem to be saying the same thing when pressed on their responsibility. Kurt Sansone
12:18 Spiteri: “I remember that the board had chosen not to take action and there were members who were not happy because of public interest. I had approached AG Peter Grech to change the law and he told me that it was ‘dangerous’. The legal advice I was given was that we had to wait for the end of criminal proceedings. There was a legal firm and the AG that werer advising and we had unanimously decided not to proceed.” Kurt Sansone
12:14 Spiteri confirms that the Accountancy Board had once dealt with a money laundering accusation concerning a certain accountant who was a politically exposed person (PEP) - he was a mayor. Kurt Sansone
12:09 He also asks to testify behind closed doors but is refused. Kurt Sansone
12:07 Spiteri says he has no ties to Nexia BT, and adds that he knew of them from the media. Kurt Sansone
12:07 Spiteri is exempted from professional secrecy by the board. Kurt Sansone
12:06 Martin Spiteri is the next witness. He is the secretary general of the Accountancy Board and has been occupying the role since 2011. Kurt Sansone
12:05 The witness steps off the stand. Kurt Sansone
12:05 Baldacchino: “I have nothing on my conscience. There is nobody on the board with a professional tie to Nexia BT.” Kurt Sansone
12:04 Judge Lofaro suggests the Accountancy Board was “passive and waiting from FIAU and MFSA to act”. Kurt Sansone
12:04 Baldacchino: “What are we going to suspend their warrant on? On suspicion?” Kurt Sansone
12:03 There are specific occasions which required investigation, say the judges. Baldacchino replies: “We never dealt with the criminal investigations… according to the information we received from the regulators, there was nothing to suspend their warrants on. The board had powers to investigate but traditionally we would not use them.” Kurt Sansone
11:59 “According to our lawyers...” Baldacchino begins to answer, prompting the judge to tell him to answer the question. Kurt Sansone
11:59 The board says the Accountancy Board had to suspend Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and Nexia BT immediately, as soon as the Panama Papers came to light. “Had the board acted against other accountants who were doing the same thing (opening offshore companies),” asks Judge Mallia. Kurt Sansone
11:58 The board remarks that an accountant, who could also be a criminal, is allowed to continue to practise until the Court of Appeal rules him so. “Up till last week this is how it was,” Baldacchino says. Kurt Sansone
11:55 Baldacchino then adds that the recent decision to take disciplinary proceedings against Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and Nexia BT, was based on the advice of the board's lawyer. Kurt Sansone
11:55 Baldacchino: “It was discussed but every time we would stop because of the legal issue. We always followed the advice of the Attorney General.” Kurt Sansone
11:49 Comodini Cachia: “From 2016 onwards was there a member of the board who asked for the suspension of Karl Cini’s and Brian Tonna’s warrants?” Kurt Sansone
11:44 Baldacchino: “We wanted to speak to the Attoreny General but haven't as yet.” Kurt Sansone
11:44 He is being asked why the board had not stripped Brian Tonna of his warrant provisionally. Baldacchino says the board acted on the advice of its lawyers. Kurt Sansone
11:43 The Accountancy Board would allow other boards to do their respective work, the witness says. Kurt Sansone
11:42 Madame Justice Lofaro chastises him for not taking action. Kurt Sansone
11:42 Baldacchino: “We were trying to get information from the police… The board had made contact with other boards and not dealt with things in the public domain.” Kurt Sansone
11:41 Comodini Cachia says that she understood that the files concerning Nexia were not touched. Kurt Sansone
11:40 Baldacchino says the Accountancy Board has to safeguard the integrity of the profession. Kurt Sansone
11:40 He is being asked about the Panama Papers but there is a lot of talking over each other. Kurt Sansone
11:39 Said Pullicino: “There is good advice and bad advice but there is also the reputation of the profession. The Panama Papers have sullied Malta's name in the world.” Kurt Sansone
11:38 Baldacchino is pressed on what action the board took. He protests that the board could do nothing as there was an ongoing court inquiry. “The advice we were given was that we should not do anything until the inquiries were concluded,” Baldacchino says. He promises to bring correspondence to this effect. Kurt Sansone
11:36 Baldacchino says Tonna had said it was linked to his marital separation. At the time, Tonna claimed, he wasn't sure he had enough liquid assets. “We remained sceptical about it,” he adds. Kurt Sansone
11:34 Comodini Cachia asks whether the loan was a false claim. Kurt Sansone
11:33 Baldacchino: “We had studied this in detail and asked for a declaration of net assets. Although the regulations aren't that clear, it was clear that with the assets he had the loan wasn't a problem.” Kurt Sansone
11:33 He is asked about the code of ethics of the Accountancy Board, particularly if a member accepts a loan from a client. The reference is to the Tonna-Schembri incident wherein Schembri had claimed that the money he received from Tonna was repayment of a personal loan. Kurt Sansone
11:27 Baldacchino says the board had called on Tonna to explain. Kurt Sansone
11:26 Comodini Cachia asks the witness if the Accountancy Board asked for information on the secret companies that Nexia BT opened in Panama [for Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri]. Kurt Sansone
11:22 Baldacchino says he was told that it was dangerous to change the law. When the Casa letter was received in 2018, the board was unclear as to what extent it could investigate. Kurt Sansone
11:18 Baldacchino says the Accountancy Board had sought the Attorney General's advice in 2017 to see if they could do more than they were doing in the public interest, by changing the law. The reply from the AG was that the law should not be changed. Kurt Sansone
11:17 The witness replies that there was more to it than that. “We had also appointed a financial expert to investigate, including the allegations made by MEP David Casa.” Kurt Sansone
11:17 Comodini Cachia: “Am I to understand that there was only a reprimand after all these years of investigation?” Kurt Sansone
11:17 Baldacchino: “I don't think anything was done in 2016. In 2017, a Quality Assurance exercise was started. The FIAU took a long time to give us copies of their reports.” Kurt Sansone
11:16 Comodini Cachia: “What had been done since 2016 on the money laundering and tax evasion structures?” Kurt Sansone
11:16 Baldacchino says that when the Panama Papers story broke the board started making contact with other regulators. Kurt Sansone
11:15 Previously the board had given a reprimand to Nexia BT, he says. The board issued it on the basis of absence of working papers, as part of its Quality Assurance role. The board had extended its audit after the allegations that Tonna paid €100,000 to his client Keith Schembri emerged. The allegation was the subject of a magisterial inquiry that concluded recently and which prompted a police investigation into money laundering and kickbacks. Kurt Sansone
11:11 Baldacchino says disciplinary proceedings are in force against Nexia BT, Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, BT international and BT Management. He explains that the board always waited for the end of legal proceedings at appeal stage before proceeding, but because the criminal court said there was a reasonable suspicion of money laundering it opted to suspend their licences and warrants temporarily. Kurt Sansone
11:10 Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia asks about the composition of the board. Were the members the same as in 2003? “I think they've all changed by now,” the witness replies. Kurt Sansone
11:09 He asks to testify behind closed doors, but this is turned down for the time being. Kurt Sansone
11:09 Baldacchino says that disciplinary proceedings against Nexia and Brian Tonna started last week and yesterday the board received a letter from Nexia's and Tonna's lawyers saying that they should withdraw the proceedings. Kurt Sansone
11:08 We're back inside. Prof. Peter Baldacchino takes the stand and is administered the oath. He is the chairperson of the Accountancy Board. He begins by asking to be released from professional secrecy as member of the accountancy board. Kurt Sansone
10:12 Inquiry board has informed journalists that the sitting will resume at 11am. Kurt Sansone
10:10 The testimony is now continuing behind closed doors. We will continue this live blog when the doors reopen. Stay tuned. Kurt Sansone
10:00 The board asks about the relevance of the witness testimony. Azzopardi says it will become clear in the coming weeks when Europol testify. Azzopardi asks that the testimony continue behind closed doors. Kurt Sansone
09:59 The superintendent specifies that George Fenech is Yorgen Fenech's father. He is deceased. Kurt Sansone
09:58 Azzopardi says the timing matches the period when murder middleman Melvin Theuma was fearing for his life. Kurt Sansone
09:58 Cremona says the police had thought they were going to proceed in the same way as with Jomic Calleja who had bought C4 military-grade explosive on the dark web. But unfortunately, the Berlusconi site was taken down by the Italian authorities before they could organise the controlled delivery. Kurt Sansone
09:57 Cremona continues that on 29 September 2019 he had been tipped off by US Homeland Security that there was an attempt to buy a firearm, a suppressor and ammunition on the Dark Web in Malta. The package was to be sent to George Fenech, 21st Floor Portomaso. It was on the part of the dark web called Berlusconi. Kurt Sansone
09:54 Cremona provides the inquiry with copies of his correspondence with his American counterpart. He then asks that part of his testimony be heard behind closed doors for operational reasons. Kurt Sansone
09:54 Cremona: “On 16 October 2017 I was an inspector. I had started contacts with my American counterparts for assistance. It was my personal initiative. The Americans had capabilities for data mining and triangulation. The first organisation I spoke to was the FBI. Police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar gave me the go ahead and I wrote to the US embassy officially asking for assistance.” Kurt Sansone
09:47 Lawyer Jason Azzopardi asks him what he did after the explosion at Bidnija. Kurt Sansone
09:47 Cremona says he’s been a superintendent since 2018. He is in charge of the Counter Terrorism Unit and Intelligence related to national security. Kurt Sansone
09:46 Superintendent George Cremona, head of the police Counter Terrorism Unit takes the stand. He is sworn in as a witness. Kurt Sansone
09:44 The inquiry board is made up of retired judge Michael Mallia, chief justice emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro. The judges emerge from their chambers. Kurt Sansone
09:38 We are waiting for the public inquiry to start. Kurt Sansone
09:37 Good morning. Kurt Sansone

 

 

 

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