Fenech was ‘petrified’ of 17 Black repercussions on Tumas empire

He admitted regretting the decision to take up the “larger than life” business project, claiming failure was not an option given the reputational fall-out he would suffer

Alleged murder mastermind: Yorgen Fenech
Alleged murder mastermind: Yorgen Fenech

The Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech confessed that he had been “petrified” of the consequences of the 17 Black revelations, in an intimate communication to his wife back in August 2018. 

Fenech, who stands accused of masterminding the assassination of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, had admitted to wife of suffering from a “tough” period that spanned years after the passing of his father George Fenech, and his administration of the Tumas Group. 

The company had teamed up with the Gasan Group as the successful bidders for a 200MW gas plant that was Labour’s key electoral plank in 2013. 

Fenech, whose close confidant was Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri up until his arrest in late 2019, admitted to his wife Marlene in a written communication that the 17 Black revelation had weighed heavily on his mind. 

Although not mentioning Daphne Caruana Galizia in his communication, Fenech told his wife Marlene in the summer of 2018 that Electrogas and 17 Black were two episodes that had darkened his life. 

He called Electrogas – the company which Tumas, Gasan, Siemens, Gasol and SOCAR Trading set up for the 200MW plant – “one massive mistake”, claiming the project “killed” him and took away his “happiness and smile”. 

He admitted regretting the decision to take up the “larger than life” business project, claiming failure was not an option given the reputational fall-out he would suffer. But he still conceded that the project had earned him unique business contacts that would “surely pay in future”. 

He also called 17 Black the episode that generated him “huge stress”, insisting he had done nothing wrong legally “but I was petrified of the consequence on media”. 

Once again proving the closeness of Keith Schembri to Yorgen Fenech, the Tumas magnate listed the businessman and right-hand man to Joseph Muscat as one of several personalities in his life who were demanding of his time and attention. 

In a telling admission to his wife, Fenech promised to put his family first by cutting down on business and warding off Schembri’s advances, as well as “Konrad” – ostensibly, a reference to the former Labour minister Konrad Mizzi. “I rejected two projects I was offered,” Fenech told his wife, pledging not to have anything to do with government projects anymore. 

Earlier this week, emails deposited in court by Matthew Caruana Galizia in the compilation of evidence against Fenech, referred to Keith Schembri as “Special K”. 

In February 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote in her blog about a mystery company in Dubai called 17 Black Limited, alleging it was connected to Maltese politicians, but offering no evidence. Eight months later Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb. In November 2018, Reuters and other media revealed that account records at a bank in Dubai had identified Fenech as the owner of 17 Black, with Fenech as the owner and signatory of a 17 Black account at Noor Bank in Dubai. 

Yet Fenech had declined to say whether he owns 17 Black. 

A week after the Reuters revelations, Fenech spoke to his publicist, Chris Mifsud of MPS, and admitted to him the problems he faced over the outing of his name as the owner of 17 Black. 

Fenech said he was less concerned about the effects in Malta, than the impact it would have in terms of overseas due diligence on his companies. 

This prompted Fenech to engage top media lawyer Susan Aslan of ACK Law in London, introduced to him by a top Hilton vice-president, to handle the media fall-out. He also claimed Aslan had successfully engaged Amal Clooney, the international human rights lawyer, as a specialist on the brief – but Fenech admitted having been deflated by the laborious know-your-client (KYC) procedure proposed by Clooney. 

The ownership of 17 Black has always been significant because of the emails written in December 2015 by accountants Nexia BT, for Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, the energy minister at the time. 

The email was discovered by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, showing that the secret Panama companies owned by Mizzi and Schembri stood to receive payments from 17 Black for services that were unspecified. The email said the Panama companies expected 17 Black to be a “main target client”, with payments of up to $2 million expected within a year. The email made no reference to the gas power station energy scheme and there is no evidence the payments went ahead. 

In April 2019, Noor Bank closed down the accounts of 17 Black, handing Fenech two cheques totalling 6.1 million dirhams ($1.7 million). The two cheques in his name were the first documented evidence that connected him to the company. 

Daphne Caruana Galizia was working on a massive leak of documents from the power station consortium at the time of her murder in October 2017. Her son Matthew was collaborating with her and helped her set up secure IT systems, storing the data on an encrypted external hard drive for her. 

The documents – more than 100,000 of them – were sent to her electronically by a source, he told the court last week.