Banker told Fenech of Europol probe during 17 Black hide-and-seek

Man tasked with finding new bank for 17 Black millions told businessman Paul Hili that Yorgen Fenech was being investigated by Europol

The banks scouted by Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech to open accounts for him to deposit monies held in the secret 17 Black company in Dubai, had refused his business during the first half of 2019 because Europol had informed them he was under investigation for a non-financial crime.

In February 2019, Fenech was attempting to find banks that would accept a deposit of 6.5 million Dirhams (€1.5m) after the UAE bank Noor closed down his accounts for Wings Development, formerly 17 Black.

But his attempt to open an account in Monaco failed when banks were informed by Europol that he had been under investigation for a non-financial crime.

It was also at this time that that both former prime minister Joseph Muscat and his chief of staff Keith Schembri, according to the statement Fenech gave to police under arrest, had actively enquired with him about the incriminating tapes that Melvin Theuma, the middleman in the Caruana Galizia assassination, had recorded.

At this stage, while Fenech was trying to clean up the traces of 17 Black, the company earmarked as a conduit for transactions to the security Panama companies of Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, the businessman was already a suspect in the assassination of Caruana Galizia.

Yet Muscat still entertained a cordial relationship with Fenech, inviting him to his birthday party at Girgenti in February 2019, according to him on instruction by the Malta Security Service to maintain a façade of normality. Muscat has denied inquiring with Fenech about the Theuma ‘chats’. But at this stage his chief of staff Keith Schembri had access to MSS briefings about Fenech, his own business partner as it were.

In April 2019, an Italian financier, Mirko Albertazzi, recommended banks in Monaco as well as in Qatar and the Bahamas for Fenech to deposit the 17 Black cheques.

At this time, when Fenech was already under investigation, he sent two cheques for a total of AED 6.5 million, through Mohammed Shahzad Mohammad Ishaq in Dubai, to the Exolvo company in Monaco, for the attention of Albertazzi.

But when Albertazzi realised that the banks would not open an account for Fenech due to a Europol report with banks, he informed a mutual connection - the Maltese businessman Paul Hili - that Fenech risked arrest if he went to the UAE.

Albertazzi described Fenech’s position as “very delicate” in a conversation he had with Hili, after a French banker informed him about the Europol report. He told Hili that Fenech was being investigated directly by Europol on “some crimes, not only financial ones”.

Albertazzi even said his contacts suggested he break off contact with Fenech. Instead, he said that he inquired with the CEO of Banca Generali in Milan about Fenech’s situation, who had told him he would resolve the matter. “Yorgen will give him a little tip when everything will be done,” Albertazzi told Hili. “Trust me Paul, it is a great work and favour you are doing to Yorgen.”

When in May 2019, Hili relayed Albertazzi’s information, Fenech was said to have replied in disbelief at news of Europol’s interest in him.

Banca Generali has told MaltaToday that its CEO never had any contact with Albertazzi. “These claims are damaging his and the Bank’s reputation,” a bank spokesperson told this newspaper.

Court revelations

Yet the sullied image of the Tumas magnate has only turned worse in court, with revelations of Fenech having actively entertained dark web purchases for weapons and even cyanide poison. In August 2020, police inspector Kurt Zahra testified in the compilation of evidence proceedings that Fenech was being investigated for attempting to import cyanide from a Ukraine-based laboratory. Fenech actively made dark web inquiries on the acquisition of weapons and even a grenade.

Shortly after the Reuters/Times of Malta revelations of 17 Black being owned by Fenech, the businessman attempted to purchase an automatic rifle, a pistol, and hand grenades.

When in November 2019, the middleman for Fenech and the Caruana Galizia assassins, Melvin Theuma was arrested, Fenech was actively seeking a way of escaping from Malta together with his uncle, Ray Fenech, and his brother Franco Fenech as well as his mother. The plans included flying out to Nice by private jet, or sailing out to Sicily where he would be picked up by his brother to drive up to Europe.

Fenech then chatted with the PM’s chief of staff Keith Schembri on Signal, the night before his arrest as he left Portomaso marina aboard his yacht. Spooked by news of a pardon for Melvin Theuma, Fenech asked whether police would be knocking on his door, for which Schembri reassured that nothing would happen and to keep calm.

While Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers have objected to the relevance of some of the chats being displayed in court during constitutional proceedings over the refusal of bail for Fenech, prosecuting inspector Keith Arnaud said their relevance lies in the active plan for Fenech’s absconding.

Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia, on behalf of the Caruana Galizia family, described it as “a whole plan” to move abroad, detailing the houses seen and the potential schools for Fenech’s children. Other chats were those from Ray Fenech, informing his nephew that a certain ‘Ivan from the Times’ informed him that journalists from the newspaper were on their way to Portomaso, since they got wind of Yorgen’s impending departure by yacht.

Fenech was arrested on 20 November 2019 as his yacht exited from the Portomaso marina. The arrest came hours after middleman Theuma was granted a presidential pardon.