Looking back at 2019 | Catching the mastermind and shaking the foundations of Castille

Ever since three men were charged with the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia the question that kept cropping up was who ordered the assassination; the answer came last November

Alleged mastermind: Yorgen Fenech
Alleged mastermind: Yorgen Fenech

The navy-blue yacht had just sailed out of the Portomaso yacht marina on its way to Italy with business magnate Yorgen Fenech on board.

But around 5:30am a few miles out at shore, the Gio, a 75-foot Riva Venere yacht, was intercepted by Armed Forces of Malta patrol boats and forced to return back to its moorings.

That fateful morning on 20 November rocked the country and started a domino effect that took murder right to the doors of Auberge de Castille.

Fenech was arrested as “a person of interest” in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation.

The attempted flight from Malta came hours after the Prime Minister confirmed media reports that government was considering granting a presidential pardon to the middleman in the murder.

The police had in their custody Melvin Theuma, who was arrested a few days before in an operation to crack down on illegal lotto and money laundering.

Middleman: Melvin Theuma (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Middleman: Melvin Theuma (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

Theuma was found in possession of a box that contained recordings of conversations he had with Fenech in which they discussed, among other things, bail for the three men accused of Caruana Galizia’s murder. This provided the decisive evidence that prompted the police to act against Fenech.

The Tumas Group shareholder was subsequently charged in court with being an accomplice to murder, of promoting, organising or financing a group with the intention of carrying out a criminal offence, and 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.

Fenech has pleaded not guilty and his compilation of evidence is continuing.

But the story did not end there.

Both Theuma and Fenech implicated the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri in the murder. Theuma claimed that Schembri used to pass on sensitive security details of the investigation to Fenech.

Schembri has denied these claims.

The developments gave the murder an ugly political twist. Schembri was briefly arrested on 26 November and interrogated for 50 hours.

He was released with no charge but in court, the lead investigator in the murder case, Inspector Keith Arnaud, confirmed that the former chief of staff was still being investigated for homicide, tampering with evidence and other crimes.

Former chief of staff Keith Schembri is still being investigated by police for homicide (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Former chief of staff Keith Schembri is still being investigated by police for homicide (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

In later testimony, Arnaud said Schembri’s Castille office was not sealed and only searched properly on 5 December, a full 10 days after the former chief of staff was arrested and released.

But it was Arnaud’s testimony that Schembri lost his mobile phone and refused to give the police his iCloud and email passwords that has angered people. The information prompted ridicule at what appears to be the police’s treatment of Schembri with kids’ gloves.

During bail submissions two days before Christmas, Fenech’s lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran lamented that while his client is locked up “whoever is trying to frame him is out there [and] proof is being lost”.

Caruana Curran did not mention names but the reference is clearly to Schembri, who has admitted being a very close friend of Fenech.

Fenech has so far been denied bail and the compilation of evidence against him will continue at the end of January.

Meanwhile, Theuma, who is living under police protection, has already testified in the compilation of evidence against the Degiorgio brothers and Muscat. The trio are awaiting trial for their part in the murder.

In court, Arnaud has not excluded further action being taken against other parties who may have been involved in the murder or its cover up.

Police investigations are ongoing and court testimony by Theuma has thrown several pointers at where these could be headed.

Theuma has testified that the bomb was manufactured by Tal-Maksar, which is the family nickname of the Agius brothers from Żebbuġ. Adrian and Robert Agius had been arrested in December 2017 but released with no charge.

Fenech’s personal doctor, Adrian Vella, was also briefly arrested after he forwarded a note, purportedly written by Schembri, to his patient. The note passed on to Fenech while he was on police bail contained instructions on what the accused should tell the police and included an attempt to pin the blame Economy Minister Chris Cardona.

The Caruana Galizia family at the law courts with family lawyer Jason Azzopardi (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
The Caruana Galizia family at the law courts with family lawyer Jason Azzopardi (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

Arnaud also testified about how messages found on Fenech’s phone, included conversations with his uncle Ray Fenech on a possible escape plan. While the details that have emerged on these messages are scant, the court has heard how Ray Fenech suggested that his nephew should not use credit cards to avoid being traced. Furthermore, Vella also told police how Yorgen Fenech had discussed an escape plan to Tunisia with his brother, Franco Fenech.

Neither Ray Fenech, nor Franco Fenech, have so far commented on what has been claimed in their regard.

In court, it also emerged that Yorgen Fenech had been tipped off by former Times of Malta journalist Ivan Camilleri some days before his arrest that the police were on him. Camilleri has denied the accusation.

How far and how deep the police investigations will go depends on many factors, not least the acquisition of proof that would stand the test in court, and the will to investigate anybody without fear or favour.

Meanwhile, as the criminal cases continue proceeding at their own pace, the public inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s murder, led by retired judge Michael Mallia, will continue hearing witnesses.

The inquiry is tasked, among others, to determine whether the State did enough to prevent the murder from happening.

In the midst of all this, the Labour Party will be electing a new leader, who will get his baptism of fire as prime minister in January as he tries to clean up the political mess created by the heavy shadow of murder cast on Castille.