by Matthew Xuereb with Ella Ide in Rome
The alleged mastermind behind the murder of a journalist in Malta told a court Thursday that an ex-top aide of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had been feeding him details of the investigation.
Tycoon Yorgen Fenech, who was arrested on his yacht last month as he tried to leave the country, claimed Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri gave him detailed notes on what to tell police who were questioning him over the slaying of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
“I’ve known Schembri since we were little. We would confide in each other and met around twice a week,” he said.
“He kept me continuously informed about the details of the investigation, in real time,” he added.
That included a tip-off before the arrests of Vincent Muscat and brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, who stand accused of preparing, planting and detonating the car bomb that killed Caruana Galizia two years ago.
The scandal-dogged probe into the 2017 car bomb murder of the investigative reporter has rocked the highest echelons of government.
It has already claimed the scalps of Schembri and tourism minister Konrad Mizzi and prompted Muscat to announce his resignation for January.
Critics have accused the premier of obstructing justice to protect his political allies and aides.
Caruana Galizia, a mother of three described as a “one-woman WikiLeaks”, was known for exposing cronyism and sleaze within Malta’s political and business elite.
Caruana Galizia had alleged that Schembri and Mizzi were involved in corruption, claims both men have denied.
The murder scandal has sparked mass protests and drawn sharp criticism from the European Parliament.
Schembri, who quit last month, was briefly arrested but released without charge, prompting cries of a cover-up and heaping serious pressure on Muscat.
– ‘Want to kill’ Daphne –
The alleged middleman Melvin Theuma, who was granted immunity in exchange for telling investigators all he knew about the assassination, told the court Wednesday that Fenech ordered the hit on Caruana Galizia.
Theuma said Fenech told him: “Get on with it. I want to kill Daphne”.
The taxi driver and loan shark told the court he had not been paid “a single cent” for his role as middleman.
He claimed, however, to have received a government job offer and a visit from someone allegedly working for Muscat’s office called Kenneth, who asked him to tell those planting the bomb they would get paid one million euros ($1.1 million).
He said the killers eventually received some 150,000 euros for the murder, some of which came out of his pocket.
Theuma said Fenech was feeding him information he had got directly from Muscat’s chief of staff.
Fenech backed up that claim Thursday, saying Schembri passed him “sensitive information”, as well as warning him his phone had been tapped.
– Conflict of interest? –
The prominent businessman was testifying in support of his request that the police chief leading the probe be recused because he had close ties to Schembri, creating a conflict of interest.
Fenech claims the information allegedly passed to him by Schembri came from chief investigator Keith Arnaud.
Fenech said Arnaud warned him when he was first detained to be “responsible” and take care “who to involve”.
He said he had taken that as a hint not to name Schembri.
The mogul said he had been arrested, released on bail and re-arrested several times, but as soon as he implicated Schembri police rushed “in a frenzy” to charge him.
A public inquiry into the murder was set to open Friday, behind closed doors, according to Malta media reports.