It’s the scandal that brought down Malta’s government. On Wednesday, Melvin Theuma, the so-called “middleman” in the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, testified in court that Malta’s biggest casino owner, Yorgen Fenech, was the “mastermind” behind the killing.
Fenech is one of Malta’s richest men, with close ties to the Maltese government. Two weeks ago, he was charged with orchestrating the 2017 car bomb attack that killed Caruana Galizia.
The casino owner and hotelier was arrested on November 20 while trying to flee Malta on his private yacht. A day earlier, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had announced Theuma had been granted immunity in return for spilling the beans about the murder.
Three senior politicians swiftly resigned in the wake of Fenech’s arrest — economy minister Chris Cardona, tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, and the prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri — although none have been charged with any crime. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Muscat announced he would resign in January.
Alleged Motive Revealed
Theuma told the court Fenech had asked him to arrange the murder because Caruana Galizia was about to print something damaging about his uncle, Raymond Fenech. Fenech later handed him a brown envelope containing €150,000 ($167,000 USD) in €50 ($56 USD) banknotes, Theuma said.
Raymond Fenech remains chairman of the Tumas Group, which owns two land-based casinos and an online casino in Malta. His nephew resigned as CEO of the group shortly before his arrest.
On November 25, the Tumas Group issued a press release distancing itself from its former CEO. This included an official statement from Raymond Fenech saying the allegations against his nephew were “alien to the values that Tumas Group has stood for since its inception and continues to profess.”
Previously, it had been speculated that Yorgen Fenech’s motive for killing Caruana Galizia was her investigation into a mysterious company called 17 Black.
After her death, it was discovered that 17 Black was controlled by Fenech and was due to pay $2 million USD to offshore shell companies owned by Mizzi and Schembri for unspecified services.
Feared for His Life
Theuma testified that he became depressed and started drinking heavily after the murder and that his condition deteriorated after the three men he had paid to plant the bomb were arrested late 2017 and charged with murder.
Theuma became convinced that Fenech would collude with his powerful friend, Schembri, to put him in prison, or worse. So he wrote a letter alleging both Fenech and Schembri were responsible for the killing, which he hoped authorities would find if he were murdered.
But he told the court Wednesday that he had no first-hand knowledge of Schembri’s involvement and had mentioned him in the letter only because he had assumed the prime minister’s former chief of staff was in on the plot.
He also claimed he had been visited by a man named “Kenneth” from the Prime Minister’s Office who assured him the three suspects arrested for the bomb attack would be granted bail and paid €1 million each. The three men had been demanding money from Theuma to keep quiet via an intermediary, but “Kenneth’s” promises never materialized, Theuma said.
Fenech is expected to plead not guilty to promoting, organizing or financing a criminal association with the intention of committing criminal offenses, with being complicit in the voluntary murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and with associating with persons in Malta or abroad with the intention committing a crime.
Hearings continue on December 19.