After weeks of shocking reports, recordings and accusations, Malta and the world finally got to hear Keith Schembri explain his alleged role in the case of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The Prime Minister’s former chief of staff was called as a witness for a constitutional case instituted by murder suspect Yorgen Fenech to remove chief homicide inspector Keith Arnaud from the case on the grounds of his alleged closeness to Schembri.
And for around an hour, he was questioned by Fenech’s lawyer Marion Camilleri about aspects of the case in which he is suspected of having played a part.
1. His relationship with Inspector Keith Arnaud
The basis of the constitutional case itself; Fenech has testified that Schembri had kept him frequently updated about the police investigation and had told him his information was coming straight from Keith Arnaud.
Schembri corroborated what Arnaud said yesterday, which is that they first met each other at the first police briefing at Castille about the assassination. When scheduling briefings, Schembri’s contact person from the police was originally deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta but he started contacting Arnaud personally after the Constitutional Court forced Valletta to give up the case on the grounds of his marriage to a minister.
Schembri denied Fenech’s claim that he had kept him informed about progress in the investigation, insisting that this was never the case. He said his discussions with Fenech about the case were limited to “general” discussions, and this before he knew Fenech was a suspect.
He later also stated that he had never leaked anything related to the investigations and that no one had even informed him in advance that there had been a leak.
He also denied Fenech’s claim that he helped Arnaud’s wife land a government job, insisting he had absolutely nothing to do with her employment.
2. The OPM official’s visit to Melvin Theuma’s house
Schembri testified that he is “100% positive” that he never sent the Prime Minister’s former security officer Kenneth Camilleri to Theuma’s house and that he never even spoke about the murder case to Camilleri.
This contradicts Yorgen Fenech’s claim about the incident, as recorded by Melvin Theuma, that Schembri had told him that he had sent Camilleri to Theuma’s house because he [Schembri] was ready to pass through fire for his [Fenech’s] sake.
Camilleri had visited Theuma’s house a day after Theuma and Fenech had an argument after Fenech informed Theuma that murder suspect Vince Muscat had started speaking to the police. Camilleri asked Theuma what happened, Theuma told him that the Degiorgio brothers (the two suspected assassins along with Vince Muscat) were pressuring him to bail them out, and Camilleri walked away and made a phone call.
Afterwards, he told Theuma to inform the Degiorgios’ other brother that they will be baled out on the 23rd of the month and given €1 million each. The bail money never arrived and the Degiorgios and Muscat are still being held in prison.
3. The secret note to Fenech through his and Schembri’s mutual doctor
Yesterday, Inspector Arnaud confirmed that Dr. Adrian Vella told him under interrogation that Schembri had given him notes to pass on to Fenech after the businessman had been admitted to Mater Dei for chest pains while under arrest. Vella said that he didn’t look at these notes but just stuffed them into his jacket pocket and handed them to Fenech in hospital.
The note reportedly contained instructions to Fenech on how to pin the assassination an Economy Minister Chris Cardona.
However, Schembri absolved himself of any blame, arguing that while he did indeed meet Dr Vella that night (he claims to have forgotten why they met), he didn’t write, send or deliver the note in question.
4. The phantom job to Melvin Theuma
With regards the mysterious phantom government job that was granted to Theuma right after a meeting with Schembri at Castille, Schembri contradicted Theuma’s versions of events.
According to Schembri, Theuma had wanted a job and someone had referred him to his office for one. Schembri said he cannot remember who that someone was, arguing that he sees around five or six jobseekers on a daily basis and that he spends an average of 15-20 minutes with each person. However, he does remember that he had a coffee with Theuma at Castille and that, at Theuma’s request, the two took a photo with each other next to a portrait of Dom Mintoff.
Theuma, whose pardon hinges on him telling the truth, confirmed under oath again that he never told Fenech that he needed or wanted a new job.
“Yorgen had called me up to tell me to expect a call from [Castille’s head of customer care[ Sandro Craus,” Theuma said today. “I had no idea why and asked him, but Yorgen told me to cut because [Craus] was about to call. Craus called me up immediately to tell me I had a meeting with Keith Schembri at Castille the next day.”
“I went to Castille the next day, called Yorgen to ask him how to enter and was told to enter through the main door. I did so and found Keith Schembri waiting for on the middle of the stairway. He showed me around Castille, we had an espresso, and Sandro Craus took a photo of us.”
Theuma said that Craus then referred him to the Family Ministry for a job, even though he made it clear from the start that he wouldn’t be able to go to work because he already had a job. Nevertheless, Theuma was given a brief interview and received around four or five cheques, even though he never went to work. He said that one time he didn’t receive a cheque and called up Fenech, who made the necessary calls, after which the cheque arrived.
5. Fenech’s phone call to Schembri the day before his arrest
Schembri confirmed that Fenech called him the day before he tried to leave Malta on his yacht last month, triggering his arrest and prosecution and an entire chain of events.
He said that Fenech had informed him that he was taking his yacht for repairs in Sicily and that he had asked him whether this was the right time to leave Malta considering everything that was going on (kif qegħdin l-affarijiet). The entire phone conversation lasted around 24 minutes.
Under further questioning, Schembri confirmed that he knew that Fenech was a suspect but was unable to recall how long he had know this. He then said that there were media reports that Theuma and a businessman were under investigation and that he could put one and one together to suspect that the businessman in question was in fact Fenech.
Theuma’s name was first reported by MaltaToday on 19th November, a few days after he had been arrested and a day before Fenech himself was arrested.
What do you make of Schembri’s testimony?