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One Year On, How Yorgen Fenech’s Early Morning Arrest Toppled A House Of Cards

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One year ago today, Malta woke up in shock at the news that Yorgen Fenech had been arrested for the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia while trying to flee the island on his yacht.

Fenech, the head of the powerful Tumas Group business empire, had already been embroiled in a major corruption scandal and his arrest was always going to have political implications. However, no one could have predicted what would happen next.

Six days after Fenech’s arrest, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, a close friend of the murder suspect, resigned. Schembri was already suspected of having planned to receive illicit funds from Fenech’s Dubai company 17 Black, but it later emerged that the Fenech had implicated him in the murder.

Schembri has always denied this but question marks about his links to Fenech and murder middleman Melvin Theuma remain. Specifically, Fenech had called Schembri the night before his attempted escape, a photograph of Schembri was found in Theuma’s secret ‘evidence stash’, and allegedly used doctor Adrian Vella as a go-between to instruct Fenech to pin the murder on then Economy Minister Chris Cardona.

Theuma also named Schembri as one of the masterminds in a letter, but said in court that he had no evidence to back this up.

Keith Schembri

Keith Schembri

Hours after Schembri’s resignation, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi also resigned and Cardona suspended himself following a Cabinet meeting. Mizzi was never implicated in the murder but he was deemed compromised after he was implicated in the 17 Black scandal.

Mizzi was later forced out of the Labour Party following the revelation of the Montenegro wind farm scandal, which involved Fenech.

As street protests raged on and Fenech was formally charged with the murder, pressure on Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to step down grew, and he finally announced his resignation in a televised speech to the nation on 1st December, to eventually be replaced by Robert Abela.

Joseph Muscat

Joseph Muscat

In the meantime, Fenech’s arrest claimed another scalp; Times of Malta sacked its leading journalist Ivan Camilleri shortly after MaltaToday reported that he had tipped off Fenech that police were after him.

Less than a week after Abela announced his first Cabinet, Justyne Caruana was forced to resign as Gozo Minister in the wake of revelations that her husband, former deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta, had travelled with Fenech to watch a Premier League football game. Valletta has also often been named as a potential leak, with information from the police investigation reaching Fenech’s ears.

A few days later, Abela announced the resignation of police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, who had been widely criticised for inaction on white collar crime. Cutajar was initially made consultant to the Home Affairs Ministry but he was soon removed from this position too following the launch of an investigation into how he had allegedly tipped off Melvin Theuma about ongoing police investigations.

In June, Chris Cardona resigned as PL deputy leader after Theuma claimed in court that the former minister had used his friend Anthony Chetcuti to pass on €350,000 to suspected hitman Alfred Degiorgio. Cardona vehemently denied this but Abela asked him to resign from his top-ranking party post anyway.

A few days after Cardona’s resignation, Angelo Gafa was appointed police commissioner and his first move was to replace Ian Abdilla, the head of the police Economic Crimes Unit, with Alessandra Mamo. Abdilla had been widely criticised for taking a weak stance in high-profile corruption cases and has since admitted that he could have handled the Panama Papers scandal better.

Chris Cardona

Chris Cardona

In August, longstanding Attorney General Peter Grech, who had also been criticised for mishandling corruption allegations, resigned and was replaced by Victoria Buttigieg.

And in September, Opposition leader Adrian Delia lost a leadership election that was called a few months after Keith Schembri said under oath that Fenech had paid him €50,000 to derail PN MEP David Casa’s re-election campaign, as well as €20,000 a month to Delia’s former head of media Pierre Portelli. Delia and Portelli have both denied these allegations. 

Also that same month, police inspector Kurt Zahra confirmed investigators suspect Caruana Galizia could have been killed because of what she was going to reveal about the ElectroGas power station project, which Fenech was a shareholder and director in.

Shortly after this testimony, the Gasan Group announced it was seeking to exit the controversial project.

One year on, Fenech remains in police custody and, slowly but surely, the case against him is proceeding. All eyes are now on Europol, who have assisted the Maltese police in the murder investigation and who are set to present the court with all the data found on Fenech’s phone. This is set to include around 700 messages exchanged between Fenech and Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis in the first ten months of 2019, messages from a WhatsApp group that Fenech shared with Keith Schembri and Joseph Muscat which Schembri and Muscat left shortly after Theuma’s arrest, and messages with other politicians, businessmen and public officers. 

Fenech was a major businessman with a reputation of cajoling politicians prior to his arrest and his phone could well hold a trover of previously unknown information. And with several people who had, or allegedly had, links to Fenech now removed from power, a number of people must now be asking themselves whether they’re next.

What do you make of this saga so far?

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