As the court hearings into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination progress, there are mounting reasons to question the Presidential Pardon given to Melvin Theuma, the self-confessed middleman in the case.
For starters, the pardon was granted by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, at a time when Keith Schembri – a person of interest in the murder investigation – was still his Chief of Staff.
Even though Muscat must have known that Schembri, his closest ally and best friend, was a major suspect, Muscat did not declare this conflict of interest. Instead, he had claimed no political persons were under suspicion for the murder and made it a point of taking the decision on the pardon himself, without even consulting Cabinet.
That alone should be a reason to question whether this pardon was given in good faith.
But there are other reasons too that should make us question the pardon.
Take for example the fact that when Theuma was arrested, he was caught with a large amount of evidence that already incriminated him and businessman Yorgen Fenech.
Was a pardon necessary given the large amount of evidence that police already had to incriminate the executors and Fenech himself, including many recordings?
Surely his testimony could help strengthen the cases by furnishing more detail around the assassination. But could that have been achieved through a plea bargain? Could it have been achieved through Theuma’s defence case even?
Those questions are hypothetical now, but we can look at the testimonies so far to see whether they have borne fruit.
On at least two occasions so far, Theuma’s testimony has largely been used to contradict the documentary evidence, exculpating Schembri in the process.
First there was the death note that Theuma admitted writing himself and which clearly stated that the murder was commissioned by both Schembri and Fenech.
When asked about this letter, Theuma strongly downplayed his mention of Schembri: “I mentioned Schembri in the letter because I was afraid that Yorgen would get Schembri’s help to put me in prison. But I cannot under oath state that Keith ever handed me money or ever spoke to me about Daphne’s murder. I was afraid because the two were great friends. For me, Yorgen Fenech was the mastermind.”
This week, some of the recordings Theuma took began to be played in court.
Again, in the recordings Theuma clearly mentions getting a message from Schembri about bail for the Degiorgio brothers.
In the recording, Theuma is heard saying: “Keith told me this”.
But Theuma then told the court it was not true that Schembri gave him the information.
“Kenneth (Camilleri) told me this, not Keith. I just associated Kenneth with Keith,” Theuma said, adding: “I was so sure of his involvement that I didn’t even bother to ask.”
In both instances, Theuma has created plausible deniability for Schembri.
Another reason to be suspicious of the pardon is what we learnt happened when Fenech originally requested a pardon himself.
According to several testimonies, Fenech got chest pains and was admitted to hospital, at which point his doctor passed on a letter that both Fenech and the doctor claim originated from Schembri himself.
The letter – which was published recently by Lovin Malta – was written as a script of what Fenech should tell the police, advising him to pin the murder on then Economy Minister Chris Cardona.
Fenech alleges he was promised a Presidential Pardon in return for following that script.
Schembri has denied writing the letter himself, but if he did, what is to say Schembri didn’t also tell Theuma what to say when Theuma too was admitted to hospital with chest pains?
These are questions which the new administration would do well to start asking. And their starting point will have to be Joseph Muscat, who must finally begin providing much-needed answers to the investigation, to his followers and to the Maltese public.