There was a time when Malta had lost hope that the mastermind and culprits behind the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia would be found. That has all changed with the arrest of Melvin Theuma and the guilty verdict of Vince Muscat.
Theuma is the middleman-turned-state-witness who is providing crucial evidence in the case in exchange for a presidential pardon. Meanwhile, Muscat is the self-confessed hitman who has shared details of the plot in open court.
Sittings have come thick and fast with a wealth of recordings played in open court (and some behind closed doors). It’s tough to keep track, but the courts have provided an open stream of information in the face of a still-media shy government.
With all the twists and turns, here’s how the assassination was planned and how people tried to cover it up, as it has been described in the courts:
Sometime in April 2017: The plot begins
Melvin Theuma, one of ten taxi drivers employed by Tumas Group to work outside the Hilton Hotel, receives a call from Yorgen Fenech at 4.30am. The pair first met years prior through a mutual love of gambling.
Fenech and Theuma meet outside the Blue Elephant Restaurant within Portomaso. Fenech asks:
“Do you know George ‘ċ-Ċiniz’ Degiorgio? I want to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia because she’s about to publish something about my Uncle Ray.”
Theuma doesn’t ask any more questions and quickly sets up a meeting with Alfred ‘Il-Fulu’ Degiorgio, George’s brother. Theuma first met the Degiorgios a few years back after renting out his Marsa apartment to the brothers.
The day after the Blue Elephant meeting, Theuma visits the now-infamous potato shed in Marsa. He informs Degiorgio that an unanamed individual wants the journalist murdered.
“But what does this guy pay?” Degiorgio asks.
Sometime in April 2017: Busy Bee
Two days later, Theuma and Alfred Degiorgio meet at the quaint Busy Bee confectionary in Msida to discuss the details of the assassination over coffees. Vince Muscat waits in a car outside. At no point is Fenech’s name mentioned.
“It will cost €150,000. I want a €30,000 deposit upfront and €120,000 once it’s done,” Degiorgio tells Theuma.
The same day, Theuma informs Fenech of the price. Fenech promises to get back to Theuma.
Muscat has confirmed the timeline to the courts. He explained that towards the end of April, he arrived at the infamous potato shed, and Degiorgio approached him to tell him that Theuma had a “good proposal” for the men… murdering Caruana Galizia.
Sometime in April 2017: The phantom job from Castille
The day after, Theuma receives a call from Fenech. Fenech tells Theuma to expect a call from Sandro Craus, the Rabat Mayor and Head of Customer Care at the Office of the Prime Minister.
A few moments later, Theuma receives the call from Craus, who informs him that he has an appointment with then-Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri the next day.
Schembri greets Theuma on the steps of Castille, escorting him through the front door rather than the side entrance, which would require official signing-in. Schembri and Theuma had met once before at a meal at Fenech’s house.
Theuma is quickly taken up to Schembri’s office and is offered a cup of coffee. He puts his time to good use, taking out his mobile phone to capture a now-infamous photo with Schembri.
Theuma is then ushered into Craus’ office. Craus directs Theuma to the offices of the Family Affairs Ministry in Palazzo Ferreria on Republic Street. Theuma is told that a certain Tony Muscat would be waiting for him.
Muscat was the then-CEO of the Housing Maintenance and Embellishment Ltd, a government company controlled by the Family Affairs Ministry, which at the time was headed by Michael Farrugia (now Minister for the Elderly).
After a two minute interview, Theuma is employed as a messenger/driver within the Housing Maintenance and Embellishment Ltd. Theuma is handed €1,200 per month out of taxpayers money for a job he never turns up for.
1st May: Snap election called
On the day then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat shocks the nation by announcing a snap general election amid the Egrant allegations, Fenech frantically calls up Theuma to tell him to put a stop to the assassination plot.
“Stop everything now!” Fenech says.
Theuma sets up a meeting with Alfred Degiorgio, again at Busy Bee, for the next day.
Even though Theuma had not yet confirmed the plot, he still hands over €1,500 to keep up appearances. Degiorgio makes it clear to Theuma to call him if the assassination plot restarts.
Fenech and Theuma seemed to enjoy election season. Fenech gambles €150,000 on the Labour Party winning the general election by more than 20,000 votes through Theuma, who runs his own illegal gambling operation.
Fenech wins big, taking home €300,000 with Theuma taking a 5% cut.
3rd June: Election day
Hours after Muscat and the Labour Party demolish the Nationalist Party in the general election on 3rd June 2017, Fenech phones up Theuma.
Fenech is drunk and orders Theuma to go ahead with the assassination plot. Theuma doesn’t take notice.
Mid-June 2017: Money provided
Two weeks later, Fenech calls Theuma, asking to drive him to the airport. During the journey, Fenech hands over €150,000 to Theuma in a brown envelope. Once again, Theuma doesn’t ask any questions.
Theuma hands over €30,000 to Degiorgios and places the rest of the remaining funds hidden at home.
Soon after, Fenech quickly grows frantic over the murder, asking Theuma to speed up the plot. It was at this point that Theuma realised the information Caruana Galizia was planning to publish was related to Fenech and not his uncle Ray.
The pair grows concerned over how the killers would assassinate Caruana Galizia. Fenech raises concerns with Theuma over using a car bomb referencing Romeo Bone, the man whose two legs were blown off in a Msida explosion.
Theuma speaks to the Degiorgios who assures him not to worry about it.
Muscat has confirmed to the courts that the decision to proceed with the murder happened around one to two weeks after the general election in 2017.
July to August 2017 – The assassination gets planned
Theuma provides George Degirogio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince ‘Il-Kohhu’ Muscat with details over Caruana Galizia’s movements, namely her residence and a Naxxar coffee shop she liked to frequent.
It seems that not all was going to plan. During a meeting at the potato shed, the Degiorgios tell Theuma that the task is proving to be challenging.
“She’s giving us problems, but she’ll get it. A lot of tough guys have died. She will die too,”
Muscat is not present for the meeting. However, the Degiorgios do tell him that Melvin Theuma is the middleman for whoever wants the murder done.
The three men, sometimes joined by Theuma, begin following Caruana Galizia. On one occasion, Alfred Degiorgio takes Theuma to a vantage point by Caruana Galizia’s Bidnija home.
Muscat explained that the initial plan was to shoot Caruana Galizia with a rifle. Alfred Degiorgio was initially earmarked to be the shooter since he had the best shot out of the three men.
He said that the rifles were acquired from Robert Agius and Jamie Vella. He recounted how he had met the men in a garage on the limits of Naxxar and Mosta to collect the rifles.
However, it seems that the weapons themselves were unreliable, except for one. When they returned the weapon, they were given three bombs instead.
“George Degiorgio was always in favour of using a bomb,” Muscat said.
The bomb, Muscat said, was made of stainless steel, sophisticated, and was clearly foreign made. It had a casing, some 6 inches by 5 inches and some 1.5 inches thick. It also had a slot for a SIM card.
“It had a particular message which would activate it. We were told that there was some seven seconds interval until it went off,” he said.
Either Agius or Vella told the men that the bomb contained some 500 g of explosive jelly. On their suggestion, the men attached a bottle filled with petrol to make the impact more devastating.
Muscat revealed that the men had rented an exact model of the Peugeot Caruana Galizia was driving at the time to make breaking into her car and placing the bomb far easier.
Notably, the name Romeo Bone was also mentioned by Muscat. Muscat said that Degiorgio had told Agius and Vella that he hoped the blast was stronger than the one placed in Bone’s car. Bone had survived a car bomb in February 2017, losing both of his legs.
Vella recommended that the bomb be placed near the wheel and not under the seat.
August to October 2017: Several plots to murder her
The hitmen vociferously stalk Caruana Galizia in the months leading up to her murder. With a lack of information from Theuma, the men take it into their own hands to understand her movements.
The suspects use binoculars to keep an eye on her and to familiarise themselves with the area. Vantage points along Targa Battery were a common spot for the men.
Theuma did inform the men that Caruana Galizia frequently went to a Naxxar coffee shop. They spent about a week going to that area to watch her moves, and one day, they spotted her car.
One night, the men decide to get a closer look at Caruana Galizia’s home. The men end up only a few metres away from one of her windows and watch the journalist for up to two hours up until 2am as she sits on her sofa with a laptop.
That evening, they fix a rubble wall to steady the rifle while shooting. The men are so confident of their spot that they even plan to execute the hit soon after, following pressure by Theuma that Caruana Galizia was planning to publish an article concerning the alleged mastermind.
The men even load their cars full of weapons just in case they were confronted by police. After a short conversation between George and Alfred Degiorgio, the men decide that they would use a bomb.
On another occasion, the men follow Caruana Galizia to the Phoenicia in Floriana and consider placing the bomb in her car that evening, even if other people return to the car with her.
“They said, we’ll go ahead, whoever is with her in the car, even if she’s with others,” Muscat said.
“We looked for her and her husband’s cars. Had we spotted their cars, we would have planted the bomb. Then we would have sent the message to detonate the bomb. However, not in Valletta since there were too many people around, but once she got to Bidnija,” he continued.
Theuma receives a phone call from Alfred Degiorgio sometime during the first weeks of October 2017 after a failed attempt to carry out the assassination.
Road works in the area mean that there is some police presence in the area, particularly by their chosen lookout point. Theuma is provided with no details on when the men plan to carry out the assassination.
16th October 2017: Daphne is assassinated
At 3pm, Daphne Caruana Galizia is assassinated by a car bomb outside her home.
On the eve before the murder, Muscat receives a phone call from Alfred Degiorgio alerting him that her car is parked outside her residence. It had only been parked outside once before.
He goes to collect the bomb himself, meeting the Degiorgio brothers nearby her home in Bidnija.
Alfred Degiorgio picks the lock the same way he had done with the practice model and places the bomb. Muscat then spends the night at Degiorgio’s apartment in St Paul’s Bay. The two men make their way to their vantage point in Mosta at 6am the next day.
At some point, they spot her.
“She’s coming out”, Alfred tellis his brother, George. However, he tells him to halt the plan because she is returning back inside.
Once Caruana Galizia goes back into her car, Alfred gives the order.
“We heard nothing. That loud explosion that was mentioned, I swear we never heard that, your honour!” Muscat said, relaying fears that the men thought they failed.
Then they look back and see a plume of smoke.
After disposing of their phones, the men switch on the radio and await the news. The men then meet at the Marsa potato shed and admit they were shocked at the reaction that the bombing had provoked.
Theuma finds out about the murder through a TVM bulletin.
FBI and other international experts are immediately called to Malta to investigate. Schembri has since insisted that he was the one to orchestrate the FBI’s involvement. However, this has been rubbished time and time again by those closest to the investigation.
Theuma starts to worry, fearing that their demise is now inevitable.
“My life ended the day she died,” Theuma has perversely told the courts.
The nation would later find out that the Degiorgios and Muscat used mobile phones to detonate the bomb. Impressive work by the FBI and police leads them to zero on the three men. Muscat, who is the spotter, leaves a cigarette butt with DNA evidence by the vantage point.
17th October 2017: Theuma’s concerned visit to Club 22
Theuma concerns are growing, so he decides to pay a visit to Fenech at Club 22 within the Portomaso tower. Theuma sees Turab Musayev, the then-Electrogas director who now has links to a controversial Enemalta purchase of a Montenegrin wind farm.
Fenech tries to calm Theuma down, insisting that the FBI and international experts will soon leave the island.
“So what if they’re here? It’s the Maltese police who are investigating,” Fenech says.
A few days later, the men collect the rest of their money, disposing of any burner phones they used.
Early November 2017: Police begin closing in on Degiorgios and Muscat
Roughly two weeks later, it becomes Fenech’s turn to start growing concerned. He’s been informed that investigators have reached a breakthrough in the case and have uncovered the message used to detonate the bomb. Muscat, who was the spotter, also left a cigarette butt with DNA evidence by the vantage point.
The pair meet by the Toyota showroom in Haz-Żebbuġ. Fenech, despite concerns, assures Theuma that everything is going to be ok. He promises to keep tabs on developments.
Fenech’s information comes just days after then-Assistant Commissioner Silvio Valletta sets up unprecedented meetings with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Other key figures are present, including Homicide Inspector Keith Arnaud, Head of Malta’s Secret Service Michael Bugeja, former head of government communications Kurt Farrugia, and Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi.
15th – 30th November 2017: Details of the raid are leaked
During an unprecedented briefing, Muscat and Schembri are told the identities of three men police suspect carried out the assassination. Valletta and Arnaud inform the meeting that they are planning to raid the Marsa potato shed on either 5th December, 6th December, and 10th December 2017.
The same day, Fenech calls Theuma for a meeting outside Portomaso. There, Fenech tells Theuma that he’s been informed that there is going to be a raid on 5th December.
He tells Theuma that he received the information directly from Keith Schembri. Theuma went to tell the Degiorgios, however, they were already aware of the plan.
Muscat has also revealed that roughly two to three weeks before their arrests on 4th December 2017, Alfred Degiorgio informed him of the planned raid.
Degiorgio told Muscat that he got the information directly from Cardona, explaining that he was fearful that he would be arrested and interrogated over his relationship with the two brothers.
This information allegedly came through Cardona’s regular source, Silvio Valletta. The men even knew the time they would be raided.
The men put the time to good use, clearing out crucial evidence from the infamous potato shed. They even planned to be “arrested together”, with Degiorgio picking up Muscat the morning of the raids and taking him to the potato shed.
5th December 2017: The first round of arrests
Police, army officials, and secret service officers descend upon the Marsa potato shed to arrest Alfred Degiorgio, George Degiorgio, and Vince Muscat. Footage of the operation is released soon after. However, high-production values raise suspicions.
Several high-valued cars are found within the shed. Burner phones and a wealth of other items are discovered within the harbour. There are unproven claims that one number held then-Economy Minister Chris Cardona’s mobile number.
Seven other men are arrested that day, including the infamous ‘Tal-Maksar’ brother Adrian and Robert Agius, and Jamie Vella – two of whom have been charged in the case. Anton Cachia and Rudy Camilleri are two others who are arrested that day.
December 2017 to April 2018: Keeping the Degiorgios happy
Soon after the men were charged and sent to Corradino Correctional Facility, Theuma began paying the three men around €300 weekly, €100 each. After using several intermediaries, Theuma began dealing directly with Mario Degiorgio, George and Alfred’s brother, and Muscat’s daughter.
Most of the time, Theuma would fund their weekly salaries himself. He began feeling the pressure with Mario Degiorgio, who began making more and more requests for money. These included things like school fees and household issues.
On several occasions, Theuma spoke with the Degiorgios on the phone while they were in prison. Back then, police only knew him as the “man whose name starts with ‘M’”.
Theuma started drinking heavily and popping pills. He was steamrolling towards depression and had contemplated killing himself several times. Fenech noticed and handed him €5,000 for a family holiday.
A few days after his return, he spoke with the Degiorgios who told him that they needed €30,000 to pay their lawyer. Fenech forks out the €30,000 and a further €25,000 to cover the expenses.
Fenech did not always cover the expense himself with Theuma on one occasion forking out €20,000 to pay the brothers.
“I never made a cent. I actually lost money. He acted like a friend but I know now that’s not the case,” Theuma has told the court.
By the end of April 2018, Vince Muscat has begun talking to investigators to try to negotiate a plea deal. Melvin Theuma’s name is first mentioned to the police.
May 2018: The recordings start
Soon after, Fenech, Theuma, and others discover that Muscat has started to talk.
Johann Cremona, Fenech’s business partner through Bestplay and Oracle Gaming, quickly enters the scene. He is friends with Theuma and rents an office in Hal Qormi from him.
Cremona phones up Theuma to inform him that a certain “Kenneth from Castille” would like to talk to him. Kenneth Camillieri was working as a security guard for then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at the time.
Cremona ferried to Camilleri to Theuma’s home. However, he left soon after. Camilleri phones someone during the meeting. He tells Theuma to inform the men charged with the murder that they will get bailed out on the 22nd May and that they will be given €1 million each.
Theuma has revealed that while he didn’t eavesdrop on Camilleri’s conversation, he suspects he was speaking to Schembri.
The next day, Camilleri visits Theuma and Cremona at the Hal Qormi office. There he brings out a piece of paper with three mobile numbers written on it, one of which was Theuma’s old mobile number.
After the meeting, Theuma passes on the message to the Degiorgios. However, when the trail goes cold, the brothers start making threats.
Theuma now decides to start recording his conversations and slowly begins building his evidence box. He tells Cremona that Schembri and Fenech betrayed him. He begins meeting Cremona almost daily. He also records Cremona.
The first of these recordings have been played in court, capturing himself and Fenech discussing the issue in a taxi. While Theuma has been fuzzy on dates, he has said this happened soon after Barcelona and Real Madrid faced off. That game was on 6th May 2018.
He has repeatedly told the court that he feared Schembri and Fenech would kill him.
May 2018: Sometime in 2019: Melvin Theuma’s recordings of Fenech
Unfortunately, Theuma has been miserable when it comes to pinpointing dates of the recordings. However, most detail the wealth of information both Theuma and Fenech were provided on the state of the investigations.
To begin with, recordings have made it clear that the men were very much aware of Muscat’s pardon request. They knew that Muscat had named Theuma as a potential middleman and that he was ready to speak up about several unsolved murders and the HSBC heist.
The information, Fenech and Theuma say in the recordings, are coming from several people, most notably Silvio Valletta and Keith Schembri.
In one tape, Fenech says that Schembri had spoken with various Cabinet members, including then-Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and Joseph ‘Ix-Xih’ Muscat, to examine the status of the pardon.
They were also aware that the security services had tapped their phones and that investigators were closing in on their potential involvement. They dismiss protests as the moans of bitter people, insistent that they won’t get caught.
Theuma decides to be bold and inform Fenech through Cremona that he has been recording him. Little does Fenech know, that Theuma’s evidence box includes a note naming both he and Schembri as the masterminds behind the assassination.
During this period, Theuma says, Fenech had grown more and more distant. There have been several hints that Fenech was battling his own cocaine addiction.
This did not stop the Degiorgios, who continued to pressure Theuma to provide them with funds. He says that on one instance, Mario Degiorgio detailed their links to Cardona, including attempts to acquire a marijuana license.
The payments would continue right up until Fenech and Theuma’s arrest.
Theuma’s mental health worsens. He has told the court that he had even tried calling PN figures like Simon Busuttil and Jason Azzopardi over this period.
Police have confirmed that Fenech was identified as the potential mastermind by October 2018. Muscat and Schembri were both informed during one of their unprecedented meetings on the case.
At some point during this time-frame, Theuma informs Edwin ‘Il-Gojja’ Brincat of his involvement. Brincat is a father figure to Theuma and they have a long-standing personal and professional relationship.
Theuma also has face to face encounters with some critical players over these months. He spots Silvio Valletta having dinner at Fenech’s house, while actually goes to meet Fenech outside Girgenti during Muscat’s exclusive birthday bash.
May 2019: Police Commissioner leaks details on recordings
Police begin pursuing an arrest of Theuma with far more vigour. However, they are concerned that they are simply unable to do so in connection with the assassination. They decide to begin looking into a money laundering case, tracing Theuma’s history as a loan shark and an illegal bookie.
Through various wiretaps, they believed that the recordings did exist, but did were cautious in showing their hand.
Then-Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar decided to take the issue into his hands. Brincat, who has known Cutajar for close to 30-years, calls up Cutajar to arrange a parking ticket that could lead to him losing his license.
Cutajar uses the opportunity to ask Brincat whether the recordings exist and ultimately leak crucial information on the case. Cutajar is currently subject to a magisterial inquiry over the issue amid other allegations of a history of bribes between the two men.
Brincat immediately informs Theuma. Theuma, in turn, says he starts bragging about his connections with Cutajar to Fenech and Cremona.
Over this period, police believe that Fenech attempts to purchase a pistol and polonium.
June to October 2019: Investigations gather pace
The investigation continues to gather pace. However, both Theuma and Fenech are still very much aware of their operations. As-yet-unplayed recordings show Theuma telling Cremona which police departments had files on him.
Cremona informs Theuma that the police are focusing on a money-laundering investigation, even showing him a formal request for information from police on the matter.
Most of the recordings over this period are yet to be played in court. Most of them were only discovered well after the arrest of Theuma, some where corrupted while others were found on other devices.
Court testimonies have shown that the men were growing wearier and wearier over this period. Particularly over Muscat’s renewed plea bargaining attempts through lawyer Arthur Azzopardi. Cremona somehow acquires a copy and hands it over to Theuma.
It seems that while the men feared an arrest, they were repeatedly assured by their sources, which include people like Keith Schembri, that everything would be ok.
Cutajar, meanwhile, holds another meeting with Brincat around October 2019. Unheard recordings and Fenech’s defence team hint at Cutajar potentially accepting a bribe to secure Theuma’s pardon.
Police start officially planning the arrest of Theuma by October 2019. Muscat and Schembri are informed. Soon after, the exit a shared WhatsApp group with Fenech.
November 2019: The noose tightens
Cremona and Fenech inform Theuma that police are planning a raid of his properties. He is told that he will be arrested around 10th to 14th November.
However, he is handed a lifeline. Cremona and Fenech tell him that then-Economic Crimes Unit Inspector Raymond Aquilina will question him before sending him on his way.
Theuma grows desperate for more and more information. However, Cremona and Fenech go cold. He grows more frustrated, demanding to know which properties will be raided. He has told the court he did not want his family to be brought into this.
There are several allegations that the pardon plot with Cutajar continues at this point.
14th November 2019: Theuma is arrested
Their information never comes and on 14th November, Theuma is arrested. He is taken to the police headquarters in Floriana and waits for Raymond Aquilina.
However, Inspector Nicholas Vella enters the interrogation room instead. It throws Theuma off guard and he fears that he is being thrown under the bus.
Theuma has an ace up his sleeve and immediately demands to speak to Keith Arnaud. He immediately tells Arnaud that he has evidence proving who masterminded the assassination.
On Monday 18th November, after some claims are corroborated. Arnaud and Inspector Kurt Zahra open the evidence box.
The first thing they see is a photo of Theuma and Schembri, along with a handwritten note naming both Schembri and Fenech as the masterminds. Beneath them are several USB sticks carrying to crucial evidence that would lead to Fenech’s arrest.
Arnaud and several investigators claim that this is the point they became aware of Schembri’s potential involvement – and more worryingly his fraternal friendship with Fenech.
Theuma is granted a pardon on 25th November, a few days after Fenech’s arrest. He begins testifying soon after.
Do you believe Theuma’s version of events? Comment below