Watch: ‘I didn’t help Fenech to try to escape’ – Schembri

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

  • Former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri had a phone call with Yorgen Fenech which lasted around 24 minutes prior to Fenech trying to leave the country on his boat
  • Schembri denied helping Fenech to try to escape
  • Schembri insisted that he had no contact with MSS but was present at some Castille briefings
  • The former Chief of Staff had not told Inspector Arnaud about his friendship with Fenech
  • Schembri denied sending a copy of Theuma’s draft letter requesting a presidential pardon, while Dr Marion Camilleri hinted that he might have done so.

12:01 Case adjourned to 14 January at 9am.

11:59 Dr Camilleri will inform the court whether more witnesses will be called to testify after watching the video which was exhibited in court.

11:58 Dr Camilleri asked for a copy of the footage from the lock-up which was exhibit in court and then possibly put more questions to Police Inspector Keith Arnaud. Mr Justice Mintoff pointed out that it was a long video, and that they could get a copy of it and watch it.

Dr Buttigieg objected, saying that Arnaud’s examination had been concluded.

11:52 Theuma is recalling the argument he had with Fenech when Vincent Muscat had started speaking to the police. He recalled that in the evening he received a call from Johann Cremona who works with Fenech. He explained that Cremona and Kenneth turned up outside his partner’s house in Zurrieq. Theuma is explaining that he told Cremona that he was under pressure from Degiorgio’s about their bail.

He explained that he did not ask Cremona where he got the information from and why Kenneth was there. Theuma asked whether or not he should inform Mario Degiorgio, and he immediately went to inform the Degiorgio’s about their bail.

‘When I informed Fenech about this, he said he would not take any responsibility for it since he did not make these promises,’ Theuma recalled.

11:48 Dr Camilleri asked whether he asked for a job when Theuma started recalling his conversation with Fenech before Craus called him.

‘I had a good job,’ Theuma said, ‘a taxi driver at Hilton’.

Theuma said he could not recall whether he told Craus or Muscat that he had already a job which he was not willing to leave. He said he had a short interview and that he began in his employment however, he never turned up for work.

‘Have you ever asked why you were given a job that you did not want or need?’ Dr Camilleri asked. ‘I had told Yorgen and he had told me ‘mhux ahjar ghalik? paga ohra diehla?’ Theuma recalled.

11:41 Dr Camilleri started grilling Theuma about his recordings. Theuma explained that he could recall the exact number of recordings, but would record every time he could.

Dr Camilleri pressed if Arnaud was ever mentioned in these recordings. He said that Arnaud was never mentioned.

Theuma repeated that Fenech got information about the investigation and which he relayed to third parties.

‘We had met in front of Toyota’s showroom. Fenech had told me that they discovered the message which detonated the bomb. I only recall ‘REL’. This was sometime in November [2017] before the arrests,’ Theuma explained.

‘Vincent Muscat started spilling the beans, and he mentioned me. I never spoke to Muscat,’ Theuma explained.

Theuma was asked whether the information was published in the media, he replied ‘no’.

Theuma referred to his recordings, saying that there is: ‘Schembri jidhol fin-nar ghalih. U ghamel il-bicca xoghol li ghamel, habba fih.’ Mr Justice Mintoff asked him to clarify who is who.

He explained that he met Schembri twice. The first time at the farmhouse where they shook hands – well before the elections, he explained.

11:40 Next up was Melvin Theuma.

11:39 Cross examination was reserved. Schembri’s testimony finished.

11:38 ‘How do you know Kenneth Camilleri?’ Dr Camilleri asked. Dr Buttigieg intervened citing the scope of the case, Mr Justice Mintoff asked Dr Camilleri to continue with her questions.

She asked whether he spoke to Camilleri about Melvin Theuma, he said he never did.

11:36 Schembri was asked about Theuma’s recordings and which ones he heard. He explained that he could not remember clearly.

‘In which context were you mentioned?’ Dr Camilleri asked.

‘In which context was I mentioned…’ he repeated slowly before recalling that Theuma had mentioned bringing the Degiorgio family outside his home, because of his ‘power’.

11:29 Schembri denied keeping Fenech updated, saying they would only publish media articles.

‘Jien leaks fuq dan il-kaz ma ghamilt qatt,’ Schembri told the court. Dr Camilleri said, ‘that was not my question,’ as she asked whether she was aware of Arnaud’s declaration that were leaks.

Schembri said that he was arrested at 5.30am. He said during his interrogation, whatever he said at time, these were being reported by the media in real time.

He insisted that he got to know about the ‘leaks’ from the media. Asked again whether he passed on sensitive information to Fenech, Schembri replied that he had already replied to the question insisting that this was the fourth time she asked him this question. Dr Buttigieg intervened.

‘Have you ever told Yorgen Fenech that Mr Arnaud was keeping you informed?’ Dr Camilleri asked Schembri, before asking the court to order Schembri to look at the Court and stop looking to the bench where his lawyers, among others, are seated.

‘We would discuss the case in relation to media reports,’ Schembri said, adding that he ‘was sure that he never told Fenech that Arnaud had messaged him.’

11:23 Schembri had a call of some 24 minutes. Fenech allegedly asked him if whether there was a problem with him leaving the country. Schembri told the court that he had told him… ‘kif taf inti’…saying that Fenech had spoken to his lawyers before speaking to Schembri.

‘No, I did not tell Arnaud that we were friends,’ Schembri said.

Schembri said that he did not know that Fenech’s phone was tapped, but ‘you do not have to be astronaut to know,’ he added.

11:18 ‘Before Fenech’s arrest, we had a long phone call. He had told me that he would take his boat to Sicily for repairs. I told him it was not the time to do so,’ Schembri started telling the court, after Dr Camilleri asked what was the conversation between Fenech and Schembri prior to the former’s arrest.

He asked a question in return ‘imagine if he was not on the island, they would have blamed us for letting him escape’.

Schembri said that he knew that Fenech was a suspect in Caruana Galizia’s murder but could not recall when he got to know about this.

‘Why did you feel like saying ‘no’ to going to Sicily?’ Dr Camilleri pressed.

‘In my position, I could not give him other information,’ Schembri said.

‘Kif qeghdin l-affarijiet…’ Schembri started saying, Dr Camilleri asked ‘what did you know?’

‘I knew that it was not the moment for him to leave the country…’ Schembri finally said.

11:16 ‘Why did you send a copy of Theuma’s presidential pardon?’ Dr Camilleri insisted. Schembri said ‘no’, Dr Buttigieg intervened saying that the lawyer already asked.

Dr Camilleri clarified that since Fenech’s mobile was seized she could not physically show him a copy of it.

11:13 ‘I had nothing to do with the job given to Arnaud’s wife,’ Schembri said. Dr Camilleri asked whether or not if someone asked on her behalf, saying that never he was approached.

Asked what they would talk about while waiting before Castille briefings, Schembri said they had ‘small talk’ about children and football.

Dr Camilleri referred him to when Fenech tried escaping on his yacht. Using ‘trying to escape..’ Schembri intervened saying ‘Sorry, sorry, pruvajna nharrbu…’, Mr Justice Mintoff rephrased the question about the attempted escaped.

‘No I did not know about Fenech’s attempt to escape,’ Schembri said.

Schembri said that he was not aware that Fenech’s phone was tapped and they were not involved in briefings by the Malta Security Services.

Schembri denied having any information.

11:08 ‘Melvin Theuma was sent by the witness [sic. Fenech] said that this was in the run up to the elections. They would get such requests, many requests like this. He said that when they have such requests he would pass them over to customer care,’ Schembri said.

‘Melvin bgħattuli xi ħadd, ma niftakarx min bgħattuli,’ Schembri told the court.

She referred him to Theuma’s testimony, Schembri said that he was not told that he already had a job.

‘I used to have five or six people like Melvin Theuma. They send them to me,’ Schembri said. Dr Camilleri pressed him to reply to questions on how many of such requests does he see to personally. He finally said some ‘10%’. He said that he could not remember who referred Theuma to him.

‘I gave him a coffee. We took a photo. On his way out, he started talking about Dom Mintoff and I told him let me show you a picture,’ Schembri recalled from his meeting with Theuma.

11:00 Schembri said that he was present for a number of briefings which took place at Castille. The Prime Minister would be present for these meetings, sometimes there would be the AG and Owen Bonnici, Schembri explained.

‘Castille does not investigate,’ Schembri said. ‘We will make sure that all the resources are available. I had spoken to the Prime Minister to bring foreign experts,’ Schembri said referring to the FBI.

‘This homicide is not normal,’ Schembri said. ‘The prime minister from day one said that he would leave no stone unturned.’

Speaking about the FBI, he said he would be in touch with the Police Commissioner and when the investigation kicked off, he would liaise with AC Silvio Valletta. Schembri explained that any meetings which happened outside Castille, the OPM was not involved. The former chief of staff said that he liaised with Arnaud after ‘Valletta left’. He explained that Arnaud would message him to organise a briefing.

‘Any information was given when everyone was present,’ Schembri said. ‘What was the reason why were you informing Fenech?’ Dr Camilleri asked. ‘No, I never informed him. I never informed him about Theuma’s presidential pardon,’ Schembri said.

Schembri said that he was never present for the meeting and was not aware of the draft which would be given to Melvin Theuma for presidential pardon.

The former chief of staff said that he was never present for meetings over Theuma’s presidential pardon. Dr Camilleri asked whether he sent copies of the draft letter of Theuma’s presidential pardon request to Fenech, with Schembri replying with ‘No, never.’

10:55 Schembri said that he ‘did not interfere in the investigation’.

‘During the 50 hours under interrogation, we spoke about the notes at the Police Headquarters. I did not write it, I did not send it. I was given three letters – one which is written by Melvin Theuma, a 4-page letter which was typed and had handwritten notes, and a page and a half letter,’ Schembri said.

Schembri said that he asked about the handwritten notes and was told that they were written by Fenech over the typed pages.

Dr Camilleri asked him if he read the letters. He said that he read Theuma’s written from the media, with Dr Camilleri pointing out that she was not interested in what he got to know from the media.

‘Are you aware that your friends from the Cabinet were being mentioned?’ – Dr Camilleri said.

‘Yes. Minister Cardona,’ Schembri said.

He said that he only read one page from the four pages.

He described Cardona as a ‘colleague’ and not a friend.

10:52 Schembri was asked about his relationship with Dr Adrian Vella, saying that he is their doctor.

‘A week is a year for me at the moment,’ Schembri told the court as he said that he could not recall what happened. He said he got to know from the media that Fenech got arrested.

‘Il-Pulizija gabruni fil-5.30am ta’ filghodu,’ Schembri told the court saying he could not recall the date. He said that he stayed a total of 50 hours. There were two searches at his residence and his office at Castille.

The police electronic equipment. Police from the Economic Crime Unit were present during the search at Castille.

10:48 ‘I’ve only seen snippets of the Egrant report,’ Schembri said.

‘I’m not capable of hating someone and I don’t not hate anyone,’ Schembri told the court.

Schembri was asked what business he had with Yorgen Fenech, and whether money flowed through foreign banks. He explained that he did not have a personal business relationship – their companies did. He told the court that no money was passed to him through foreign banks.

In seven years, the pair went abroad around three times together. ‘He was a friend, I have a lot of friends,’ Schembri added.

They would communicate via WhatsApp but said he could not recall how frequent. He said that he once went on Fenech’s yacht. He said he did not recall meeting Theuma at Fenech’s farmhouse. He could not recall how many times he went to Fenech’s farmhouse.

10:45 Keith Schembri taking the witness stand. Schembri apologised to the court on yesterday’s no appearance adding that no one came to his house. Mr Justice Mintoff referred him to the court’s declaration saying that no one is going to wait for him to open the door.

A copy of an article by Daphne Caruana Galizia was shown to Schembri by Dr Camilleri and asked whether it bothered him? And asked what whether or not he asked Fenech to do something on his behalf.

Schembri said that after years in politics he had a thick skin.

Dr Camilleri is asking in connection to Schembri’s testimony in the Egrant inquiry report.

10:40 Dr Marion Camilleri said that the first to testify is Keith Schembri. The court declared that since the proceedings in these constitutional proceedings were urgent, Schembri was due to testify during Tuesday sitting. No one opened the door to the court official when they went to to notify Schembri. ‘The court cannot wait for Schembri to open the door to be notified,’ the court said.

Schembri entered the courtroom.

The court also declared that it was notified that Dr Buttigieg informed the court that she had plans which could not be scheduled and therefore Schembri’s testimony could not be heard yesterday.

10:39 Judge Lawrence Mintoff entered the courtroom.

10:33 We’re back in the courtroom after we were told to evacuate. Security was brought outside the hall and scanned every person before entering Hall 19. Lawyer Kathleen Grima who appears for Melvin Theuma is in the courtroom. Schembri’s lawyers Edward Gatt and Ishmael Psaila are also in the courtroom.

10:25 is inside the courtroom from where we will live blog today’s court proceedings. Inside the courtroom, there are lawyers Dr Marion Camilleri and Gianluca Caruana Curran as well as state advocate Victoria Buttigieg and lawyer Maurizio Cordina appearing for the Attorney General’s Office. The courtroom is quite full already. Spotted in the corridor outside the courtroom was self-confessed middleman Melvin Theuma.

Disgraced OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri is expected to testify on Wednesday morning. Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff issued a warrant of arrest on Tuesday morning, after Schembri failed to turn up. Schembri’s lawyer turned up at the end of the court sitting and said that his client was willing to testify in the next court sitting. He added that his client was not informed.

17 Black owner and Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect Yorgen Fenech filed constitutional proceedings against chief investigator Police Inspector Keith Arnaud, contesting his role in the investigation.

On Tuesday, Arnaud took the witness stand. He told the court that the first time he met Schembri was during the first briefing after Caruana Galizia’s assassination before the December raid on the potato shed. Arnaud expressed his shock in court when he explained that from the self-confessed middleman Melvin Theuma’s recordings he understood that Fenech was kept updated about the progress of the investigation. Arnaud also said that he would only liaise with Schembri on scheduling briefings after Assistant Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta was removed from the case by court order.

Lawyers Marion Camilleri and Gianluca Caruana Curran are appearing for Yorgen Fenech.