November 29, 2019 / 8:35 PM / 15 days ago

Maltese businessman in court as journalist murder case deepens

VALETTA (Reuters) - A prominent Maltese businessman suspected of involvement in the killing of a journalist went to court on Friday and accused the prime minister’s right-hand man of being implicated in the plot.

People hold pictures of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia during a demonstration to demand justice over her murder, outside the Office of the Prime Minister at Auberge de Castle, in Valletta, Malta, November 29, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

Yorgen Fenech, who is on police bail, also asked the court in Valetta to order the removal of Inspector Keith Arnaud, the chief investigator in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Caruana Galizia, a campaigning journalist who investigated and exposed corruption, was blown up by a car bomb in October 2017. The case has developed into a political crisis for the government of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Lawyers for Fenech alleged that Schembri, who was Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff until he resigned on Tuesday, has for the last two years leaked secret details of the probe to Fenech.

The lawyers told the court that audio recordings seized by police proved Fenech was privy to secret blow-by-blow details of Arnaud’s inquiries.

Shaven-headed Fenech, who is currently on police bail, appeared in court flanked by his two lawyers but with no police escort, in a grey pin-striped suit and dark glasses, looking exhausted but calm.

Fenech’s lawyer Marion Camillieri said the recording were recovered from Melvin Theuma. He was granted an official pardon this week in return for testifying that he acted as the middleman in passing a contract to three people already indicted for planting the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia.

Camillieri told the court the evidence, which included a photo of Theuma in Schembri’s office, proved his involvement, despite the fact that Schembri was released on Thursday evening by police after being held since Tuesday morning.

“We are saying that although there is a lot of evidence against Keith Schembri...we have a recordings, a contract. And yet it was declared that he is no longer a person of interest,” she said.

Camilieri said Inspector Arnaud was an associate of Schembri who had briefed him constantly on the case. She said Schembri organized a job for Arnaud’s wife, an accusation denied by the Maltese government and police. 

“How can justice be done by Yorgen Fenech when we know that this person had a close relationship with the person investigating,” Camillieri said.

Responding for the government, Victoria Buttigieg said it would be damaging to suspect Arnaud who “knows the case inside out”.

His wife got no favors from Schembri and a suspect cannot dictate how an investigation is carried out. Buttigieg said.

“The dynamics of investigation are at the absolute discretion of the police,” she said.

Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech, who was arrested in connection with an investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, leaves the Courts of Justice in Valletta, Malta, November 29, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

No country allowed a suspect to choose who investigated the case. She denied Arnaud’s wife had been handpicked for a government job.

Reporters were excluded from part of the government’s case to avoid disclosure of further sensitive details. Judgment by Justice Miriam Hayman will be delivered on Monday.

Reporting by Stephen Grey, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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