Malta Casino Owner Denies Journalist Murder, Points Finger Elsewhere

Posted on: October 23, 2023, 06:15h. 

Last updated on: October 23, 2023, 09:43h.

A Maltese casino owner accused of organizing the 2017 murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has once again denied being the mastermind behind the killing. Instead, lawyers for Yorgen Fenech have raised questions about Keith Schembri, the former Prime Minister’s chief of staff, who resigned in 2019 in the wake of the scandal.

Yorgen Fenech, Daphne Caruana Galizia, Keith Schembri
Yorgen Fenech pictured outside a courtroom in Valletta, Malta in November 2019. He is preparing to go on trial for ordering the 2017 murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. (Image: Times of Malta)

Fenech, who is one of Malta’s richest men, was arrested by the country’s armed forces as he allegedly tried to flee the island on his yacht in the early hours of Nov. 20, 2019.

Prosecutors argue that Fenech caught wind that the confessed middleman in the murder, Melvin Theuma, was ready to spill the beans to authorities in return for immunity from prosecution.

Caruana Galizia died in a car bomb planted by crime brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio and their associate, Vince Muscat, on the orders of Fenech, according to Theuma.

Missing Cellphone

Prosecutors believe Fenech arranged the assassination to prevent the journalist from exposing an allegedly corrupt energy contract awarded to one of Fenech’s companies, Electroglas, by the Maltese government.

The Panama Papers leak revealed that a Dubai-registered company, later found to be controlled by Fenech, planned to make a $2 million payment to two offshore shell companies. These were owned by Schembri and another politician, Konrad Mizzi, the former Energy Minister.

During preliminary hearings for Fenech’s murder conspiracy trial last week, Fenech’s lawyers noted that Schembri’s cellphone had disappeared the evening before Fenech’s arrest and has never been found, The Times of Malta reports.

They also emphasized that “Schembri is mentioned in all Melvin Theuma’s [secret] tapes. His name cropped up in statements and testimonies.”

When Theuma was first arrested on suspicion of his involvement in the plot, he was in possession of an ice cream box that contained a photograph of him shaking hands with Schembri.

Police also found a note written by Theuma that mentioned Schembri as “the one who dragged him into this whole mess,” according to Fenech’s lawyers.

“The true mastermind is a third party. Do your work well and you will find him,” they claimed, as The Times of Malta reported.

Government Downfall

Caruana Galizia’s murder made headlines worldwide and sparked widespread anticorruption protests in Malta that ultimately led to the downfall of the government two years later.

Until his arrest, Fenech was CEO of the Tumas Group, one of Malta’s biggest employers. The company owns the Qawra Oracle Casino and the Portomaso Casino in Malta.

In 2013, Electrogas was awarded a $500 million contract to build a power station in Malta and to supply the state-owned electricity provider with energy. At the time of her death, Caruana Galizia looked into the deal while sifting through a cache of 600K emails leaked from Electroglas.