The following is the first part of a series first published in Italian as a concluding chapter of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Un Omicidio di Stato (Strade Blu Mondadori, 2020), the Italian edition of Murder on the Malta Express: Who Killed Daphne Caruana Galizia(MidSea Books, 2019 and Silvertail Books, 2019).
Hurry Up and Kill Her
Wednesday, November 20, 2019.
At 5.30 am a new day is breaking over Malta. To the east, the horizon is just becoming visible. This hour is called “nautical twilight” because you can still see the stars and navigate using their position against the sharpening edge of the waterline. But hardly anyone else is about.
The man piloting the Giò, a luxurious multi-tiered motor yacht sailing out of Portomaso harbour this morning doesn’t need the stars. His flashy GPS equipment can take him anywhere. In British slang, the Giò is “a gin palace”.
“Portomaso” is a play on words. “Porto” is Italian for harbour but this particular harbour did not exist thirty years ago and was not named after anyone called “Maso”. The harbour, hewn from rock by plastic explosives in the 1990s is the watery heart of a gated community of luxury apartments, high-end shops and restaurants, a casino and a Hilton Hotel founded by Tumas or Thomas Fenech, the barely literate magnate that built the Fenech conglomerate, one of Malta’s largest family businesses, from that classic trope, rags to riches.
Portomaso faces east and coming out of it this early morning aboard the Giò is the old man’s grandson, Yorgen Fenech.
Yorgen Fenech is, in our book, Mr Casino.
Mr Casino is one of Malta’s richest men. He’s big, bald and extremely nasty, a cocaine abuser, busted in the States for his addiction, said to be rough with women, and oh-so-very-connected with organised crime on Malta and, if the distinction exists, the government of Malta.
He’s one of the biggest players in a multi-national consortium to supply Malta with very expensive natural gas. And funnily enough he is also the ultimate owner of a shell company called 17 Black which was, according to filings in Panama, set up to pay two shell companies daily bungs. Those companies were controlled by Malta’s one-time energy minister, Konrad Mizzi, and Keith Schembri, the consigliere of prime minister Joseph Muscat. Daphne did not know all the details but she was silenced for good before she could find out.
And Mr Casino is on the run.
So imagine his dismay when he’s flagged down at sea by a Maltese naval vessel, arrested and ordered to return to his marina. Later he was charged with participating in a criminal organisation, complicity in causing an explosion and complicity in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Yorgen Fenech denies the charges against him. In fact, all concerned deny any wrongdoing.
Go back in time nine days and Malta’s police arrested a low-life taxi-driver for money-laundering. When he was being interrogated the man under arrest spontaneously confessed he was involved in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. He said he had been hired as a middleman to organise the assassination and he was ready to tell the authorities everything he knew including the identity of the man who put him up to it. But he would do so if he was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for the evidence the ‘middleman’ said was all in a box. More of that box, shortly.
The taxi-driver was Melvyn Theuma, a nondescript fresh-faced man, 41. Until that day, his name was entirely unknown to most people in Malta.
But for the people following the investigations into Daphne’s murder, his arrest had been expected, or hoped for, for a long time. Too long.
One of the many quirks of Malta’s transport system is that all taxis are allowed to deliver their customers to hotels but they can only wait outside a hotel for an unscheduled customer if they’re allowed to do so by the hotel itself. The deal allows for hotels to take kick-backs for business they pass to the taxi companies and is in itself a measure of quality control. The hotel will feel better about trusting its customers inside a taxi if they know who’s driving it.
Melvyn Theuma was a taxi-driver who was permitted to run his business from outside the Hilton Hotel, the prestige flagship building of the Portomaso complex. Yorgen Fenech’s family own the franchise for this Hilton Hotel and the adjacent Portomaso Casino and office tower, the tallest building on Malta.
Another quirk of the transport business in Malta is that taxi-drivers are often purveyors of services that are not readily available on the Yellow Pages. This normally involves a knowledge that goes a bit beyond the best sushi spot this summer. How far beyond depends on the taxi driver.
In the case of Melvyn Theuma, his unofficial business was running a lucrative underground lotto that shadowed the state monopoly’s lotteries. You would buy tickets for his shadow lotto and claim cash prizes if your ticket matched numbers in the official lottery. When the police raided Melvyn Theuma’s home after his arrest they found a stash of €2 million in cash.
The name of Melvyn Theuma had been on the investigators’ proverbial cork pinboard for some time. Daphne was blown up by car bomb in October 2017. That December three men were charged with carrying out the assassination: the suspects were two brothers, George “The Chinaman” Degiorgio and Alfred “The Bean” Degiorgio and their friend Vincent Muscat. His street name is il-Koħħu, which sounds something like “Il Cuckoo” in English.
In April 2018, six months after the murder, Vincent Muscat turned against the brothers. He coughed up to his part in the killing, implicating the brothers too, and volunteered to the police information on how he and the Degiorgio brothers had been hired.
Muscat identified Melvyn Theuma as the person who had given them instructions to kill Daphne. The police checked that information out. Like George and Alfred Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat, Melvyn Theuma had never featured in Daphne’s writing. The obvious deduction is that all three were hired killers commissioned by a Mr Big. Theuma, too, had no reason for a grudge against Daphne.
When the police did a little digging they found an odd detail in Melvyn Theuma’s recent past. The day after George and Alfred Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat were arrested on 4 December 2017, Melvyn Theuma had gone and done a strange thing. He went to a notary and dictated his will and testament. For a healthy 38-year-old man that’s an unlikely decision. It was hard to think it was a coincidence for Theuma to decide to prepare himself for his own possible death the day after the arrest of the man who would accuse him of hiring him to commit murder.
The authors of this book became aware of the Melvyn Theuma connection and the likely link with Yorgen Fenech around June 2019, three months before the first edition was completed. Sources close to the investigation told us about Vincent Muscat’s late-night interviews with the police and you can see traces of that in earlier chapters when we speak about il-Koħħu’s fear for his personal safety while in prison. Snitches tend to get into trouble on the inside.
We discussed with Daphne’s family whether to include this information in our book. They were frustrated by the fact that information that had been with the police for more than a year had not led to arrests. But they worried that should this information find its way into a book or a newspaper report before any arrests were made, the reporting might give the suspects time to abscond taking incriminating evidence with them. Daphne’s family asked us to leave out information that would identify Yorgen Fenech as a likely protagonist in the murder conspiracy.
But our questions to Yorgen Fenech in the summer of 2019 just before we handed our manuscript over for publication were uncomfortable for Mr Casino. We asked why Alfred Degiorgio was so extraordinarily lucky when gambling at Yorgen Fenech’s casino. We asked why Mr Casino and his underlings never questioned how an unemployed man could gamble almost half a million euro without explaining where the money came from? Just for fun we put those questions and the blah-blah-blah answers from his lawyers, Briffa and Vella, last of all in the chapter headed “All Concerned Deny Any Wrongdoing” facing a photograph of Daphne smirking at the camera.