(Reuters) – The self-confessed middleman in the murder of a journalist told a court on Wednesday a wealthy Maltese businessman was the brains behind the killing but said people tied to the government might also be implicated.
Melvin Theuma received immunity from prosecution last week in return for information that would lead to the conviction of the alleged plot ring leader, multi-millionaire entrepreneur Yorgen Fenech.
Fenech has been charged with complicity over the 2017 murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia by a car bomb. He has denied the accusations and blamed former government chief of staff Keith Schembri and other top officials.
Schembri was arrested last month but later released. He has denied involvement in the murder which has shone a spotlight on allegations of rampant corruption in Malta’s overlapping worlds of politics and business.
Theuma gave a detailed account of how the 38-year-old Fenech had contacted him in 2017 to organize the hit, providing 150,000 euros ($165,000) for the contract.
The plot was put on hold before national elections in June 2017 but reactivated the night the ruling Labour party was returned to power, Theuma told a packed courtroom.
“I can assure you, Yorgen Fenech was the only mastermind. Only he spoke to me,” said Theuma, a taxi driver with links to the criminal underworld.
Fenech wanted Caruana Galizia dead because he thought she was going to publish an incriminating story about his uncle, Theuma said.
He said he was called to government headquarters after agreeing to arrange the killing and that Schembri himself gave him a tour of the building, which includes Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s offices. The pair had their photograph taken.
Muscat has denied wrongdoing but acknowledged he could have handled the aftermath better and said he will step down next month.
Theuma was subsequently told he had been put on the government payroll and received a paycheck for three or four months. “If you asked me, I wouldn’t know what my job was at the ministry, as I never went,” he said.
He said he paid three local men to carry out the killing. The trio were later arrested and are awaiting trial, having pleaded not guilty. They sat in court stony-faced.
Theuma recounted his panic after the alleged triggermen were arrested and news emerged that one was cooperating with police.
He said he was then contacted again by an employee from in the government headquarters whom he named as Kenneth. In an apparent attempt to buy their silence, Kenneth said the three suspects would be released on bail and given 1 million euros, though the bail and did not arrive.
Theuma said he asked Fenech whether Schembri had sent Kenneth to him, but got no answer. Scared for his own safety, he started making secret recordings of his conversations with the businessman, which he has given police.
“I started to think they would either lock me up or kill me,” he said. He also acknowledged writing a note where he said both Schembri and Fenech ordered the hit.
In court, he distanced himself from the accusation, making clear he had no evidence.