Malta casino owner and business tycoon Yorgen Fenech has been arrested as part of the investigation of the murder case involving Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist in Malta who was killed via a car bomb back in October 2017.
Fenech was caught and apprehended by the Armed Forces of Malta on November 20 at 5:30am as he was trying to escape the country aboard his luxury yacht.
Local police believe the 38-year-old millionaire was the mastermind behind the journalist's assassination, and paid a total of €450,000 to three people who carried out the dirty work.
Now under police custody, Fenech pleaded not guilty to the following accusations:
- Participating in a criminal organization
- Complicity in causing an explosion
- Complicity in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia
If proven guilty, Fenech will be facing life imprisonment, as complicity to murder bears the same punishment as that of first-degree murder as stated in the Maltese code.
The role of Fenech in the investigation came to light when another person involved, a local taxi driver named Melvin Theuma, released information about the murder in exchange for his immunity and protection. Via an inquest procedure, Theuma identified Fenech as the "paymaster and mastermind" of the murder plot.
These allegations were further confirmed by recordings from investigators who had been tapping Fenech's conversations for over a year, and these recorded verbal discussions are now in the hands of Malta Security Services.
Before his arrest, Fenech served as the CEO of the Tumas Group, one of the island's most influential consortiums of property professionals.
Some of the renowned assets controlled by the group are the island's hottest gambling hub, the Portomaso Casino, the Portomaso Tower business center, and the Hilton Hotels in Saint Julians (in Malta) and Evian-les-Bains (in France).
At the present time, the Tumas Group controls also the ElectroGas Malta and they also hold a 30-year concession agreement to operate the Valletta Gateway Terminals along with Japan's Mitsui.
On November 25, the Tumas Group sent a statement to the media, commenting on the allegations against one of their ex-directors, "The Tumas Group dissociates itself from any actions which are in any manner contrary to law and from any and all individuals who are alleged or proven to be involved in any unlawful actions in connection with recently unfolding events. The group, its management and all of its employees are shocked and deeply saddened by the allegations concerning Mr. Fenech."
The Illegal Affairs of Dubai, Panama and Malta
Caruana Galizia, known to be one of the most controversial and independent journalists in the country, used her website Running Commentary to analyze and divulge the darkest interconnections between the island's political elite and the business industry.
According to one of her last posts before her death, Galizia talked about the activities of 17 Black, a company based in Dubai, which turned out to be under Fenech's direct control.
The stalwart journalist claimed she had with her information that would link 17 Black to some of the country's top politicians and their illegal affairs. However, she was never able to provide any supporting documents on her claim.
On February 27, 2017, Galizia wrote, "A journalist from Newsbook asked the Prime Minister (Joseph Muscat) this morning about 17 Black - the company which those crooks use to move money in and out of Dubai. After claiming unconvincingly to know nothing, [Muscat's] eyes shift immediately to the right and he looks embarrassed and awkward."
In May, the very same company was involved in the investigation conducted by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, as it allegedly facilitated money transfers to Panama-based companies controlled by Konrad Mizzi, Malta's former Ministry of Energy and Conservation of Water, and Keith Schembri, Malta's Prime Minister former Chief of Staff.
Five months afterwards, Galizia died as a result of a car bomb that exploded just outside of her home in Bidnija.
Shortly after the incident, three men (brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, and Vincent Muscat) were arrested and charged with committing murder. Despite this arrest, however, local police strongly believed the mastermind behind the killing was still at large.
The Daphne Project
Six months have passed after Daphne Galizia was killed, a group of 45 journalists from 15 countries launched "The Daphne Project" which was aimed to continue the investigation of her assassination.
Organized by the Forbidden Stories organization based in Paris, the project brought together some of the best people in the field including investigative journalists from Italy's La Repubblica, Germany's Die Ziet, the UK's The Guardian, and France's Le Monde, among others.
As soon as the The Daphne Project started, the name of 17 Black came up once more. In November 2018, Reuters said that Malta's anti-money laundering watchdog had identified Tumas Group CEO Yorgen Fenech as the sole owner of 17 Black. A month earlier, Reuters had reviewed UAE banking correspondence that pointed Fenech as the owner and signatory of a 17 Black account at Noor Bank in Dubai.
Even if Fenech did not clarify what his role was in 17 Black, the documents that Reuters reviewed stated that when 17 Black opened an account in June 2015, "the company declared it was 100% owned by a Maltese citizen called Yorgen Fenech." Ironically, the CEO of the Portomaso Casino appeared to be "the only Yorgen Fenech listed on Malta's electoral roll."
Malta PM Muscat to Resign come 2020
Following the investigation over Galizia's demise, the country's Prime Minister, Labour Joseph Muscat, announced his plan to resign and leave office come 2020. The decision came after big groups of Maltese citizens went into the country's capital city Valletta to demand his resignation as they shout "assassins, assassins" and "shame on you."
Muscat explained in a statement to the media, "Every single day of these past two years I have shouldered responsibilities and taken decisions. I made decisions in the best interest for the conclusion of the case and I am convinced that some decisions were good while others could have been better. The sensations of genuine sadness and anger for this murder are justified," Muscat continued. "In the same manner, violence, and disorder, within the pretext of a protest, are not justified in a democracy."
A few days earlier, Muscat's Chief of Staff Schembri also decided to leave his position. He was taken in by the local police.
The huge impact of the investigation of Galizia's death on Malta's public life became even more vital when the same investigation resulted to the resignations of the country's Economy minister Christian Cardona and Tourism minister Konrad Mizzi.