Portomaso Casino CEO to Risk Life Sentence over Journalist Assassination
Casino owner and business tycoon Yorgen Fenech has been arrested as part of the investigation into the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist killed by a car bomb in 2017.
As Malta Today reports, Fenech was arrested by the Armed Forces of Malta at 5:30 a.m. on November 20 while trying to flee the country on his luxury yacht.
Local authorities believe the 38-year-old millionaire acted as a middleman and facilitated the payment of €450,000 to the three individuals who carried out the execution.
Now in police custody, Fenech pleaded not guilty to accusations of...
- Participating in a criminal organization
- Complicity in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia
- Complicity in causing an explosion
If found guilty, Fenech would face life imprisonment, as complicity to murder carries the same punishment of first-degree murder in the Maltese code.
Fenech's role became crucial in the investigation when another person involved, local taxi driver Melvin Theuma, gave information about the murder in return for immunity and protection. Brought in for questioning, Theuma named Fenech as the "paymaster and mastermind" of the murder plot.
The allegations would also be confirmed by recordings in possession of Malta Security Services, as the authorities had been tapping Fenech's conversations for over a year.
Prior to the arrest, Fenech served as the CEO of the Tumas Group, one of the island's most influential syndicates of property professionals.
Among the strategic assets controlled by the group are the island's hottest gambling spot, the Portomaso Casino, the Hilton Hotels in Saint Julians (Malta) and Evian-les-Bains (France), and the Portomaso Tower business center.
At present, the Tumas group controls also the ElectroGas Malta and holds a 30-year concession agreement to operate the Valletta Gateway Terminals together with Japan's Mitsui.
In a note sent to the media on November 25, the Tumas Group commented on the allegations against one of its former 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," went the statement.
"The group, its management and all of its employees are shocked and deeply saddened by the allegations concerning Mr Fenech."
An International Affair Between Malta, Dubai, and Panama
Known to be one of the country's most controversial and independent voices, Caruana Galizia used her blog Running Commentary to analyze the darkest interconnections between the island's political elite and the business world.
In one of her last posts, Caruana Galizia had begun to discuss the activities of a Dubai-based company named 17 Black, one that now appears to be in Fenech's direct control.
In some of her writings, the journalist claimed to be in possession of information that would link 17 Black to some of the country's top politicians and their illicit affairs.
Caruana Galizia, however, was never able to produce any documents in support of her accusations.
"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," Caruana Galizia writes on February 27, 2017.
"(…) After claiming unconvincingly to know nothing, [Muscat's] eyes shift immediately to the right and he looks embarrassed and awkward."
In May, the same company became part of an investigation by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit as it allegedly played a role in facilitating money transfers to Panama-based companies controlled by Keith Schembri (Malta's Prime Minister former Chief of Staff) and Konrad Mizzi, Malta's former Ministry of Energy and Conservation of Water.
Only five months later, on October 17, Caruana Galizia fell victim to a car-bomb assassination right outside of her house in Bidnija.
Shortly after, three men — brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, and Vincent Muscat — were arrested and charged with having carried out the murder. Despite the arrest, however, local authorities believed the mastermind behind the assassination to be still at large.
The 'Daphne Project'
Six months after the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a team of 45 journalists from 15 countries launched 'The Daphne Project, to continue the investigation into her killing.
Coordinated by Paris-based organization Forbidden Stories, the project brought together some of the best minds in the field, including investigative journalists from Germany's Die Ziet, France's Le Monde, Italy's La Repubblica, the UK's The Guardian, among others.
As soon as the work of The Daphne Project began, the name of 17 Black came up again.
In November 2018, Reuters reported that Malta's anti-money laundering watchdog had identified Yorgen Fenech, Tumas Group CEO, as the sole owner of 17 Black.
One month earlier, Reuters also reviewed UAE banking correspondence that described Fenech as the owner and signatory of a 17 Black account at Noor Bank in Dubai.
Although Fenech did not confirm his role in 17 Black, the documents reviewed by Reuters stated that when 17 Black opened an account in June 2015 "the company declared it was 100 percent 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's PM Muscat to Resign in 2020
Following the investigation over Caruana Galizia's death, the country's Prime Minister, Labour Joseph Muscat, announced his intention to resign and leave office in 2020.
The decision came after large groups of Maltese citizens gathered in the country's capital city Valletta to demand his resignation chanting "assassins, assassins" and "shame on you."
In a statement sent to the press, Muscat explained that "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."
He also invited protesters to respect the institutions and let the authorities continue with their investigation. "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."
Just a few days earlier, Muscat's Chief of Staff Schembri also decided to leave his post. He was then taken in by the local authorities.
The severe impact of the investigation of Caruana Galizia's death upon Malta's public life became even more significant when the same investigation led to the resignations of the country's Tourism minister Konrad Mizzi and Economy minister Christian Cardona.
Gambling and Mafia in Malta
The Fenech scandal is not the only one to have touched the flourishing gambling industry of Malta involving its connections with national politicians.
Back in 2015, PokerNews reported how the son of former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had been formally included in an investigation started by Italy's Anti-Mafia Police.
Gonzi's name was included in an international investigation that led to the arrest of 41 individuals, as well as the seizure of 82 online gambling sites and cash and assets for more than €2 billion.
According to Italian authorities, the illegal operations were mainly carried out by Uniq Group Limited, a gambling company established in Malta in 2010 and led by Mario "Mariolino" Gennaro. Gennaro is a man known for his tight connections with the 'Ndrangheta organization.
David Gonzi was then cleared by a preliminary judge, who found that there was insufficient evidence that [he was] knowingly involved in any criminal activity."