The accused murderer of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was back in court last week to face accusations of laundering money through a casino owned by his family’s Tumas Group.
Fenech is accused of misappropriating funds from a company called Glimmer Limited that he owned with his uncle Ray, and attempting to launder €45,000 (although the sums indicated in the chats the prosecution presented in court refer to higher figures). Four others were accused of similar charges, including Glimmer Ltd’s chief operating officer, who also heads Tumas Gaming, and a company director.
Investigators were alerted to the scheme by WhatsApp chats found on Fenech’s phone that pointed to a “system” of fictitious bets placed at The Oracle casino, operated by the Tumas Group, of which Yorgen Fenech was a director.
In one of the chats extracted by police, Fenech instructs a man called Nicholas Cachia to send his father to the casino “lose €200 daily until I tell you”.
“This week your father will get a good amount,” Fenech says, at one point asking, “How much did we launder?”
“I gave you 30 and you gave me 80,” Cachia responds.
The suspicious transactions were flagged by an internal auditor, but no action was taken to report the potential crime.
“The reason they gave was that those high bonuses were paid out to lure a new gaming customer, to encourage him to gamble more sums,” the police inspector said, adding that explanation “was not true”.
If so-called ‘bonuses’ are being manipulated in this way by Glimmer Ltd., then it implies the casinos in question are capable of illegally manipulating the games played in their facilities.
This would represent yet another failure of a regulatory body in Malta, this time the Malta Gaming Authority, which is tasked with conducting audits and independent tests to ensure the integrity of gaming devices, and the randomness of results of all games of chance.
The Gaming Authority came under fire last year when it emerged that former chairman Joseph Cuschieri took a trip to Las Vegas with Yorgen Fenech in May 2018 just one month after transitioning out of his role. They were joined by a close personal friend of Cushieri, Edwina Licari, a legal advisor to the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA). She was a senior official at the Gaming Authority at the time.
Licari was also on the board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU), the authority responsible for investigating money laundering and other financial crimes. She had been appointed the previous summer, right after Fenech’s other close personal friend, former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta, was removed as his close links with Yorgen Fenech emerged in court.
It seems anyone who wanted to be somebody in Malta was in Yorgen Fenech’s pockets.
In response to these most recent money laundering investigations, the Malta Gaming Authority has asked the Tumas Group to provide details of all winnings and winners at its casinos from 2019.
This isn’t the first time that casinos owned by the Tumas Group have come under suspicion. They were found in systematic breach of anti-money laundering regulations by the FIAU in April 2021 and fined €233,156.
During a 2018 money laundering case against hitmen Alfred and George Degiorgio, the men on trial for planting and triggering the bomb that killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the court heard how Alfred had gambled enormous sums in Maltese casinos during a period when he was living a conspicuously lavish lifestyle while being registered as unemployed and collecting social benefits.
It sheds some light on law enforcement in the country, where two brothers who have led a life of crime but somehow never been convicted of anything, could be called on to plant a bomb in a journalist’s car.
At Fenech’s Portomaso Casino alone, Degiorgio gambled €457,000 and walked away with €441,000, an astonishing success rate of 96.5% that raised suspicions the casino was being used to launder the proceeds of crime.
Tumas Group denied any wrongdoing, stating it “conducts its operations in full compliance with all its obligations at law”.
Further links also emerged last week between Yorgen Fenech and the ruling Labour Party after The Times of Malta revealed the existence of a draft “consultancy” deal that would have seen B.E.D Limited, a company linked to the Party, receive up to €200,000 in what looks like an attempt to evade disclosure rules under party financing laws.
The document was created on a computer used by an executive of ONE Productions, the governing Labour Party’s media arm, and sent to Fenech in May 2016 by then-Labour Party CEO Gino Cauchi. Ostensibly an agreement to pay for marketing, research and conference consultancy, it contained no reference to hourly rates or minimum deliverables.
Prime Minister Robert Abela was evasive about the deal when questioned. “That is an allegation,” he said. “It is something which happened before January 2020.”
In other words, before the date, he assumed office after his predecessor Joseph Muscat was forced to resign in disgrace, but not before he made sure that it was Robert Abela who would replace him. Joseph Muscat has enjoyed his protection ever since.
When Robert Abela was asked whether he would request an investigation, the prime minister began splitting hairs. “To my knowledge, you never confirmed that the funds were received by the Labour Party… If you have any information, it’s important to pass it on to us so that we can look into it.”
The report was published more than a week earlier, but the Prime Minister seemed to insist no one could investigate if the media didn’t make an official presentation to the police. It was a direct contradiction of the recommendations made by the public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia — the very same recommendations Abela said his government would implement.
The board was scathing in its condemnation of police and other institutions for failing to act on stories published by the slain journalist, concluding that “this failure of the police, but also of other regulatory authorities, to promptly and effectively intervene to investigate allegations made by a journalist who was ‘an open source’ to them, favoured the implementation of the assassination.”
The board recommended “the timely investigation of serious allegations being made as a result of journalists’ investigations.”
Rather than end the impunity that led to the brutal murder of a journalist, Robert Abela’s evasions were reminiscent of his predecessor Joseph Muscat’s careful language when cornered.
The disgraced former prime routinely dismissed published reports of high-level corruption in his government as “just allegations”, saying “if even a shred of proof exists” something would be done.
The prime minister’s control over every institution ensures that ‘allegations’ can always remain ‘allegations’, and no one will ever look at the proof.
The following project is weekly Maltese Roundups prepared by The Shift News (Malta) offering the latest news in the Daphne Caruana Galizia case.