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News • January 11 2004

Meinrad Calleja in the dock

MaltaToday brings the salient episodes of the clamorous trial by jury of Meinrad Calleja, 41, accused of masterminding the attempted murder of the Prime Minister’s personal assistant, Richard Cachia Caruana, who was stabbed outside his Mdina home in 1994. Calleja is pleading not guilty to allegedly commissioning Joseph Fenech aka Zeppi l-Hafi, to kill Cachia Caruana. Deputy Attorney General Silvio Camilleri and Senior Counsel to the Republic Dr Donatella Frendo Dimech are prosecuting. Dr Manwel Mallia and Dr Ramona Frendo are appearing for Calleja. Dr Tonio Azzopardi is representing Richard Cachia Caruana parte civile.

Monday, 5 January

• Beginning of Meinrad Calleja’s trial in connection with the December 18, 1994 attempted murder of the Prime Minister’s personal assistant, Richard Cachia Caruana, who was stabbed outside his Mdina home.

• Meinrad Calleja pleads not guilty to allegedly ordering the crime by approaching Joseph Fenech (Zeppi l-Hafi) and promising him Lm15,000, or a kilo of cocaine, to kill Cachia Caruana.

Tuesday, 6 January

• Describing the crime the prosecution, led by Deputy Attorney General Silvio Camillieri says Cachia Caruana parked his car when he saw Farrugia and Attard approaching. He got out of the car and as he was taking out some clothes from the luggage booth was stabbed in the back. Cachia Caruana attempted to defend himself and his resistance led to the knife breaking, with the blade remaining lodged in his body, albeit close to his heart. The handle would never be found. At that point, Nicholas Jensen, who had to meet Cachia Caruana, appeared on the scene and the attackers fled.

• Following the attempted murder, Joseph Fenech was arrested although Cachia Caruana had immediately excluded him as one of his attackers, as he knew Fenech, and would have recognised him on the scene of the crime.

Wednesday, 7 January

• Forensic laboratory director Anthony Abela Medici testifies he was not aware of the results of blood grouping tests made on cigarette butts found on the crime scene by serologists. He also said, at the time, DNA tests’ reliability were debatable and that tests could cost up to Lm10,000, so only reasonable suspicion could justify commissioning DNA tests on the cigarette butts. Questioned by the defence, Abela Medici said the police had not informed him Joseph Fenech was arrested soon after the case.

Thursday, 8 January

• Former police commissioner George Grech testifies that a pattern of arson attempts that took place at around the same time of Cachia Caruana's stabbing appeared to be retribution for Brigadier Maurice Calleja, Meinrad Calleja's father, who resigned from the AFM a year before the attempted murder.

• Three days after the stabbing, the door of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia's house at Bidnija was set on fire. Caruana Galizia had suspected Calleja was behind it because of an article she had written about his father’s resignation.

• An arson at Adrian Strickland’s residence in Zejtun in early December, was related to the fact that Strickland's wife was the daughter of former Brigadier George Micallef, who had been asked by the government to approach Brigadier Calleja, to persuade him to resign following certain incidents.

• Cachia Caruana would always deny having seen Joseph Fenech on the crime scene since he would have recognised him as he knew who he was. Cachia Caruana's neighbour, Nicholas Jensen, would also not identify Fenech in ID parades.

• Grech said that in conversations with Etienne Gatt, the son of former PN minister Lawrence Gatt, it had been revealed that both Gatt and Meinrad felt Cachia Caruana had been the driving force behind both Brigadier Calleja’s resignation and that of Minister Lawrence Gatt. Efforts to get Etienne Gatt to testify both through his family as well as through Interpol proved futile as they had failed to trace him.

• The Prime Minister was told by Joseph Fenech who Cachia Caruana’s assailants were, leading to the arrest of Carmel Attard and Ian Farrugia. Attard would later plead guilty, whilst Farrugia would be acquitted. Grech said he relied on what he was told by the Prime Minister and looking at the incidents and other information he had to draw his conclusions. During the identification parade, Jensen singled out Attard, but not Joseph Fenech. Jensen would only identify Fenech during the trial of Ian Farrugia.

Friday, 9 January

• Carmel ‘iz-Zambi’ Attard claims he had preferred to admit to the charges against him and go to prison even though he had been asleep in a car in Mdina when the assault on Cachia Caruana took place. He says he never stabbed Cachia Caruana. He says he preferred going to prison rather than suffer the consequences due to "powerful persons in Malta" and because he felt he was up against a brick wall.

• Deputy Commissioner of Police Joe Cachia testifies that Meinrad Calleja refused to pay Joseph Fenech after Richard Cachia Caruana was stabbed because the latter did not die. Cachia says that Fenech had told him that at one point Calleja instructed to kill Cachia Caruana by Christmas or else someone else would.

• Joe Cachia says Fenech had formed part of several line-ups in identification parades but was always excluded by both Nicholas Jensen, who would only say later during the trial of Ian Farrugia that he "probably" saw Fenech stabbing Cachia Caruana.

• Under cross-examination, former Police Commissioner George Grech said he had spoken to Etienne Gatt who informed him he and Calleja had discussed their fathers' resignations and had agreed that Cachia Caruana was the driving force behind such resignations.

• Grech said he was not aware of the meetings the Prime Minister had with Fenech and it was the Prime Minister who had insisted that the presidential pardon was to be given to Fenech. He too became convinced about the pardon after discussing the matter with the Attorney General as Fenech was the only witness who could point an accusing finger at Calleja.


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