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News • January 18 2004

Meinrad Calleja’s trial by jury

Zambi testimony is serendipity for Meinrad Calleja defence

Matthew Vella
Assessing the credibility of witnesses in Meinrad Calleja’s trial by jury has been the focus of both prosecution and defence in a week where a crucial testimony by convicted Carmel Attard ‘iz-Zambi,’ may have landed the Calleja defence team, led by Dr Emanuel Mallia, a bonus card.
Meinrad Calleja, 41, is pleading not guilty to having commissioned the attempted murder of the Prime Minister’s personal assistant Richard Cachia Caruana, stabbed outside his home in Mdina on 18 December 1994. Carmel Attard was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment in 1998 after pleading guilty to stabbing Cachia Caruana by Mr Justice Vincent Degaetano, who is presiding Calleja’s trial by jury.
Attard’s testimony has revealed accounts of coercion, fear, and new insights into the person of Zeppi l-Hafi, the notorious moniker of Joseph Fenech, grantee of the Prime Minister’s presidential pardon in return for disclosing the perpetrators of the attack on Richard Cachia Caruana.
Breaking a nine-year silence, Attard testified in Court this week that former co-accused Ian Farrugia, acquitted of stabbing Cachia Caruana, had told him it was Zeppi l-Hafi who had carried out the crime.
Describing him as a compulsive liar ("ma’ kull nifs jigdeb"), Attard said Fenech would spit at the Prime Minister’s Volvo whenever he passed by it outside the PM’s residence in Birkirkara, recalling Fenech saying he would continue doing so until Fenech Adami died. Attard said he was fooled ("laghabni kemm felah") and threatened by Fenech into accepting blame for the attempted murder.
Attard’s testimony at the hands of the prosecution’s interrogatory was serendipitous for defence counsel Emanuel Mallia, who did not counter-examine Attard.
Earlier on, Joseph Fenech recounted criminal endeavours in connection with Calleja, namely a 1992 burglary in Sliema and a botch drug exchange with Calleja’s sister Clarissa Cachia – both cases were foiled by the police. He recalled Calleja pestering him for two months to carry out the crime, and how he attempted to procrastinate matters since he did not want to kill Cachia Caruana, whom he knew.
In the end, Fenech recalled, he got a drunkard – Carmel Attard ‘iz-Zambi’ – to do a job he hoped would never be carried through, and he takes credit for that, since Calleja would have brought in an Italian killer to do the job.
In his counter-examination, Mallia has attempted to offer new directions into the complexity of the court process by attempting to discredit the prosecution’s case that Meinrad Calleja commissioned the murder in retribution for the resignation of his father, Brigadier Maurice Calleja.
Mallia’s counter-examination of Zeppi l-Hafi included questions on his relations with acquaintance Carmel Borg ‘is-Sunnara,’ the PM’s chauffeur, and Salvu Ellul of Elbros Construction, all three former minders who camped out on Fenech Adami’s doorstep during the violent eighties, protecting the then-Opposition leader from further attacks on his home.
A crucial point was perhaps when Mallia asked Fenech whether he was an acquaintance of building contractors, to which Fenech answered he knew some personally. It was a fleeting question, but why would building contractors feature in connection with the attempt on Cachia Carauna’s life?
Searching for ulterior motives besides retribution for Meinrad Calleja’s father’s resignation, allegedly driven by Richard Cachia Caruana himself, is leading the defence to offer new directions in which to explore the reasons for the attempted murder of the PM’s aide.
Not only is this meant to exonerate Calleja as mandate of the crime, but also to try and expose any form of falsehood on the part of Zeppi l-Hafi as past evidence is turned inside-out. In the case of the defence, Fenech was asked why he told Carmel Borg that he knew all about the attempt on Cachia Caruana’s life but only decided to speak to the Prime Minister months later. He was also asked why he had decided to go to the Prime Minister to reveal all that had happened in full knowledge that saying he had acted as middleman would have exposed him to prosecution. Why did he not go to the Police Commissioner in the first place?
And that is where Fenech’s presidential pardon is put into play. Was he aware of the pardon when he met Fenech Adami for the third time in a series of meetings in which the PM urged Fenech he reveal all and testify to the Court on what he knew? Fenech said it could have been mentioned during this particular meeting, although in other statements he said he had heard about the pardon on the evening news on his car radio, following police interrogation.
Would he have got the pardon for the pending drug charges had he not mentioned Meinrad Calleja as his mandate, Mallia asked? And Mallia stressed, it was convenient for Fenech to mention Calleja. If Fenech mentioned a building contractor instead, he might not have been granted the pardon on his pending drug charges, Calleja’s defence lawyer suggested. Mallia argued that if Fenech had identified somebody else other than Meinrad, Fenech might have received a pardon for the attempt on Cachia Caruana, but not on the drug charges which had also implicated Meinrad and his sister, Clarissa Cachia.
The Zambi testimony compounds two past statements: that of crime scene witness Nicholas Jensen, who said he recognised Zeppi l-Hafi as the perpetrator at Mdina during the trial by jury of co-accused Ian Farrugia, albeit never having recognised Fenech in previous identification line-ups; and Farrugia’s own statements that Attard had been half asleep in the car during the attack.
The contradiction in Zambi’s statements have already been exploited by the prosecution, with deputy Attorney General Silvio Camilleri stating that in 1996 Attard had added details to incriminate Joseph Fenech rather than shouldering the blame himself, as he was now claiming. Attard’s claims run counter to his original statements to the police back in 1996, a clear reversal of the events as he recalled them when he pleaded guilty of carrying out the attack on Cachia Caruana. Highlighting the contradiction, much can be said about Attard’s discrepant mess, and how credible he can prove himself to be in the face of these new statements.
The trial by jury is expected to continue tomorrow at 9am.

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