A decade since the attempted murder of the former Prime Minister’s personal assistant, Meinrad Calleja, the man accused with having masterminded the crime was cleared on all counts last February, much to the dismay of Eddie Fenech Adami.
The nine-member jury panel found 41-year-old Calleja not guilty by six votes to three after more than 12 hours of deliberations in a trial that lasted 21 days and was presided by Chief Justice Vincent Degaetano.
The presidential pardons handed out to Joseph Fenech known as Zeppi l-Hafi turned out to be a misjudgement that haunted Fenech Adami until the end of his career; a decision which provoked much mud-slinging from the Opposition in electoral campaigns, but which also left him with many questions to answer after the verdict.
His first reactions after the verdict were taken to be in bad taste. A “no comment” about the verdict itself, and the suggestion that Cabinet should to remove the jury system altogether.
“At best it smacks of sour grapes, and at worst of contempt,” said the usually loyal Times in a hard-hitting leader, adding that such an announcement should not have been made the day after a crucial verdict.
“He has been in government for many years and if he ever saw anything wrong with the system he should have thought about it beforehand, he has had enough time to change it,” Calleja said.
It seems clear that Fenech Adami was emotionally involved in this case; from the way he talked about it, from the way he defends himself. The very fact that it was a brutal attempted murder on his own personal assistant, Richard Cachia Caruana, must have thawed his usual coldness in taking difficult strategic decisions. That one of his close former security guards was a self-admitted accomplice made things even worse.
The prosecution’s case started to crumble back in 1999, when Ian Farrugia was acquitted following a trial by jury, of any involvement in the same stabbing, despite a palm print implicating him. In that court case, the only eyewitness to the crime, Nicholas Jensen – himself a close friend of the victim – had belatedly identified Zeppi l-Hafi as one of the assailants of Mr Cachia Caruana.
Since then, Joseph Fenech has been the only witness to stick to his original version of events. Fenech’s version was that he was commissioned by Meinrad Calleja to kill Mr Cachia Caruana, and that he in turn sent Charles Attard known as Iz-Zambi and Ian Farrugia in Mdina to stab him. But being himself an accomplice, his testimony had to be corroborated by independent evidence, and that seems to have been glaringly missing in the two jury trials surrounding this case.
The Opposition blamed the shoddy investigations on the former Prime Minister, accusing him of having interfered directly to the detriment of the whole process and of “protecting Zeppi l-Hafi”. The government replied that thanks to the pardons granted to Fenech, iz-Zambi admitted his involvement in the crime, and the 15-year conviction of Meinrad Calleja on drug trafficking charges was obtained. Dr Fenech Adami said that until he recommended the pardons in 1996, the police had no leads in the attempted murder case.
Joseph Fenech was the only key witness the prosecution could come up with against Meinrad Calleja. The government is saying that the fact the accused was cleared of the charge does not mean that Fenech did not tell the truth (hence there is no need to revoke the pardon), nor does it mean that he was not held credible by the jurors. Still, it does mean that his own evidence was not enough for the prosecution to win the case.
“I know I put my reputation at stake,” Fenech Adami said.
Within days he was out of office.