Middleman in Malta reporter murder 'attempted suicide' before hearing

Valletta (AFP) –


The self-confessed middleman in the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was in a critical condition Wednesday, after what police said looked like a botched suicide attempt.

Taxi driver Melvin Theuma, who was granted a presidential pardon last year to give evidence on the deadly 2017 car bombing, was found late Tuesday lying in a pool of blood, according to police commissioner Angelo Gafa.

The incident occurred just hours before he had been due to give evidence in court.

"The indications are that Theuma's wounds were self-inflicted," Gafa told journalists at a press conference Wednesday.

Theuma's testimony lead to the arrest of wealthy businessman Yorgen Fenech, who is awaiting trial on accusations of plotting the murder. Theuma alleges he was paid by Fenech to contract a team to place the bomb.

The taxi driver was found at his residence in Swieqi. His lawyer had raised the alarm after being unable to contact him.

Gafa said that there was no sign of forced entry.

"We saw no defensive wounds, and even the blood splatter was concentrated showing no signs of a struggle," Gafa said.

"Who was to gain most from Melvyn Theuma's suicide? Did he decide to commit suicide, or could there also be the possibility that he was pressured to do it?" Malta's Repubblika civil rights organisation said in a statement.

- Hangman's noose -

Gafa said the police had not been aware Theuma had been suffering from suicidal thoughts.

The residence was guarded by two guards, but a third policeman who had been stationed inside had been recalled after Theuma requested privacy, he said.

"The institutions failed yet again. We demand that responsibilities are shouldered," opposition leader Adrian Delia said on Twitter.

Gafa also said Theuma had told paramedics and inspector Keith Arnaud -- who is the lead investigator on the Caruana Galizia case -- that he had inflicted the wounds on himself.

Dutch MEP Sophie in't Veld said it was an "extremely worrying development" in the murder case, and called on the government to "immediately investigate" and "show its full commitment to the rule of law".

Caruana Galizia, a journalist and blogger described as a "one-woman WikiLeaks", exposed cronyism and sleaze within the country's political and business elite. She died aged 53.

Three men suspected of placing the car bomb that killed her are currently on trial in Valletta.

Repubblika said prominent witnesses and lawyers in the case should be offered better police protection.

Maltese media reported Wednesday the discovery of a hangman's noose hung outside the court, with one newspaper comparing it to Mafia warnings traditionally sent to "pentiti", or those who turn state evidence.