Yorgen Fenech appeared relaxed when policemen boarded his yacht to arrest him after the vessel was ordered to return to harbour by the AFM in November 2019, a court heard on Wednesday.
Two former Drug Squad officers, who testified briefly in the compilation of evidence against Fenech said that upon being told that they were from the drug squad, Fenech remarked, “Aħjar mela mhux se ndumu hawn.” (Good, we should not be long, then).
He was then told that he was being arrested in relation to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, before police proceeded to search his vessel and subsequently his home, the court was told.
Fenech was accused of complicity in the murder a few days later and has been refused bail since.
During Tuesday's sitting, a digital forensics expert who extracted data from Yorgen Fenech’s phone was taken off the brief almost one year after the businessman’s arrest, because her name had not featured in a court decree validating her appointment.
Yulia Toma, a Europol expert based at The Hague, returned to the witness stand on Wednesday for an almost two-hour cross-examination by lawyers of the businessman.
Following Fenech's arrest, his phone along with that of his boat captain, Logan Wood, were seized by police and handed to Europol.
Toma recalled that she had taken possession of the devices late at night at her office at Europol headquarters, just after a colleague had travelled from Malta with the seized exhibits.
She set to work straightaway at 11:30pm, making a forensic image of each phone.
That “bit by bit copy” is a standard practice intended to safeguard the integrity of the original device and is tantamount to a partial extraction, explained the expert.
She worked through the early hours of the morning and by 4am started work on the second device, finishing off at lunchtime.
The next step involved the multi-task process of unlocking the phone which, given its six-digit passcode, could take much longer.
Fenech's phone code broken in a month
“A six-digit code has one million combinations which, in the worst-case scenario, could take up to 30 years [to discover]” explained Toma.
But in this case, they had got to the code in one month, on January 9, 2020, she added, refusing to divulge further information about the forensic tools applied.
Making reference to handwritten notes jotted down by the expert as she progressed with her task, lawyer Charles Mercieca queried a particular reference to “businessman.”
The lawyer asked who had supplied the information which enabled her to distinguish between Fenech’s and the captain’s phone.
Toma replied that it could have been information on the evidence bags or possibly the information could have been relayed to her by a colleague.
Another note saying “same case as my previous case,” triggered further questions for the witness who said that she had made that note because it was another case originating from Malta.
She had been to Malta on November 15, 2019 and initially thought that the two cases were related.
Further pressure by Fenech’s lawyers to confirm whether Toma’s “other case” was connected to the Caruana Galizia murder, sparked a heated discussion with the prosecution that necessitated the temporary suspension of the testimony.
Returning to the stand a couple of minutes later, Toma confirmed “I think it was not related.”
She explained that throughout the months that she had custody of Fenech’s phone, the device never left the Faraday room, (a room that blocks out all radio frequency).
No log was kept to record movements into and out of that room but it was only a team of officers with “a badge” who had access to the room, Toma explained as the defence sought to pick holes in the process.
It was some time between October 23 and 26, 2020 that she was instructed to stop work and hand over the devices to a colleague, Giuseppe Totaro, who had also testified in the case.
She had handed over partial extractions from the phone to another colleague some two or three days after receiving the exhibits.
That colleague was line manager on an analyst team.
Asked whether she could vouch that no one else had touched the device while under her custody, Toma was steadfast in her reply.
“No it’s not possible.”
The expert’s testimony was suspended as the defence ran out of time, but not before requesting Toma to return with a copy of her Europol code of conduct.
The case continues in July.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.