The Malta Independent 22 February 2018, Thursday

Keith Schembri’s wife facilitates IIP services through company catering to the ultra-rich

David Lindsay & Rachel Attard Sunday, 3 December 2017, 09:00 Last update: about 4 months ago

The wife of the Office of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, Josette Schembri Vella, is the sole shareholder and director of a company that offers a range of services for the ultra-rich including, rather notably, facilitating the IIP (Individual Investment Programme), better known as the cash-for-passports scheme, for clients.

Moreover, after this newspaper sent questions to Schembri highlighting what constitutes a clear conflict of interest, at best, given his role in the Office of the Prime Minister and reports implicating  him in receiving kickbacks from the scheme, the company, Temple Concierge, removed virtually all mention of IIP services from its website (see screenshots below).

Screenshots showing that the reference to IIP services was removed after questions were sent in regard

While the website, up until around 5pm yesterday had an entire page dedicated to facilitating IIP services for its clients, the page and links to it have now been hidden from public view. That page (picture below) is still accessible, however at: https://www.templeconciergemalta.com/maltacitizenship. Whether this page will still be accessible after publication of this article remains to be seen.

Now the only mention of the IIP services on the website is: “We also offer a referral service for private individuals who wish to take part in the IIP (Individual Investment Programme).”

Schembri travels the world with the Prime Minister plying Maltese passports as part of the government’s contractual obligations with Henley& Partners, the passport scheme’s concessionaire.

Schembri’s wife is the sole director and shareholder of the company, which was registered a little over a year ago, in October 2016.

The connection was brought to light after Schembri recently (photo above) and somewhat audaciously promoted the company on his personal Facebook page, where he is in the habit of plugging his wife’s various businesses, as well as his own businesses in which he is a shareholder but no longer a director, since he surrendered his directorships when he was installed as Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff.

Contacted yesterday, Schembri insisted that the company belonged to his wife and that he had nothing to do with it, although, it should be noted, Maltese law stipulates otherwise.

 

Schembri claims no conflict of interest

Schembri replied to some of this newspaper’s questions in writing through a government spokesperson.

In his replies, Schembri insisted that, “I am not involved in the running of any business, whether those I have direct interest in or my wife’s.”

Schembri said that he had to “refer” our questions to his wife’s company, after which he said he “was informed that Temple Concierge provides relocation services to clients both local and international. As part of the services offered, Temple Concierge provides clients with all information regarding opportunities that are available to them in relocating to Malta.

“It is in this context that Temple Concierge’s website relays information concerning the IIP. That being said, Temple Concierge does not act as an agent nor facilitates the sale of IIP. No clients have been referred to any agent. 

“To this extent there is surely no conflict of interest.”

Schembri failed however, to answer questions asking him to specify which IIP agent his wife's company works with, whether he has passed any potential IIP clients in the direction of his wife’s business or whether he has informed his boss, the Prime Minister, that his wife is facilitating the sale of IIP passports and other residency schemes.

 

Schembri, Tonna and the FIAU IIP kickbacks report

While Schembri Vella’s company is not a registered IIP agent, it should be noted that Schembri has, according to leaked Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit reports, taken more than an official interest in the IIP scheme.

The report is now the subject of a magisterial inquiry after former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil published an FIAU report documenting kickbacks Schembri received from his Panama and British Virgin Islands company fixer Brian Tonna, whose company is actually a registered IIP agent.

Back in April, Busuttil revealed that Tonna, whose firm is a Maltese citizenship agent, received €166,800 from three Russians for the sale of Maltese citizenship through the Individual Investor Programme. The funds were passed into an account at Pilatus Bank belonging to Tonna’s British Virgin Islands company, Willerby Trade Inc, as consultancy fees. Soon after, two equal payments of €50,000 were transferred to Keith Schembri’s Pilatus Bank account, according to the FIAU report, which Busuttil had placed in the public domain.

Schembri and Tonna had explained away the €100,000 in Schembri’s favour as a loan repayment, an explanation which the FIAU, according to the leaked report, had been suspicious of.

They said that Schembri had lent Tonna the €100,000 “as assistance with personal finances during separation proceedings”.

But the FIAU found in its report that, “A review of the deed of separation, together with an examination of public registry searches on the individual concerned reveal that he appears to be sufficiently wealthy to handle the costs of personal separation proceedings without needing third party funding.

“Moreover, it should be noted that even though certain circumstances might lead to temporary liquidity problems, the figure of €100,000 seems to be much higher than what would normally be needed for a person to undertake personal proceedings in Malta.

“Even more importantly, the arrangement entered into raised certain basic questions that can only be answered by the persons concerned. The first of these questions is why the repayment of a loan seemingly granted by one individual to another, unsecured, interest free and for personal reasons, required such an elaborate and costly set-up involving the use of a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.

“Moreover, in view of the circumstances surrounding this loan agreement, it cannot be excluded that the agreement might have been drawn up more recently and backdated in order to justify the transfers to Mr Schembri.”

The FIAU said it had carried out an in-depth review of several bank accounts held by both men and by companies they were connected to in different credit institutions but that “it was not possible to identify a transaction or a series of transactions through which the original loan was granted to Mr Tonna”.

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