The Malta Independent 9 December 2018, Sunday

Magisterial inquiry exclusively into 17 Black opened weeks before new revelations – Owen Bonnici

Albert Galea Monday, 19 November 2018, 19:04 Last update: about 20 days ago

A magisterial inquiry which focuses exclusively on the once secret Dubai based company 17 Black was opened weeks before new revelations on its owner came to light a week or so ago, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said in Parliament on Monday.

The inquiry, which was called for by the police force, was opened some weeks ago, and is currently ongoing.  It is being led by Magistrate Charmaine Galea, Bonnici said.

It was recently uncovered that director and CEO of the Tumas Group Yorgen Fenech, who is a director and shareholder in the Electrogas consortium, is the owner of 17 Black. Electrogas runs the gas power station.

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17 Black was listed as the 'Main Client' and 'Possible Payer/Sender' of Tillgate and Hearnville, the offshore Panamanian companies owned by OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, leaked emails obtained by German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung, and published by the Daphne Project, showed. In reaction to the news story, Schembri had said that 17 Black never became clients of his business group.  Mizzi had also said that there is no connection, direct or otherwise, between him, his company or trust, and any entity called 17 Black. 

Since the new revelations came to light, Mizzi has once again stopped issuing press calls for independent media houses, and he was once again absent at the main parliamentary sitting on Monday.

The Electrogas consortium is made up of Siemens, SOCAR (an Azerbaijan state-owned company), and a collection of Maltese investors known as GEM Holdings, of which Tumas Holdings forms part.

Bonnici's statement came in response to a question put forward by PN leader Adrian Delia, who asked Prime Minister Joseph Muscat whether he was going to provide a ministerial statement on the new revelations on 17 Black. 

The Prime Minister initially said that he had nothing to add on what had already been said, and said that it was not the prerogative of the government to say whether inquiries should be opened or not. However, after Delia specified that he had asked if he knew whether an inquiry had been launched or not and not whether the government had called for the opening of one itself, Bonnici rose to advise the House that an inquiry had indeed been opened, and that it had been ongoing for a number of weeks.

Bonnici said that since the country "has a working system of rule of law and a notable separation of power", he as minister for justice was not initially informed of any specific inquiries into 17 Black.  However after news reports published on Sunday made reference to the possibility of such an inquiry existing, Bonnici said he contacted the Attorney General who confirmed that it was indeed the case that an inquiry had been opened exclusively into 17 Black.

Bonnici said that since the law states that ongoing proceedings in a case must be kept secret, he could not divulge further details about the inquiry.


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