The Malta Independent 9 December 2019, Monday

TMID Editorial: Enough is enough - Keith Schembri must go

Tuesday, 12 November 2019, 10:48 Last update: about 26 days ago

The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri must go. There is no longer any leeway to beat around the bush. He has been at the centre of scandal and under suspicion since the Panama Papers were released.

Just yesterday, a massive farce took place in court. Magistrate Victor Asciak had earlier this year ordered OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri to testify about the Panama company 17 Black, saying the court would not tolerate further delays. This emerged during a libel case filed by Schembri against PN MP Simon Busuttil. Schembri has been reluctant to be cross-examined on the subject of Dubai-registered 17 Black, arguing that the company information was not in the public domain at the time that the allegedly defamatory speech by Busuttil, about corruption and the Panama Papers, had been delivered in March 2016.

But yesterday, He dropped the libel case mid-court sitting, as he was being pressed to answer questions about 17 Black.

Schembri’s lawyer Edward Gatt had requested that Schembri not continue to be cross-examined, and argued that there are pending inquiries against Schembri and that the right not to testify, pending judicial proceedings, is a right protected by the Constitution. He asked that his cross-examination continue after he testifies in the pending inquiries. 

Lawyer Peter Fenech, on behalf of Busuttil objected to the request. “Every inquiry is secret,” Fenech said, adding that he had no control over when witnesses testify in inquiries. “This case has been pending for 3 and a half years. A case filed by the plaintiff and over a year for this cross-examination to continue and under the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure, the witness has sufficient security… he cannot be forced to answer questions, when the answer may subject him to criminal proceedings.”  Magistrate Victor Axiak then rejected Gatt’s request.

Schembri was finally going to be quizzed in court about 17 black, but took the stand only to refuse to answer questions about it, saying “I have advice that I am not to speak about the inquiry (referring to the 17 black inquiry).” The court obliged the witness to reply but he repeated the answer. The Court explained that there were sanctions he was facing if he failed to answer, and that it didn’t want to reach that stage. After a brief suspension of the case, Edward Gatt cut off the magistrate as the court warned the witness for the last time. “Because the applicant is feeling that many of his fundamental and constitutional rights are being prejudiced and because the witness is collaborating with the judicial authorities in other, connected, proceedings, he is at this stage unconditionally ceding the libel suit.” 

And so Schembri evaded answering questions in court about 17 black, thus further shrouding himself in even more suspicion.

The Prime Minister cannot continue to keep Keith Schembri around. As close as they maybe, keeping Schembri on is an insult to the Maltese people, an insult to all that is politically right. At the very least, he should be removed pending the ongoing inquiry conclusions.

Schembri filed the libel against Busuttil, and as with every libel, he must have known he would be called to be cross-examined. Why continue with the libel this long if he never intended to answer such questions about 17 black?

How long, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, will you continue to keep a man who is under so much suspicion right by your side? Would it not be prudent to remove him from that position, until his name is cleared? This is not the first time this newsroom has called for the removal of Keith Schembri, but it sure should be the last. A chief of staff who holds that he  is not corrupt should never fear incriminating himself by answering questions, especially if being ordered by a magistrate  to do so, as he would have nothing to hide.  The Prime Minister has no other option now. Schembri must go.

 

 

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