The Malta Independent 18 October 2021, Monday

‘No proof’ of kickbacks, Keith Schembri defence contends; State Attorney highlights ‘other issues’

Wednesday, 14 October 2020, 08:35 Last update: about 2 years ago

A magisterial inquiry found no proof of kickbacks on the sale of passports, lawyers defending former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri contended in court on Tuesday, but the State Advocate replied that other issues that required investigation had been highlighted.

The magisterial inquiry report is as yet unpublished, but Schembri’s lawyers have been given sections of it which concern him.

In a constitutional court hearing on Tuesday, Edward Gatt, who is defending Schembri, said that no proof of any kickbacks had been found. Fiorella Fench Vella, representing the State Advocate’s office, replied that other matters were under investigation.

In September, Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras had finalised a report on her investigation into claims that Schembri had received €100,000 from the sale of passports. Schembri had been arrested and is now on police bail. His assets have been frozen by the courts.

Schembri filed a constitutional appeal over the freezing of his assets. In a sitting before Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff, Schembri’s lawyers said that the passports inquiry had found no proof that Schembri had received a €100,000 kickback. Fenech Vella told the court “there is no smoke without fire”. 

Mr Justice Mintoff did not give a ruling during Tuesday's sitting and this morning is expected to issue a decree calling for an independent administrator to oversee Schembri’s Kasco business empire, which includes business interests ranging from printing and importation of foodstuffs. 

Both the attorney general and Schembri have to agree on the nomination. 

In court on Tuesday, Schembri said he owned 99 per cent of the shares in Kasco Holdings which has stake in a number of companies. He said he had learnt about the freezing of assets order from the media and was then notified by police. 

He said he had faced difficulties in paying the almost 80 people he employs. Fenech Vella said this issue of paying salaries had since been resolved.

His testified that his businesses had accumulated around €300,000 in cheques which, due to the freezing order, could not be deposited. This, he said, was making it impossible to operate his businesses.

Schembri said he would likely have to close down by end of month if the matter was not resolved.

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