The Malta Independent 16 May 2021, Sunday

Muscat remains silent on Keith Schembri arraignment

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 18 April 2021, 08:00 Last update: about 28 days ago

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has chosen to remain silent and failed to answer questions sent by The Malta Independent on Sunday related to the latest developments involving Keith Schembri.

Muscat’s former chief of staff was recently arraigned and charged with corruption and money laundering following the conclusion of two magisterial inquiries. One of them is related to the purchase, by Times of Malta, of a €13 million printing machine.

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The court heard how the newspaper was defrauded out of some €6.5 million, and how Schembri’s Kasco Ltd bought the machine using offshore companies to avoid tax.

The €5 million profit was allegedly split between Schembri and his business associate Malcolm Scerri, and former Allied Newspapers managing directors Adrian Hillman and Vince Buhagiar. All except Hillman have been charged in court, while the former is being sought through a European Arrest Warrant.

The second inquiry is believed to be related to alleged payments that Schembri received from the sales of passports. The police have arraigned a number of officials, including Nexia BT duo Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, and charged them with money laundering. While it did not find any proof of kickbacks, the court noted that it did not find the testimonies given by Tonna and Schembri convincing. The two claim that the €100,000 payment was for a repayment of a loan Tonna had taken from Schembri, but the prosecution noted that the Nexia BT boss did not need to borrow money.

Schembri is also heavily implicated in the aftermath of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, with the courts hearing on several occasions how the former chief of staff knew about suspected mastermind Yorgen Fenech’s plan to escape from Malta and how he was leaking information from the police investigations.

Schembri resigned in November 2019 after he was questioned by police in the murder investigation. Muscat stepped down a few weeks later.

The former Prime Minister has been criticised for defending Schembri, who is a close friend of his. Muscat failed to take action in 2016 when Schembri, along with disgraced minister Konrad Mizzi, was found to have opened a secret company in Panama.

Schembri and Mizzi’s companies have also been linked to 17 Black – a company belonging to Yorgen Fenech, and to Macbridge – which was recently revealed to be owned by Chen Cheng, who was involved in the Electrogas and Montenegro wind farm deals. The Panamanian companies were listed as ‘target clients’ of 17 Black and Macbridge and were set to receive millions of euro from them.

Joseph Muscat consistently defended Schembri and said he would not take action unless the claims against him were proven.

While he has since claimed that his lack of action against Mizzi and Schembri was a mistake – such as when he told the Daphne public inquiry that “the only decision I could have taken but didn’t was to fire him [Schembri]” – he has not actually apologised for his inaction.

Over recent weeks, he has mostly remained silent on the issue and, when he commented about the latest developments in a Facebook post, he made no reference to his former number two.

The Malta Independent on Sunday sent Muscat a series of questions two weeks ago, but the former PM has not replied, despite being sent a reminder.

We asked Muscat, in view of Schembri’s arraignment and the seriousness of the crimes he is accused of, whether he felt that he had exercised bad judgment on Schembri, and whether he feels that he should apologise not only to Labour supporters but also to the entire country for defending his former chief of staff.

We also asked Muscat if he was surprised by Schembri’s arraignment. If yes, did this mean that Schembri lied to him, and if no, and Muscat knew about the upcoming arraignment, why had he not taken action against him sooner.

 

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