The Malta Independent 8 December 2021, Wednesday

Constitutional Court confirms Keith Schembri freezing order breached his rights

Wednesday, 27 October 2021, 16:38 Last update: about 2 months ago

The Constitutional Court in its superior jurisdiction has confirmed a previous judgment of the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional Jurisdiction, which found that Keith Schembri’s rights had been breached by an freezing order imposed on him and his businesses.

Earlier this morning, Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti together with judges Giannino Caruana Demajo and Anthony Ellul confirmed Mr. Justice Lawrence Mintoff’s April judgment on an appeal filed by the Attorney General, State Advocate and Commissioner of Police.

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The freezing order listed 91 people and companies, including Schembri and his accountants at Nexia BT, Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and Manuel Castagna and was ordered on suspicion of money-laundering offences.

Firms belonging to Schembri had their assets frozen after an attachment order was issued by a court at the request of the Attorney General.

Mr. Justice Lawrence Mintoff presiding the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction, had ruled that it was “not reasonable and certainly could not be said to be the aim of the legislator” to have a person affected by a garnishee under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, to cease to function commercially for a period of a year or until a bill of indictment is issued.

That position was confirmed by the Constitutional court, which also ordered copy of the judgment to be sent to the Speaker in Parliament.

The Attorney General and other appellants argued that the court order had not been issued frivolously but on the strength of clear evidence.

The Constitutional Court said that the fact that Schembri and the other defendants had been charged six months after the attachment order, did not change the reasoning of the court of first instance.

The attachment order was no longer in force, observed the court, but it had been in force for six months before being replaced by a freezing order, when the defendants were arraigned.

Just 17 days after the issue of the AG’s attachment order, the courts had partially revoked it, to allow for the payment of employees’ salaries.

In subsequent sittings, the value of the order was reduced by the court, which also appointed an administrator.

In March 2021 with the coming into force of the Proceeds of Crime Act, if a subject targeted by an attachment order is a business concern, it is allowed to continue with its operations.

However, that law was not retroactive and not applicable to this case, said the court as it rejected the appeal and confirmed the initial judgment, which had awarded each of the applicants €300 in moral damages for the breach of their rights, to be paid by the AG, State Advocate and Police Commissioner, jointly.

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo appeared for the applicants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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