The Prime Minister lied when he told Parliament that his Chief of Staff had no commercial interest in the film sector since Keith Schembri retained his shareholding in Cinebiss Ltd, a company that offers a service for international films shooting in Malta, according to MFSA documents.
Schembri was registered as a shareholder together with Oliver Mallia and Pierre Sladden in the company set up to cater for the $70 million Hollywood film Agora. Shareholding has remained unchanged since Schembri got his shares from Nexia BT’s nominee firm (see document below).
PN spokesperson on good governance, MP Simon Busuttil, got a clear “no” from the Prime Minister on Tuesday to his parliamentary question as to whether Schembri had any commercial interest in the film sector or the film studios – directly or indirectly. Yet, his Chief of Staff’s links are registered in MFSA records.
Mallia, Schembri’s partner in Cinebiss, was the Film Commissioner under a Nationalist administration between 2004 to 2007. He then stepped down to set up Cinebiss, registered in 2007, with Sladden also joining through his company Spira Trading Ltd just in time to service the $70 million production Agora.
Mallia’s role as Film Commissioner at the time implied he knew the production was to be done in Malta, and Schembri and Sladden seem to have joined the guaranteed venture. Maltese law does not consider this as abuse of position – even a former Minister can go work in the same sector the next day, lawyers told The Shift News.
The company showed little commercial activity after that year, but the company remained active.
Schembri’s wife, Josette Schembri Vella, also has a company involved with the film industry. She is the sole shareholder and director of a company that offers a range of services for the ultra-rich. The company offers services that include, among others, facilitating the cash for passports scheme (IIP).
The IIP is at the centre of allegations of kickbacks to her husband, the subject of a magisterial inquiry. Schembri said he had nothing to do with the company his wife owned but ownership is shared through marriage, according to Maltese law, unless a separation of estates is in place. There is no known record of such an agreement between Schembri and his wife.
Schembri promoted the services offered by his wife on social media.
Schembri travels the world with the Prime Minister plying Maltese passports as part of the government’s contractual obligations with Henley and Partners, the passport scheme’s concessionaire.
Murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had revealed that Sladden and Schembri owned another film company – Grigal Films Ltd – together with Phyllis Muscat who is a close friend of the Prime Minister who he appointed CEO of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2015 Organisation Committee. She was recently photographed in the Bahamas with the Prime Minister’s wife, Michelle Muscat.
Sladden is not a new name in scandals surrounding the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff. Sladden, Schembri and Adrian Hillman – former managing director of Allied Newspapers and non executive chairman of sister company Progress Press Ltd – also set up a joint operation in Cyprus called A2Z Consulta.
Hillman was forced to resign from Allied Newspapers following the Panama Papers. He was the decision-maker on all capital and routine expenditure for Allied Newspapers and Progress Press. Keith Schembri’s Kasco Group sold the publisher its most recent printing presses, related equipment and routine consumables including all its paper, and Sladden’s Redmap reconstructed and outfitted the Mriehel premises to which the newspaper and press moved from their historic location in Valletta, Caruana Galizia had shown.
Schembri was a shareholder in the Cypriot company allegedly used by Pierre Sladden to move €900,000 to his BVI company. According to the Department of Registrar of Companies and Official Receiver in Cyprus, the last transfer of shares in A2Z occurred on 15 July 2013, meaning that Schembri’s company was appointed shareholder after he was appointed as the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.
Hillman was then appointed to the Board of Trustees of the controversial American University of Malta despite being under a criminal inquiry into money laundering involving alleged kickbacks from the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.