Updated with follow-up revelations.
Josette Schembri Vella, the wife of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, is linked to one of the companies that has received millions worth of direct orders and contracts from the government for roadwork projects, according to official documents.
Public records list Schembri Vella as a shareholder within Carmel Vella Ltd, in what seems like a family business, which in turn, is the single shareholder of Central Asphalt Ltd.
Central Asphalt Ltd received approximately €14.6 million worth of direct orders and contracts from the government between January 2013 and September 2019, including a cut for work on the Coast Road project, according to information obtained through official documents and reported by Lovin Malta in February.
The cost of the Coast Road project, €49 million, as revealed in information tabled in parliament, was the cost of the joined venture made up Polidano Brothers Ltd, Philip Agius and Sons, Central Asphalt Ltd; and RM Construction Ltd. Two calls for tender for the project were issued in February 2013. Labour came into power weeks later.
Although the company received close to €15 million in direct orders and contracts in the past seven years, it pales in comparison to what several other local companies in the industry received.
Asfaltar, Bonnici Bros, Philip Agius & Sons, and Schembri Barbos, all received over €20 million worth of direct orders and contracts each in the same time period, according to the same report.
The companies Polidano, Schembri Infrastructure, and V&C Contractors also received over €15 million worth of contracts and direct orders.
An exercise by The Shift into contracts and direct orders published in the Government Gazette showed that the company also received contracts and direct orders from the previous administration, between 2003 and 2013. Yet, in that 10-year period, these amounted to about €230,000 in total, which shows an evident surge in contracts to the company under the Labour administration since 2013.
It is important to note that information blackouts were present in information found under both administrations. Besides costs not being listed in some instances, contracts and direct orders totaling over €14 million revealed were not all listed in the Government Gazette, despite the law stating that all contracts must be published six months after being granted.
This regulation has been breached repeatedly by the Labour administration, with tenders and direct orders being published a year later.
It is not the first time that the conflict of interest in connection with Schembri Vella’s business links has been questioned. In 2017, The Malta Independent revealed how she facilitated cash-for-passport services for the ultra-rich through her company, Temple Concierge.
The businesses of her husband, Keith Schembri, have also often made the headlines for the wrong reasons. In September, he was called out by press freedom NGO Reporters Without Borders for the way in which his company Kasco Holding, which supplies paper to government entities, media and distribution companies “controls the newsprint market” in Malta.
The international press freedom organisations highlighted the allegations of kickbacks involving Schembri and Adrian Hillman, the former managing director of Allied Newspapers that publishes The Times of Malta. A magisterial inquiry was launched over two years ago but there has been no indication of findings.
Schembri avoided questions in 2018 raised by financial experts on Kasco Holding’s 2015 audited accounts submitted to the Malta Financial Services Authority, when the company’s declared profit was less than 1% of turnover (sales) – a situation that experts described as “incredulous” considering the millions involved in operations.
De la Rue and Crane Currency, both facilities that print currencies, also service their equipment at Kasco. Other than that, Schembri’s businesses stretch into the graphic design and food and drinks industry.
In 2015, Daphne Caruana Galizia had reported that Schembri, together with former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, had set up offshore companies in Panama: Tillgate and Hearneville. This was later reiterated by the global damning expose, the Panama Papers. Caruana Galizia was assassinated in October 2017.
Following the Panama Papers revelations, published documents showed that 17 Black, a company owned by the murder suspect in the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination, Yorgen Fenech, had been set up to send millions to the accounts.
Keith Schembri resigned as former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s Chief of Staff in November, after allegations implicated him in the journalist’s assassination. He has denied the allegations.
Central Asphalt Ltd. part of consortium awarded €6 million Marsa Junction Project contract
Following The Shift’s revelation, on Tuesday evening Lovin Malta revealed that Central Asphalt Ltd was also part of a consortium that was awarded a €6,000,000 contract to help complete the Marsa Junction Project.