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Schembri’s ‘much-awaited truth’ testimony just a smokescreen

Former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri entering his car as he exited from Court last December.

The bold statement made by the former chief of staff Keith Schembri on social media that he was ready to declare all once he stepped on the witness stand ended up in a testimony that revealed nothing but shifted blame onto others.

After months of silence and ignoring public calls to come forward and speak, Schembri took the stand in a packed courtroom and testified in the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech who is charged with being the mastermind behind journalist’s Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.

This long awaited testimony was preempted by a post on his Facebook just before 6 pm where he said: “the time had come for me to speak and tell the truth”. The post made the local headlines within a few minutes and had more around 400 comments on the lines of “courage” and “we stand behind you”.

However, Schembri’s highly anticipated version of events under oath conflicted with previous testimonies of individuals, including that of middleman Melvin Theuma, who was given a presidential pardon in exchange for evidence.

When questioned by Police Inspector Keith Arnaud, Schembri denied passing on letters to Fenech through their mutual doctor Adrian Vella while he was under police bail, telling him to frame former minister Chris Cardona, even though Vella had previously confirmed this to investigators.

After years of denying knowledge of the ownership of 17 Black, Schembri admitted he was aware it belonged to Fenech.

He was also asked to explain his offshore financial structures linked to 17 Black and said he had first opened a trust in BOV but then changed it to one in New Zealand after details about his local account were leaked to the Nationalist Party. A company was needed for the trust to start working and he was told that opening up a company in Panama was the “fastest way to do so”.

Fenech’s company 17 Black then became a target client of his Panamanian company since he had planned on potential businesses in the fields of online gaming, recycling and the food industry with the businessman, who was also an old friend.

In another instance, Schembri also denied passing on information to Fenech about the murder investigation despite Theuma’s recordings of conversations with Fenech suggesting otherwise.

At several points in the recordings, Fenech claims that he received information through Schembri and former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta, who resigned over his close friendship with the businessman.

Schembri, who resigned from his role in November 2019 after Fenech name-dropped him to the police, would often make certain statements but then refuse to elaborate on the details. At one point in his testimony, Schembri said that politicians, business people and members of the police would be among the guests at Fenech’s gatherings.

“Fenech was someone who was loved and a crowd seeker, so there were always different people. There were people from different sectors: business, politicians, police,” he said.

When asked to specify the politicians and police officers he was referring to, Schembri only mentioned former deputy commissioner Silvio Valletta. He did not answer or give any names of politicians, retracting and saying there never were politicians when he went to the gatherings, but only business people.

When further pushed to name politicians, Schembri said Nationalist Party Leader Adrian Delia had asked Fenech for €50,000 to stop MEP David Casa’s chances of getting re-elected as he was speaking out about 17 Black. He also pointed out that Delia would send the party’s former head of media Pierre Portelli to pick up €20,000 per month from Fenech. Both Delia and Portelli have denied these claims.

Schembri also sidetracked on having spoken to Fenech about Theuma. Asked whether Fenech had ever mentioned Theuma to him, Schembri first said no. Later he then said it was possible that Fenech had referred to Theuma, a taxi driver by profession, as ‘Melvin’ when mentioning him in his capacity as a personal driver.

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