The inquiry into money laundering and graft activities between the former Managing Director of Allied Newspapers, Adrian Hillman, and Keith Schembri while he occupied the role of chief of staff for former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, has been submitted to the Attorney General, The Shift can reveal.
The Shift reported late last year that the inquiry, led by Magistrate Josette Demicoli and initiated in May 2017, had been completed and was expected shortly. It remains to be seen whether the Attorney General will make the information public with the same efficiency showed in the Egrant inquiry that involved former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.
In May 2017, in the midst of the early electoral campaign called by Muscat, then-PN leader Simon Busuttil took eight box files to the court which he said included all the necessary proof that Schembri – the owner of Kasco Ltd – had passed €650,000 in kickbacks to Hillman.
The move was met with an endless campaign of ridicule led by the Labour Party stating the box files “were empty”. Now, The Shift is informed, the inquiry is likely to lead to money laundering charges.
This is the second, out of three magisterial inquiries involving Schembri, to be concluded more than three years after they were launched. The last inquiry involving kickbacks between Schembri and Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna led to a string of arrests and a comprehensive asset freeze on all those involved – although they have all not been charged.
The allegations on Hillman and Schemnbri were first revealed by assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and then supported by documents revealed in the Panama Papers.
The alleged kickbacks and graft took place between 2011 and 2016 when The Times of Malta invested in a new €30 million printing press procured from Kasco Ltd. The Times of Malta also bought all its printing supplies, costing millions, from Schembri while he was operating from Castille.
He even told one of The Times’ journalists, Jacob Borg, when interviewed that he had been paying his salary for years.
In the box files presented to court, now forming part of the inquiry, the former PN leader had claimed that Schembri used bank accounts in Switzerland and Gibraltar, as well as the now-infamous Pilatus Bank, to pass the money to Hillman directly or through his secret company Lester Holdings, opened in the British Virgin Islands by Brian Tonna of Nexia BT.
Both Hillman and Schembri have denied the allegations. An internal investigation commissioned by Allied Newspapers has never been made public.
At the same time, the board of directors of Allied Newspapers, who had approved Hillman’s plan, had failed to involve the police into their probe, even after the surfacing of fresh claims made by the former Opposition leader.
The Times of Malta had made an out of court settlement with Hillman after the latter filed claims of unfair dismissal against his former employer. No details of this ‘deal’ were ever revealed by the newspaper.
In the meantime, the new printing press has been shut down and its workers made redundant due to heavy losses incurred. The printing of its own newspapers has been subcontracted.
A third inquiry, also prompted by Busuttil, is still in progress. In September 2018, Magistrate Charmaine Galea was tasked with inquiring into possible money laundering and criminal activities by former Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi and Schembri over the ownership of 17 Black and the Electrogas power station.