Former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil has asked for a copy of the report from the magisterial inquiry looking into graft between former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri and Adrian Hillman, former Head of Allied Newspapers which publishes The Times of Malta.
It was Busuttil who had requested the inquiry, when in May 2017, in the midst of a snap election called by Joseph Muscat, he took eight box files to the court which he had said included all the necessary proof that Schembri – the owner of Kasco Ltd – had passed €650,000 in kickbacks to Hillman.
A report by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) had concluded that Hillman received regular tranches of €5,000 every two to three months from Keith Schembri’s Kasco Group that coincided with a €30 million investment in a new printing press in which the publishing house had invested.
This morning The Shift exclusively revealed that the inquiry by Magistrate Josette Demicoli has been concluded and is recommending charges filed against those involved.
It is up to the Attorney General to decide whether to make the report public or to forward it to the police for prosecution. The last inquiry concluded, also on Keith Schembri, remains unpublished.
It is understood that the allegations made by Simon Busuttil, first exposed by slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia through the Panama Papers, have been proven ‘prima facie’.
Those set to face charges if the Attorney General and the police proceed with the evidence include Hillman, Schembri and possibly others involved in the illicit transactions such as Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, Matthew Pace (former Executive Director of MFSP financial services (changed to Zenith) who handled Hillman’s investment account) and Pierre Sladden, a building contractor and a close friend of Hillman and Schembri.
Sladden was also involved in lucrative construction contracts related to the new Mriehel printing press, currently the seat of The Times of Malta.
Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg has not replied to questions on the outcome of the magisterial inquiry.
The allegations of graft and money laundering related to the €30 million Allied Newspapers investment surfaced in 2016, first mentioned by assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in the Panama Papers context.
The police had refused to investigate despite a damning report by the FIAU.
The lack of police inaction forced then Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to present eight box files in court, which he had said included all the necessary evidence for the police to launch criminal proceedings against the Prime Minister’s right-hand man Keith Schembri and Adrian Hillman.
When the allegations surfaced in 2016, Hillman was put on forced leave by the Board of Directors of Allied Newspapers. Yet he retained his full salary, resigning only later after an out of court settlement was reached with the company after Allied Newspapers conducted an internal investigation on the alleged kickbacks, which has not been made public.
The chairman of the internal inquiry, former Judge Giovanni Bonello, later took on the position of chairman of The Strickland Foundation, the majority shareholder of Allied Newspapers. It is unclear whether the internal inquiry ever reached Magistrate Demicoli.