Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg has turned down an official request by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to give him a copy of the conclusions of a magisterial inquiry on graft and money laundering claims, involving the former Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister, Keith Schembri, and the former Managing Director of Allied Newspapers, Adrian Hillman.
Contacted by The Shift, Busuttil said the Attorney General has informed his lawyers that, for now, she will be turning down his request. “While confirming that the inquiry has finally reached her office and that it has already been examined in detail, the Attorney General decided that we should not be informed about its conclusions even though it was me and the PN that pushed for an investigation on this textbook case of money laundering,” Busuttil said.
“So, after four long years of seeking the truth, about very serious claims of money laundering against the Prime Minister’s top official, the public is still being kept in the dark even though the Magistrate has reached her conclusions and made recommendations,” Busuttil added.
Earlier this week, The Shift exclusively revealed that charges were expected against Schembri and Hillman, and possibly others, as a result of the inquiry by Magistrate Josette Demicoli presented to the Attorney General. Busuttil immediately filed a request for a copy of the findings. The inquiry was launched in 2017 after Busuttil, as Opposition Leader at the time, presented eight box files with evidence of illicit transactions between Schembri and the former boss of Allied Newspapers, publishers of The Times of Malta.
The PN had linked the graft to a €30 million investment in a new printing press acquired from Schembri’s company. The Party has called for the government to publish the inquiry in full.
So far, the Prime Minister, the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General have made no comment.
Another inquiry, on alleged money laundering activities involving Keith Schembri and Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna, presented to the Attorney General by Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras last September has also been kept under wraps.
Immediately following that magisterial inquiry, Schembri, Tonna and his associates at Nexia BT, Karl Cini and Manuel Castagna, were arrested and a freeze was imposed by the court on their personal assets as well as those of their families and related businesses. Yet so far no charges have been presented in court.
‘A textbook case of money laundering’
Simon Busuttil had presented the box files containing evidence of graft to the court in the midst of a snap election called by Joseph Muscat as revelations from the Panama Papers had exposed his chief of staff Keith Schembri and ‘star’ Minister Konrad Mizzi had opened offshore companies as a priority only days after the Labour Party was swept to power.
Busuttil made the move after a report by the country’s anti-money laundering agency, the FIAU, presented a report to the police and the Attorney General on suspected money laundering that had not led to any action a full year later.
The former Opposition Leader faced a campaign of ridicule propagated through the Labour Party’s media channels and social media groups that pushed the line that the box files were ’empty’. The fact that a magisterial inquiry would not have been launched on empty box files was drowned out in the propaganda blitz.
In what he said was “a textbook case of money laundering”, Busuttil had presented evidence that Schembri, through his Kasco Group, had transferred some €650,000 in kickbacks to Adrian Hillman in various accounts in Switzerland, Gibraltar and the now-defunct Pilatus Bank in Malta.
Assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was the first to reveal these findings.
After receiving the money, Hillman re-invested the ‘kickbacks’ in various bonds in less than 24 hours, using the services of Matthew Pace, who was Managing Director of MFSP at the time. The company has now rebranded to Zenith.
The same Pace was involved in approving DB Group’s plans for the City Centre project as a member of the Planning Authority board, and the reason why the permit was withdrawn. The Shift had revealed that Pace was involved in selling the project’s apartments through his real estate agency before the permit had even been approved.
When the first allegations had surfaced, Hillman was kept on Allied Newspaper’s payroll, although on leave, until he reached an out of court settlement and resigned. The details of the settlement have not been disclosed. An internal probe was never published and it is unclear whether its conclusions have been made available to the magistrate for the inquiry.
Hillman had insisted that the Board of Directors of Allied Newspapers had approved all his decisions. The company had decided not to involve the police in the probe.