Josette Schembri Vella, wife of alleged fraudster and money launderer Keith Schembri, was charged yesterday with money laundering. Seen by many as long-overdue, this move comes six months after her husband and his father, along with two of their company’s officials, were hauled before a magistrate to face their own court proceedings.
Unlike her husband, Schembri Vella wasn’t made to spend any time in jail, after her lawyers succeeded in persuading the court that she wasn’t likely to abscond. And, of course, she’s innocent until proven guilty, according to the law.
The charges, against Schembri Vella personally and a company of which she is part owner, refer to alleged laundering of €1.5 million between 2008 and 2020, via the “conversion or transmission” of property they knew or should have suspected of having been acquired through criminal activity and of having been accomplices to criminal activity.
One of her five lawyers, Edward Gatt, claims the charges against Schembri Vella are “trumped up” and Josette Schembri is being made a scapegoat for the negative feelings against her husband. I’m not sure whether it’s normal for accused criminals to have so many defence lawyers, but according to the reports, along with Gatt, Schembri Vella has Mark Vassallo, Ishmael Psaila, Veronique Dalli and Shaun Zammit representing her.
They claimed angrily that Schembri Vella, who’s involved in multiple other businesses, as well as being the publisher of Temple magazine – described gushingly by Marie Benoit last month as “Malta’s leading luxury lifestyle magazine” that can be found “in all the posh places” – was only arraigned in court “because of her husband”.
Whether this claim is true or not will no doubt become clear as the case progresses, but it is known that Schembri Vella was investigated and questioned by the financial crimes investigators as part of a probe into money laundering.
But certainly, her connection to and continued involvement with her husband through all the scandals and controversies he’s been alleged to have participated in, can’t be an easy label to wear.
Her husband Keith Schembri, rumoured to have been the brains behind the Muscat outfit and architect of a number of its corrupt deals, and mentioned multiple times by the accused assassins of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia as being part of the plot, is definitely not a comfortable label to be wearing at the moment.
But she’s not the only member of the clan to have fallen along with her husband. His father, Alfio Schembri, stands accused of a raft of crimes around his son’s dealings with Allied Newspapers that led to the March arrests and arraignments. If the charges are proven, he faces, in his old age, a long prison sentence and a ruined reputation.
News reports of the return of Keith Schembri’s illness prompted yet another member of the family to come crawling out of the woodwork: his mother. Writing furiously on Facebook in May, Josephine Schembri said: “How I wish I lived in a dictatorship where freedom of speech doesn’t exist. They exploit freedom of speech to destroy families and speculate on people’s health before the results have even come out yet”.
And with those two short sentences, Keith Schembri’s mother said everything there is to be said about the clan of which she is the matriarch. Her husband, her son and her daughter-in-law, all are charged with serious financial crimes, and yet her instincts were to yearn for a dictatorship where people are oppressed, denied their right to free speech and forbidden to discuss government officials charged with some of the most serious crimes on the books.
Birds of a feather, one and all. Hackneyed wisdom isn’t any less astute because it’s clichéd. Quite the contrary. And it’s beginning to seem very likely that the Schembri clan is about to prove the veracity of that particular age-old proverb.