The fugitive who’s not a fugitive

When is a fugitive not a fugitive? Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech answered that question. She’s decided Ryan Schembri, the first cousin to Keith Schembri, “can never be considered a criminal fugitive”.

In 2014, Ryan Schembri of More supermarkets fled Malta. He reportedly left more than €40 million in debt.

During Malta’s 50th Independence anniversary celebrations, Schembri loaded his Mercedes and got onto the catamaran to Sicily.  He left the car, registered in his mother’s name, at the airport and then flew to Dubai.  That car was retrieved from Sicily and sold in Malta.

Several companies and many individuals claimed Schembri owed them money – over €5 million. They included Alf Mizzi and Sons (€600,000), Farsons (€300,000) and ARMS.

Two businessmen, Alexander Farrugia and Edmond Mugliett claimed Schembri owed them €1.5 million and €2 million, respectively.  Many others didn’t report their losses.  They’d have difficulty explaining the provenance of those funds.

Despite all these reports, Malta’s police did absolutely nothing.

The Times did their work for them. On 15 February 2015, the newspaper tracked Schembri down at an aparthotel in Dubai City.  The man who “can never be considered a criminal fugitive” checked out and fled again.

Lawyer Carmel Chircop loaned Schembri, Etienne Cassar and Adrian Agius ‘tal-Maksar’ €750,000 interest-free.  Agius, who stands accused of supplying the bomb that killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, used his grand villa on Engineers Street Madliena as a guarantee.

Chircop should have gotten his money back by February 2015. Instead, in October 2015, Chircop was shot four times and left dead in a pool of blood.

In 2017, Schembri moved to London and later to Scotland but travelled in and out of the UK freely.  The Maltese police were told of his whereabouts but still did nothing.

Darren Casha, who took over Schembri’s sinking ship, filed a judicial protest claiming he suffered damages due to Schembri’s “illegal, abusive and fraudulent behaviour”.

The police did nothing.

It took several years before an international arrest warrant for Schembri was finally issued last April. For eight years, Schembri was allowed to enjoy his life frittering away money he’d allegedly stolen from his creditors.

Schembri was finally arrested in Scotland and extradited to Malta to face charges of money laundering, fraud and using forged documents.

A long list of creditors testified how Schembri ruined their life. A man who invested his savings in Schembri’s business recalled collapsing when Schembri fled. Joe Difesa, who is illiterate, handed €500,000 cash to Schembri because Schembri’s father told him his money was safe.

Schembri’s own business partner testified how Schembri used fake invoices to make the supermarket chain look more profitable. Edmond Mugliett said when Schembri fled so many creditors turned up that the financial controller “went berserk”.

Thomas Gravina, a pensioner, lost €150,000 he gave Schembri after being reassured of Schembri’s “power” since his cousin Keith worked at Castille. “It drove me insane,” he said.

Schembri has now been granted bail. The magistrate argued she couldn’t keep him in jail because of fear he’ll abscond. Not because he won’t.

Certainly not because he hasn’t. But because, the magistrate argued, he might still abscond anyway after the lapse of the 20-month bail limit.

The magistrate’s bizarre reasoning seems to be: “Why keep him arrested now because he might abscond when he could still escape later?”.

That’s even worse than exonerating Evarist Bartolo’s canvasser because he wasn’t a public official, despite working for a government entity and being responsible for managing millions of euros of public funds.

The same magistrate has also decided Schembri is no “criminal fugitive”. To be a criminal fugitive, you need to have fled – Schembri did.  You need to have committed a crime – Schembri allegedly committed plenty.

You also need the police to take action against you – which the police never did against Schembri.  Schembri didn’t flee to escape the criminal process, the magistrate decreed.

There was no criminal process.  The police responsible for taking action were in total paralysis.

This is a truly depressing story.  Not only because of the devastating impact Schembri’s alleged crimes have had on so many people’s lives – from stealing pensioners’ savings to hurting businesses and livelihoods to the murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop.

What’s most depressing is that those crimes were allowed to happen by a police force under the thumb of the cousin of the accused and his boss Joseph Muscat.

Here is yet more incriminating evidence of a criminal police force whose inaction led to another murder. Economic crimes unit boss Ian Abdilla and former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar protected Schembri by failing to lift a finger.

Has any action been taken against Abdilla or Cutajar, who bear responsibility for the ruination of so many and the death of Carmel Chircop? That responsibility also rests on Joseph Muscat, who not only appointed Cutajar Commissioner but kept him in the post.

The disturbing truth is not that criminals commit crimes that destroy innocent lives. It’s that our institutions are complicit in those crimes.

Our institutions continue to enable criminals to enjoy the proceeds of crime and their freedom. As we watch the sad spectacle of an elderly mother intervening to save her adult son from the grimy mess he’s made of his life and the even grimmer one he’s made of others, another mother could only lay flowers at the tomb of her murdered son.

And Angelo Gafa’s police force maintains its record of wilful criminal inaction as it continues to protect Ian Abdilla and Lawrence Cutajar – and many others.

The desperate hopelessness of Malta’s situation is summed up not just by police inaction or their repeated dereliction of duty and their active complicity in protecting criminals but by the utter failure of our government to take any steps to rectify the situation.

Labour not only demolished the institutions but is intent on keeping them dysfunctional and impotent. Yet Labour insists “the institutions are working”. Tell that to Carmel Chircop’s family.


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13 days ago

Excellent piece of work Professore. As always.

Francis Said
Francis Said
13 days ago

Malta’s democracy is shot, dead and buried under a slime of filth, corruption in the highest levels, nepotism. Our standard of living and QUALITY of life also accompanies the above. The rule of law is non existent. Strong moral and solid principles have given way to greed and getting rich quick.
This is not the Malta that our ancestors and previous hard working generations have worked and fought for with dignity.

Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
13 days ago

A classic example of casuistry – if not chicanery? Some may say ‘Absolutely’!

13 days ago

So a person who runs away with big business and small business owed millions , is Free to do this if the Police Commissioner is his friend and sits on the arrest warrant. Is this what the Learned Judge is saying? No wonder we have murderers on the run.

13 days ago

Dont worry, we will not hear about him anymore, same as his cousin! Worse than mafia state!

Eddy A
Eddy A
13 days ago

It’s all in the family in comedy capers country..

Winston Smith
Winston Smith
13 days ago

I am not one who believes in lots of mumbo jumbo but I believe in the long-term the universe always remembers an injustice. You might call it karma, or the long moral arch of the universe but be it an incompetent magistrate or corrupt politician they or their children will be subjected to the same measure they used.

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
13 days ago

Red eyed crooks are very well respected at our law Courts and our Police Commissioner treats them with special favour.

Last edited 13 days ago by saviour mamo

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