Joseph Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri’s third appearance before the Public Accounts Committee ended abruptly this afternoon, with the session adjourned after repeated exchanges between Schembri’s lawyers and committee members.
The meeting was first adjourned a few minutes in after Schembri’s lawyer, Edward Gatt, asked committee chair Darren Carabott if they could seek a ruling from the Speaker to suspend Schembri’s testimony pending the outcome of a possible police investigation following the report filed by the Opposition MPs.
Gatt was referring to the police report filed on 19 April by the Nationalist Party members of the Public Accounts Committee.
The three members went to the police headquarters to hand over a letter to the Police Commissioner calling for an investigation into the statements made by former Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, Schembri and former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta.
The request was made following Schembri’s testimony on 17 April, in which he repeatedly contradicted claims made by Scicluna during the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry. Scicluna had told the board of inquiry that the big decisions by the government were taken by an inner circle that operated outside the confines of the cabinet.
After the motion to adjourn Schembri’s testimony was rejected, Schembri’s lawyer asked if any committee members wished to make the same motion instead, and the meeting was adjourned a second time while the PAC discussed the new motion.
When the meeting resumed, no committee member took up Gatt’s request. So the meeting continued but was immediately halted again by Gatt, who objected to PAC members filing a police report and instructed Schembri to stop answering questions.
When Carabott tried to question Schembri on a claim he made during last week’s testimony asking how he knew that the secret company Egrant had never been used, Schembri refused to reply, saying that a constitutional case would be filed “within the next two days” and that he would not be replying to any more questions.
The sitting was then adjourned while the committee chair filed a request for a ruling from the speaker.
Although Schembri chose to reply to questions in previous PAC sessions, his testimonies have been replete with inconsistencies. During his testimony on 17 April, for example, Schembri claimed that he “could not remember” authorising the setup of an offshore company in Panama in his name, despite evidence to the contrary.
Documents from 2015 authorising the set-up of Tillgate Inc. show that Schembri signed off on the process and chose to opt into options which allowed for greater secrecy and lessened transparency when the company was opened.
During the same session, Schembri also claimed he could not remember whether he spoke to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi about the identity of 17 Black’s owner after Times of Malta and Reuters revealed it was Electrogas co-owner, Yorgen Fenech.
However, during his 14 December 2020 testimony in the public inquiry, Schembri said, under oath, that he informed Joseph Muscat about the identity of 17 Black’s owner himself (pages 51-53).
Other inconsistent claims by Schembri made in front of the PAC include his statement that he was unaware that Panama was a tax haven and didn’t ask any questions about it at the time.
This also contradicts his sworn testimony on 14 December during the public inquiry on 14 December 2020 where the official transcript quotes him saying, “I needed an asset company, and the decision of my auditors was to choose Panama because it is the fastest jurisdiction in which to open a company.”
The evidence being given was very well managed and Keith Schembri was running circles around forgetting , remembering and exposing his ex boss. The labor side were not helping him, unlike when Konrad was . So the only way out was to stop him giving evidence. Egrant was the Hot Potato. So he simply refused to answer despite claiming it was not because of incriminating himself , but because of the future appeal to the Constitutional Court invented by his 10 minutes before lawyers.