Keith Schembri ‘founder’ of unregistered charity raking in donations

The 'charity' has resisted the Commissioner's efforts to operate according to law

 

Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ starts playing as you click through to an amateur-designed donations page titled Bank Ċentrali Ġenna (Heavenly Central Bank).

A religious fable, complete with custom cartoons, extolls the virtues of charitable donations – an “investment” redeemable as priority access through the heavenly gates.

The charity, named Doninu Malta, lists Schembri as one of its two ‘founders’. Schembri’s Di Giorno frozen food shops are the charity’s “Main Sponsor,” plastered across almost every social media post.

A photo uploaded to Doninu Malta’s Facebook page some ten days before the website was registered in July 2023 talks up Schembri’s support.

Di Giorno lists Schembri’s father, Alfio, and business partner Malcolm Scerri , as directors through a company called It’s Good Ltd.

The food chain, owned by Schembri’s Kasco Holdings, has sponsored Doninu since last year.

Speaking to The Shift, Voluntary Organisations Commissioner Jesmond Saliba confirmed Doninu had not registered with his office as required by law.

He said his efforts to convince Pierre Calleja – the other founder listed on Doninu’s website – to register the charity were “met with resistance”.

The ‘charity’

Set up in July 2023, Doninu is led by Conrad Pace, the ‘chevalier’ and ‘grand master’ of a Christian religious society.

The charity’s website claims partnerships with a number of governmental entities, including several Labour Party councillors, mayors, and several government ministries.

Doninu’s website lists Schembri as a founder of the charity.

The organisation is ostensibly set up as a charity hub, funnelling donations toward charitable causes. Doninu’s website describes it as an “effort to organise fundraising activities for Maltese NGOs” initially “conceived as an entertainment-focused initiative.”

Pace describes Doninu’s ‘journey’ as “taking root in August [2023],” following an “initial conversation with Mr Schembri” where Pace “shared his aspiration to establish Doninu… now founded under Mr Calleja and Mr Schembri’s current leadership.”

Doninu claims to frequently support other charities, such as the Smiling with Jerome Foundation, a registered voluntary organisation.

Charities must register with the Office of the Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations and submit annual accounts to curb abuse and promote transparency.

Doninu asks donors to send funds through Revolut and claims the funds raised address various causes, yet it has no clearly defined aim or sector of work.

The Voluntary Organisations Commissioner said the charity’s unregistered status meant it could not collect government funds or benefit from any policy aimed at assisting NGOs.

Importantly, Doninu is not permitted to enter into any contract (even without remuneration) to provide a public service requested by the government, the Commissioner told The Shift.

The Attorney General may take action based on a complaint by the Commissioner or another NGO.

In various instances, charity administrators have called on donors to purchase Di Giorno foodstuffs to be delivered to the charity as donations. The purchases made from such calls benefit Schembri’s company.

Schembri is facing money laundering charges and has been subjected to an asset freeze.

The Di Giorno brand is plastered all over the charity’s Facebook page, and administrators call on donors to purchase their products for charity.

Its website lists Bormla Labour Mayor Marco Agius and Zurrieq Labour Mayor Rita Grima as ‘presidents’ of their localities’ Doninu ‘sections.’

The site also lists the Ministry for Active Ageing, Ministry for Education, Ministry for Home Affairs, and Ministry for Finance as collaborators.

In a Facebook post from last August, Doninu Malta Media, the charity’s ‘media arm’, published an email from former Active Ageing Minister Jo Etienne Abela for “cooperation.”

Doninu claimed the health minister would coordinate with the unregistered charity.

The charity has more than half a dozen affiliated Facebook groups, including Doninu Malta, Doninu Malta Media, Doninu Avvizi, Doninu Entertainment, and Doninu Advertising Agency, among others.

Schembri’s money laundering charges

In March 2021, Schembri was charged with money laundering and corruption.

He was charged alongside the former managing directors of Allied Newspapers and its publishing house Progress Press – Adrian Hillman and Vince Buhagiar – among others, accused of fraud over the purchase of a multi-million-euro printing machine from one of Schembri’s companies.

Schembri was granted bail the following month.

The courts issued a seizing and freezing order against Schembri, his associates and companies as part of the proceedings. These included It’s Good Limited, the company behind Di Giorno, Alfio Schembri (Keith Schembri’s father) and Malcolm Scerri, Di Giorno’s directors.

Since then, Di Giorno has opened at least six outlets in Bormla, San Ġwann, Qormi, Żabbar, Birkirkara and Żebbuġ. They have sponsored multiple events, including the Għaxaq Music Festival and the Bormla Regatta Club.

On Wednesday, in a separate criminal court case linked to Schembri’s close friend Yorgen Fenech, charged with involvement in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the courts slammed Schembri’s conflicts of interest during his time as chief of staff.

The ruling was followed by calls by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation and Repubblika for further prosecution of Schembri and his associates.

This article was brought to you with the support of OCCRP and The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation.

                           

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9 Comments
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Makjavel
Makjavel
1 month ago

The commissioner for NGOs is obliged to take this fake charity to court.

melvin cachia
melvin cachia
1 month ago

Sur Jes Saliba take action

D. Borg
D. Borg
1 month ago

I wonder what onboarding due diligence was carried out by Revolut!

S. Camilleri
S. Camilleri
1 month ago

These “authorities” lack authority.

Pete
Pete
1 month ago
Reply to  S. Camilleri

They are regulated by the Divine Authority and the Heavenly Commission.

Carmel G Camilleri
Carmel G Camilleri
1 month ago

How can a government ministry ‘collaborate’ with an irregularly functioning foundation?

Nigel Baker
Nigel Baker
1 month ago

Any publicity is good publicity. All this article will do is encourage a particular segment of Maltese citizens to donate to this ‘charity’ because they see Schembri as one of their own.

Simon Camilleri
Simon Camilleri
1 month ago

Did he get better?

Maria Aquilina
Maria Aquilina
1 month ago

I never heard about this NGO
.I will not buy any DI GIORNO PRODUCTS.

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