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[WATCH] New magisterial inquiry into Schembri kickback allegations • PM’s chief of staff won’t resign

Magistrate in Egrant inquiry says a new magisterial inquiry should investigate Busuttil's allegations against Schembri • Government says order is for separate inquiry unconnected to Egrant allegation

Matthew Vella
4 May 2017, 6:03pm
New magistrate should lead inquiry into Schembri kickback allegations

The magistrate leading an inquiry into allegations made against the Prime Minister on the ownership of an offshore company, has issued a decree on a complaint by Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, who alleged kickbacks were paid to chief of staff Keith Schembri, that the complaint will have to be investigated by a new duty magistrate.

The decree was issued after Busuttil last week presented evidence to Magistrate Aaron Bugeja, claiming Schembri was paid €100,000 in a kickback from auditor Brian Tonna through the latter’s offshore company Willerby Trade Inc, for fees paid to him on the sale of Maltese passports. Schembri and Tonna denied the claims, saying that the payment was for a 2012 loan granted from Schembri to Tonna.

Bugeja said that since the complaint he received did not hail from either the Attorney General or the Commissioner of Police - which Busuttil has repeatedly said he does not trust - another duty magistrate would have to take charge of an inquiry into the complaint.

“The allegations give rise to a subject matter of a crime... evidence of which should be preserved, apart from eyewitness evidence, which should be analysed for their legal admissibility. The prerequisites for an in genere investigation have been satisfied.”

But Bugeja said he could not take up the investigation himself, stating that this was separate from the inquiry he was leading. “In this case... it will the duty magistrate picked at random to lead the inquiry, and not the magistrate who has received the complaint from someone who is neither the Commissioner of Police nor the Attorney General.”

Edward Gatt (right) - Defence Counsel to Keith Schembri. Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday
Edward Gatt (right) - Defence Counsel to Keith Schembri. Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday

In a broadcast on party media, Busuttil said news of the decree meant that Schembri was now under criminal investigation. However the decree is not an order for a police investigation but for a new duty magistrate to lead an inquiry should none of the implicated parties contest the decree.

On its part, the government said the decree meant that the allegations on Schembri had nothing to do with the “untrue allegations” that Joseph Muscat or his wife were the owners of the Panama company Egrant. “The magistrate leading this inquiry will not hear Busuttil’s allegations on Schembri, so one must see whether this complaint is to be heard by another magistrate.”

Schembri’s lawyer Edward Gatt, who gave a press conference outside the law courts, said that this type of decree allowed both Schembri and Busuttil to contest the decree within two days, but said that Schembri had chosen not to contest it. ”What Busuttil has reported has nothing to do with a criminal investigation,” he said.

Gatt also said that Schembri had not stated any intention to resign his post as chief of staff to the Prime Minister.

Earlier, Busuttil said the development was a confirmation that Joseph Muscat’s place was not in politics. “This election is not a normal one. The choice is between a leader struggling under accusations of corruption encircling the people around him. It is a choice between Malta and Muscat.”

Although Busuttil has taken full ownership of the allegations against Schembri, he refused to take his complaint to the Commissioner of Police, which he says he has no trust in. Instead he took the allegations to the duty magistrate appointed to lead an inquiry into allegations that Joseph Muscat’s wife was the beneficial owner of an offshore company.

Brian Tonna categorically denied the accusations of corruption and money laundering levelled against him. "They are entirely without basis in fact."

Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.