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Inquiring magistrate awaiting verifications from foreign banks on a number of Maltese individuals

The inquiry into allegations linking Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s wife Michelle to the secret Panama company Egrant is slated to take a long time to conclude, as the magistrate appears to have expanded his net in his investigations

paul_cocks
Paul Cocks
3 May 2017, 1:09pm
Inquiring magistrate Aaron Bugeja (L)
Inquiring magistrate Aaron Bugeja (L)
The inquiry led by Magistrate Aaron Bugeja into allegations linking Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s wife Michelle to the secret Panama company Egrant is slated to take a long time to conclude, as the magistrate appears to have expanded his net in his investigations.

MaltaToday has learned that Magistrate Bugeja last week sent letters of request (‘ittri rogatorji’ in Maltese) to the Attorneys General in a number of countries, asking them to verify if certain Maltese individuals own accounts in those countries and to provide statements for any such accounts.

The magistrate is leading an inquiry into allegations first raised by blogger and The Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who published guarantees of trust allegedly showing Michelle Muscat owning shares and being the ultimate beneficial shareholder in Egrant.

The company was opened in Panama in 2013 at the same time as two other companies were revealed in the Panama Papers scandal to have been opened by the prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and Minister Konrad Mizzi.

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil then claimed to have evidence which showed that Schembri was receiving kickbacks from the sale of Maltese citizenship in the Individual Investor Programme scheme.

He said that he had proof that three Russian individuals paid a total of €166,831.90 into a Pilatus Bank account owned by Nexia BT managing partner Brian Tonna, under the name of Willerby Trade Inc. 

Busuttil claimed that Tonna then transferred two payments of €50,000 each to a Pilatus Bank account owned by Schembri, who shrugged it off as Tonna repaying a personal loan he had advanced him in 2012. Busuttil went on to present his proof and testimony before magistrate Bugeja.

A Russian woman, turned whistleblower, testified before the magistrate to the effect that when she was employed at Pilatus Bank as personal assistant to the chairman, she had seen documents listing Muscat as owning shares in Egrant, in a safe at the bank.

Informed sources told MaltaToday that the number of letters of request sent were “substantial” and that it was unclear if the magistrate had – as yet – received any feedback from the countries contacted.

MaltaToday confirmed with a leading lawyer that an inquiring magistrate has the authority to request data from other countries if he feels this could be crucial to the outcome of his investigations.

In such cases, the magistrate does not communicate directly with banks or financial institutions in other countries, but instead channels his request through the respective country’s attorney general, or similar office.

This is a very lengthy process as most countries would normally check to confirm the veracity of the request and the body asking for the data. Once confirmed, the AGs would then pass on the request to the banks and other financial institutions in their jurisdictions.

These too would probably spend time to verify the request before proceeding to gather any relevant data, if available.

This lengthy process makes it highly unlikely that the inquiry will be concluded quickly, or that the magistrate will be in a position to present his findings before the 3 June general election, raising further questions as to possible outcomes.

paul_cocks
Paul Cocks joined MaltaToday after having spent years working in newspapers with The Times...