Leak of Schembri asset freeze is illegal, judge orders police investigation

Judge orders police investigation into leak of attachment order for asset freeze of former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri

Keith Schembri on his way to court during the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech
Keith Schembri on his way to court during the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech

A judge has ordered the police to investigate the leak of a decree ordering investigations and asset seizures relating to alleged money laundering with regards to former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, as well as Nexia BT partner Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and others.

The Criminal Court issued the attachment order yesterday, and this was reported on news portals across the island within a matter of minutes.

At law, broadcasting the attachment order is illegal.

Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg filed a court application earlier today, pointing out that article 4(6A) of the Money Laundering Act makes it a criminal offence to reveal information which would possibly prejudice the effects of such orders or related investigation. Those convicted face up to a year in prison and a maximum fine of €11,646.

In its decree on the matter, the court, presided by Madame Justice Edwina Grima, said it was worried about the fact that its decree had been not only leaked but also published in its entirety on several internet news portals. This could create serious prejudice to the administration of justice and could hamper police investigations into the crimes.

Although the court said it could never ask members of the media to reveal their sources without jeopardising freedom of expression, it deplored the fact that the details were published at such a delicate stage of investigations.

The court upheld the AG’s request and ordered the Commissioner of Police to investigate whether a violation of the said article of the Money Laundering Act had taken place and whether or not there is the possibility of persons facing criminal proceedings, “always with the safeguards to freedom of expression.”

The judge also ordered that the IGM be notified with the decree.