Keith Schembri’s employees ask court to unfreeze their wages

Employees from several companies belonging to Keith Schembri have asked the court to unfreeze their wages after their workplaces were hit by a court-imposed attachment order

Keith Schembri and his companies were hit by a freezing order as part of a money laundering investigation
Keith Schembri and his companies were hit by a freezing order as part of a money laundering investigation

Some 78 employees from several companies belonging to Keith Schembri have asked the court to unfreeze their wages after their workplaces were hit by an attachment order.

The employees made submissions on Monday in front of Judge Aaron Bugeja.

The employees filed an urgent application on Sunday, asking for their wages to be exempted from a freezing order issued by a judge last week.

The request followed a similar application filed by six companies owned by Schembri which asked for permission to temporarily have access to their assets, saying they must pay salaries to their employees.

The companies in which the former prime minister’s chief of staff has a business interest had their assets frozen by a court order last week as part of a money laundering investigation.

The two-hour sitting was held behind closed doors and the parties will meet again in court on Thursday.

The sitting was attended by a substantial number of employees, most of who had to stay outside the courtroom because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Schembri’s companies had their assets frozen last Monday after a court issued an attachment order following a request by the Attorney General.

The freezing order impacts 92 people and companies, including Schembri and his accountants at Nexia BT, Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and Manuel Castagna.

Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà on Friday confirmed that all four had been arrested last week and that they had all been granted police bail as investigations continue. 

Schembri, Tonna, Cini and Castagna were arrested following the conclusion of an inquiry into claims of kickbacks involving the IIP scheme.

The allegations go back to 2017, when a leaked FIAU report raised the alarm on €100,000 received by Schembri from Tonna, following the sale of citizenship to a Russian family.

Schembri’s employees asked the court to consider the request as urgent given that Wednesday is the end of the month and they are due to be paid their wages that day.

They said their wage is their only livelihood and they needed the money to feed their families and pay their bank loans. 

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo argued in court on Monday that none of the 78 people feature on the investigation order and the freezing of their salary was disproportionate.

The lawyers said their clients' rights were being breached as they were simply employees and had nothing to do with the case at hand. 

Sources close to the proceedings said the employees want the court to authorise the release of a set amount for the companies to be able to issue salary payments under the watchful eye of a court-appointed administrator.

In the application filed by the companies on Saturday, the lawyers, who also represent Schembri personally, argued that it was yet to be determined whether the freezing order was in line with the conclusions of the magisterial inquiry into the claims of corruption, kickbacks and money laundering, concluded by Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras.

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