Ryan Schembri released on bail as magistrate raps police for years of inaction

More Supermarkets owner Ryan Schembri fled the islands in 2014, leaving debts of up to €40 million in his wake

Ryan Schembri seen in a police car being escorted to court after his arrest
Ryan Schembri seen in a police car being escorted to court after his arrest

A court has granted bail to More Supermarkets owner Ryan Schembri, who was charged with financial crimes following his extradition to Malta, after he fled the islands in 2014, allegedly leaving €40 million in debts in his wake.

Schembri was brought to Malta to face charges of money laundering, misappropriation, fraud, making fraudulent gain, offering financial investment services without a licence and knowingly making use of forged documents, after being arrested in Scotland in April.

He had fled the country in 2014 after the More Supermarkets crash, leaving a string of creditors behind.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, presiding over the compilation of evidence against the accused, has heard creditors testify to having lost vast sums of money that they had been encouraged to invest in Schembri’s ventures.

When the case continued this morning, the court heard Schembri’s elderly parents confirm that they were prepared to act as guarantors for his adherence to any bail conditions, despite neither of them having any liquid assets. They offered the three properties which they owned as security.

Asked whether she was prepared to put herself at risk of being jailed should her son breach his bail conditions,  the accused's mother, Alfrida Schembri replied “I would do anything for him.”

“Of course, you would, because he is your son,” said Magistrate Frendo Dimech. “But what will you do if you suspect that he is going to try and abscond?”

“I’d tell him not to do so. I don’t think he’d do it,” said the woman.

“You wouldn’t go to the police though, right?” asked the court. “I would do everything I could to help him,” she replied. “I think we’ve heard enough,” remarked the magistrate.

After Schembri’s parents left the courtroom, his partner Aviva Kuschner, took the stand to confirm her readiness to stand as guarantor, telling the court that she worked remotely from the UK and that she had some savings to pledge as bail security.

Kuschner had moved to Malta with the couple’s sons, to be there for him, she said. “We’ve been together constantly for six years… I am prepared to risk everything for him, I trust him,” said the woman, insisting that she was doing everything possible to prove how seriously she would take the responsibility of acting as a bail guarantor.

Schembri’s partner said she would not allow him to abscond, were she to suspect that he intends to do so. “I will put him under house arrest myself if he tries to leave,” she told the court.

The sitting was adjourned for some time while the magistrate deliberated on the request in chambers.

When the court was back in session, it observed that it was clear that Schembri had not been on the run from the law, but had left Malta to avoid trouble with his creditors, and rejected the prosecution's allegation that Schembri was a criminal fugitive, on the grounds that there had been no criminal charges or investigation involving him at the time of his departure to the UK.

The magistrate noted that the prosecution had not provided the court with any objective and real reasons to substantiate its belief of this risk of absconding, particularly in view of the fact that Schembri had not tried to hide his whereabouts. It was also noted that the police had known where Schembri was as far back as 2017 yet had done nothing about it for years, “not even call him in for an interview.”

The only reason to deny bail given by the prosecution was fear of flight, which would exist in any case until proceedings are finalised, said the court, remarking that accepting this argument would mean that anyone can be denied bail until their case and any appeals are concluded - a process that could take years.

Schembri was relased on bail against a €50,000 deposit and a €150,000 personal guarantee. He is required to sign a bail book twice daily, observe a curfew and keep at least 20m away from the coast and the airport.

Attorney General lawyer Francesco Refalo prosecuted.

Lawyer Roberto Montalto appeared for Schembri.