‘I swear upon the cross that I never received kickbacks’ Keith Schembri tells court

Simon Busuttil refuses to be drawn into stating in Court whether Keith Schembri is corrupt or not as Magistrate disallows questioning on whether Busuttil had been in touch with former FIAU director Manfred Galdes

Simon Busuttil (left) and Keith Schembri
Simon Busuttil (left) and Keith Schembri

OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri has broken his silence on Panama, denying the corruption allegations levelled against him by former leader of the Opposition Simon Busuttil, testifying this morning in a libel case he filed against the former PN leader.

Magistrate Francesco Depasquale presided the occasionally rowdy sitting with good humour, hearing the testimony of Busuttil and Schembri in succession. Busuttil was sued for libel over a speech he made outside the Auberge de Castille on March 6th last year, whilst addressing a rally against corruption, organised by the PN.

“The protest had been against corruption, against the government as a whole, after a series of events which the plaintiff and Konrad Mizzi had been found to have opened secret offshore companies in Panama. But not just because of this...there was a culmination of other events too. For example the Gaffarena case, but no doubt that the central cry of the protest was the Panama scandal,” Busuttil testified.

The former Opposition leader emphasised that Schembri had not only been found to have the Panama company but was involved in the negotiations for the biggest contracts entered into by the Labour government  in the past four years, including the 18-year Electrogas deal and the three private hospitals which Busuttil said were costing the country more than when they had been state owned.

If Simon Busuttil is going to continue to allege this, I will continue to chase him until he proves it.

Busuttil said that he had been calling for the authorities to investigate every act that Schembri, Mizzi and others had done since coming into power. However, in court today he stopped short of stating directly that Schembri was involved in corruption, refusing to be pinned down on the issue by Schembri’s lawyer Pawlu Lia. 

 “I am saying that it is evident that if you earn €50k annually  from your sole source of income and then bind yourself to deposit a million euros every year, it is evident that there is private gain that comes from your position of power….in a secret company in the most secret jurisdiction...it is phenomenally grave that our nation is being mentioned in conjunction with the country,” Busuttil said.

After a year it should be up to the Commissioner of Police or the Attorney General to investigate Schembri, he added. "I asked them repeatedly, in public...I was not waiting with my mouth shut. For a whole year I asked the authorities to do their job and investigate the plaintiff. Even the Chief Justice is saying they aren’t doing their job and the rule of law is crumbling. I reported the plaintiff to the police for several things, including commissions on the sale of passports, passing on half a million to Adrian Hillman without any explanation. The only reason we are here is the fact that the police commissioner and the AG did nothing.”

Lia asked Busuttil whether he had ever corresponded with former FIAU Director Manfred Galdes, prompting his lawyer to accuse Lia of "going on a fishing expedition, and only asking this question just because the press was present in court." The court disallowed the question as irrelevant to the libel case.


Keith Schembri takes the stand

Schembri himself broke his two-year silence on the allegations, by taking the witness stand today.

“This is the first time...I’ve been on the receiving end for two years and have been unable to say my side of the story,” he began.

“I want to hear Busuttil say if it is corruption. He had the chance to say yes or no today and he chose not to. There is an investigation underway where I was asked to testify and I did. I swear upon the cross that I never received kickbacks . I never met the people he mentioned and I don’t know them. That he says that I’m on €50k...he knows that I resigned my position in the private sector, it doesn’t mean that I renounced my shareholding. If I wanted money I have 13 companies doing well, I wouldn’t have gone in for this role.”

Schembri said he had all the evidence that for every payment he made to Hillman, he received items in return. Schembri said he would be exhibiting the evidence before the presiding magistrate in the relevant case.

“In his speech he insinuated that I am corrupt. He’s been here for an hour and a half and has not repeated his allegation that I am corrupt. If he is going to continue to allege this I will continue to chase him until he proves it," Schembri insisted.

Lawyer Edward Gatt asked how the allegations affected Schembri's work and reputation.

“I had never been accused of anything of the sort until Busuttil started making allegations. I couldn't reply because of my position and a medical condition that I was suffering from at the time. He tried to subject me to a trial by media," Schembri said.

Schembri told the court that he would be providing it with a transcript of Busuttil's speech, with the court ordering him to indicate the allegedly defamatory passages.

Lawyers Pawlu Lia, Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo are appearing for Schembri, whilst lawyer Peter Fenech is defence counsel to Simon Busuttil.

The case will continue in December.