US travel ban on Keith Schembri and Yorgen Fenech threatens jobs of workers they employ, Jason Azzopardi warns

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi claims US travel ban on Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and Yorgen Fenech poses a threat to workers employed by companies they own • Tumas Group says it is not subjected to sanctions

Yorgen Fenech and Keith Schembri have been slapped with a travel ban by the US government over corruption linked to the Electrogas contract
Yorgen Fenech and Keith Schembri have been slapped with a travel ban by the US government over corruption linked to the Electrogas contract

Updated at 4:05pm with Tumas Group reaction

The jobs of workers employed with companies linked to Yorgen Fenech, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi are at risk because of US sanctions, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi claims.

Azzopardi said that the US treasury department’s travel ban was not only imposed on Schembri, Mizzi and their immediate families, but also on Yorgen Fenech and his family.

The Nationalist MP said Fenech’s name was not publicised by the Americans because he is a private citizen with no public position.

When speaking on NET TV on Thursday morning, Azzopardi warned that the travel ban will have a ripple effect on the banking relationships of the companies the three individuals are involved in.

Fenech is a shareholder in the Tumas Group, a family conglomerate with interests in different economic sectors, while Schembri is owner of Kasco Group, which has various business interests.

The Tumas Group and Fenech individually are also shareholders in Electrogas that operates a gas power station and LNG terminal at Delimara.

PN MP Jason Azzopardi
PN MP Jason Azzopardi

“What happened yesterday [the US travel ban] is of enormous gravity… every bank in Europe and the world from this morning will have to start cutting off contacts with companies in which Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and Yorgen Fenech are involved in… no bank will take the risk to deal with them,” Azzopardi said.

Using strong language, Azzopardi accused the Labour government of dragging Malta through muck so that “the few could enrich themselves”.

“What is Robert Abela doing? Instead of going on a skiing holiday, Silvio Schembri should be meeting the workers employed by these companies [belonging to Mizzi, Schembri, Fenech] and put their minds at rest their jobs will be safeguarded,” Azzopardi said.

The PN MP accused Abela of doing nothing to end impunity. “These pigs, because there is no other word to describe them, are being allowed to continue functioning with impunity and ordinary people will suffer.”

Azzopardi also set his sights on Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà and Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg, accusing them of continuing the culture of impunity. “Angelo Gafà is acting like government’s guardian angel.”

Azzopardi said the Americans acted on information gathered by the Maltese Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, accusing the Maltese authorities of sleeping on the damning findings.

Tumas Group reacts: 'Company is not hit by sanctions'

Ray Fenech, chairperson of the Tumas Group, has told MaltaToday that the company had no information on any travel bans levied against Yorgen Fenech but insisted the company was not subjected to sanctions.

"The Tumas Group and its companies are not subjected to sanctions and therefore there are no problems for its workers. The company is unaware of any sanctions or bans imposed on Yorgen Fenech, who nonetheless is a minority shareholder in the Group and its companies," Ray Fenech said.

This is what happened to Schembri and Mizzi?

Konrad Mizzi was also slapped with a travel ban by the US government (Photo: James Bianchi)
Konrad Mizzi was also slapped with a travel ban by the US government (Photo: James Bianchi)

Keith Schembri, the former right-hand man to Joseph Muscat, has been slapped with an unprecedented travel sanction by the United States government.

Former Labour minister Konrad Mizzi was also included in the latest designation from the US treasury department.

The US government announced the public designation of Mizzi and Schembri as having been involved in “corrupt acts that included using their political influence and official power for their personal benefit.”

Specifically, the US government said there was “credible information that Mizzi and Schembri were involved in a corrupt scheme that entailed the award of a government contract for the construction of a power plant and related services in exchange for kickbacks and bribes. Their actions undermined rule of law and the Maltese public’s faith in their government’s democratic institutions and public processes.”

The travel ban also impacts Mizzi and Schembri’s immediate family members – Mizzi’s wife, Sai Mizzi Liang, and his two minor children; Schembri’s wife, Josette Schembri Vella, his daughter Juliana Schembri Vella, and his minor child. 

This action renders Mizzi and Schembri, and each of these members of their immediate families, ineligible for entry into the United States.

“This designation reaffirms the U.S. commitment to supporting the rule of law and strengthening democratic institutions in Malta.  The Department will continue to use authorities like this to promote accountability for corrupt actors in this region and globally.”

Former energy minister Konrad Mizzi (centre) presides over the financial closure of the gas power project he had piloted and which is mired in corruption allegations
Former energy minister Konrad Mizzi (centre) presides over the financial closure of the gas power project he had piloted and which is mired in corruption allegations

An official from the US Embassy in Malta said today's announcement sends a strong signal that the United States stands with Malta in the fight against corruption. 

"Public designations under authorities such as this allow the United States to promote accountability and to disrupt and deter future abuse.  The United States is committed to promoting accountability for those involved in significant corruption and will continue to use all tools available to combat corruption globally," the official said.

The move against Schembri and Mizzi took the Maltese government by surprise.

Never before has anyone so close to a political administration or party, been affected by such a travel sanction. Schembri – a businessman with major commercial interests – and Mizzi, both implicated in the Panama Papers in 2016, were Joseph Muscat’s closest allies.

In 2016, Daphne Caruana Galizia revealed Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi’s names in the Panama Papers, showing they had opened offshore companies after the general election of 2013 and created trusts in New Zealand.  The companies, Tillgate Inc. and Hearnville Inc., were formally acquired by Schembri and Mizzi in the summer of 2015.

It was eventually revealed that the two Panama companies stood to receive payments from the Dubai-based company 17 Black for services that were never specified.

Reuters then revealed in 2019 that the owner of 17 Black is Tumas Group CEO Yorgen Fenech, a shareholder in Electrogas, and that the company had an account at Noor Bank.

A year later, Fenech was arrested on his yacht and identified as a “person of interest” in the Caruana Galizia murder investigation.

Earlier this year, Keith Schembri was charged on various money laundering and financial crimes. The charges stemmed from allegations that Schembri transferred €650,000 through various offshore companies and then paid out in the form of financial instruments.

Konrad Mizzi remains an independent MP after being ousted by the Labour Party parliamentary group in June 2020 when it was revealed that Yorgen Fenech’s 17 Black had profited from Enemalta’s purchase of a wind farm project in Montenegro in 2015. Back then, Mizzi was energy minister.