Updated | Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi to sue Caruana Galizia for libel over latest allegations

Both the Prime Minister’s chief of staff and OPM minister deny that a company owned by the daughter of the Azerbaijani President transferred large sums of money to Tillgate Inc and Hearnville Inc

Minister Konrad Mizzi (left) and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri (right) are suing Daphne Caruana Galizia
Minister Konrad Mizzi (left) and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri (right) are suing Daphne Caruana Galizia

Once again accusing her of resorting to “lies and fabrications”, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri and OPM minister Konrad Mizzi have announced that they will be suing Daphne Caruana Galizia for libel over fresh allegations made today.

The Malta Independent columnist has claimed that a company owned by Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyam, transferred “very large sums of money” to Hearnville Inc, Tillgate Inc and Egrant Inc last year.

“The company, which is incorporated in Dubai’s free zone, is called Al Sahra FZCO, and Ms Aliyeva is the ultimate beneficial owner. The payments were made through Al Sahra FZCO’s account at Pilatus Bank,” Caruana Galizia alleged, adding that more information will be revealed tomorrow.

But in a statement, Schembri categorically denied the allegations raised, announcing that he will be instituting fresh libel proceedings and will also request that the case be heard with urgency.

“For the umpteenth time, Daphne Caruana Galizia has resorted to lies and fabrications. My companies, or me personally, have never received, dealt or otherwise had any form of commercial relation or otherwise with Al Sahra FZCO or Ms Leyla Aliyeva, any member of Ilham Aliyev’s family, or any other Azerbaijani national or person with interests in Azerbaijan,” Schembri said in a statement issued through the Department of Information.

“As stated numerous times, Tillgate Inc, has never had a bank account anywhere in the world, never traded or ever received any funds or entered into any commercial relationship. The company has been audited extensively and all the above has been confirmed by the international auditors.”

Tillgate Inc was Schembri’s Panamanian trading company, activated in June 2015. Mossack Fonseca in New Zealand set up the Haast Trust, with the ownership of Tillgate transferred to the trust.

Tillgate is in the process of being dissolved.

The trust was registered with the New Zealand Tax Department on November 2015.

According to an audit report by Crowe Horwath’s, published by Schembri, no trading activities were undertaken and Tillgate Inc held no bank accounts.

During the Panama Papers revelations it emerged that Nexia BT was in the process of opening a bank account in Dubai, whilst FPB Bank in Panama had refused to open an account.

Konrad Mizzi sues for libel

In a similar statement, Konrad Mizzi said the allegation was false: "No sum of money was ever transferred to Hearnville Inc. No funds from Azerbaijan, or from any person related to Azerbaijan, were ever transferred in any way to Minister Mizzi or to any member of his family. Neither does Minister Mizzi or any member of his family have any relationship with Ilham Aliyev or any member of the latter’s family."

Mizzi said that an audit by Crowe Horwath established that the financial statements of the structure were presented fairly, in all material respects and in accordance with accounting policies.

"The auditors have confirmed that the evidence they obtained was sufficient and appropriate to provide a basis for their audit opinion. This confirmed that the structure is solely intended as a family trust and that no bank accounts were held by the trust and company. Daphne Caruana Galizia is again lying outright."

Mizzi will also request that the court hear the case with urgency.

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