Schembri to answer passport kickback allegations with libel

Prime Minister's chief of staff says allegations of kickbacks from sale of passport by Brian Tonna, part of campaign of lies

Keith Schembri brushed aside the latest allegations by Daphne Caruana Galizia as a rehashed post from 2016
Keith Schembri brushed aside the latest allegations by Daphne Caruana Galizia as a rehashed post from 2016

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff said he will file for libel over new allegations published by Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia on her blog, claiming he took kickbacks on the sale of Maltese passports through the offices of auditor Brian Tonna.

Keith Schembri brushed off the serious allegation as a rehashed post from May 2016. In her post, the blogger said Tonna’s offshore company Willerby Trade funnelled receipts from the sale of passports, to accounts held by Schembri at Pilatus Bank and Bank of Valletta.

Caruana Galizia said Tonna’s BT International, an accredited agent of the Individual Investor Programme, handled the purchase of Maltese citizenship for a Russian family. Tonna’s own Willerby Trade, acting as introducer, invoiced BT International for 50% of the fees. “Willerby Trade Inc received the money into its account at Pilatus Bank. It then kicked back a significant part of the funds to Keith Schembri, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, through Schembri’s accounts at Pilatus Bank and the Bank of Valletta,” the blogger wrote.

In a post on Facebook, Schembri did not specifically deny the allegation of a kickback or that he held an account at Pilatus Bank; but described the latest allegation as part of a “campaign of lies and character assassination” taking place since his offshore company interests were uncovered by the Panama Papers leaks.

Schembri also said he had no knowledge of any investigation by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit on his affairs. “Clearly Simon Busuttil knows much more than I do as I have no knowledge, and cannot have knowledge of such investigation considering that the law precludes it. How Simon Busuttil would be privy to such information is beyond me and clearly indicates an intention to conspire with others to break the law. That is however his responsibility which he carries alone,” Schembri said.

Schembri, owner of the Kasco group of companies, said that any FIAU report dealing with his business interests can be presented by the relevant authorities to the Magistrate current leading an inquiry into allegations that the Prime Minister’s wife is the beneficiary of a Panamanian offshore company.

“I have already cooperated with the inquiry and given my statement under oath, and will do so again if requested. It is telling that those who have been persisting in this campaign of lies have refused to appear before the Magistrate even though requested to do so in terms of the law,” he said, in a reference to Caruana Galizia, who has so far refused to give evidence before the inquiry.