[WATCH] Busuttil accuses Keith Schembri of receiving kickbacks from passport sales, calls for immediate arrest

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil says he has evidence to prove what he’s saying and he will be presenting his evidence to Magistrate Aaron Bugeja • Calls for the immediate arrest of Keith Schembri

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil insisted that Joseph Muscat must resign
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil insisted that Joseph Muscat must resign

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has accused the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, of having received kickbacks on the sale of Maltese passports through the offices of auditor Brian Tonna.

Addressing a press conference, Busuttil said he was shouldering responsibility for what he was revealing and said that he had proof to sustain his allegations. Busuttil called for the immediate arrest of Schembri, asking for Schembri to be interrogated and be arraigned on criminal charges, which involve money laundering and corruption.

“I know that this is dramatic and serious. What I’m saying is the truth. I am shouldering responsibility for what I’m saying and I have the evidence. Tomorrow morning, I will present this information to Magistrate Aaron Bugeja and make myself available to testify under oath as part of the inquiry he is leading.”

REACTION • Schembri denies kickbacks allegations, says loan to Tonna was in 2012

Busuttil claimed he had received his information from a separate source to that of blogger and The Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who posted the allegations earlier in the day and who had originally claimed in May 2016 that Tonna was receiving money in a Pilatus Bank account.

He said that Tonna had received €166,831.90 – in an account he owns under the name of Willerby Trading Inc. – in fees for the sale of passports to three Russian individuals, and then made two transfers of €50,000 each to a bank account held by Keith Schembri through their respective bank accounts at Pilatus Bank.

“We can now confirm what we have long been suspecting,” Busuttil said. “On Xarabank last Friday, I asked Muscat if his chief of staff held an account with Pilatus Bank, but he refused to answer, as he did when asked afterwards by the media.”

The opposition leader said that following his public appeal for anyone with information to come forward, he had been approached by a number of people.

Willerby Trading Inc. was registered in the British Virgin Islands and was revealed to be owned by Tonna in the Panama Papers leaks in 2016.

Busuttil claimed that Pilatus Bank had asked Tonna and Schembri to explain and justify the money transfers – a common occurrence when politically exposed persons are involved in money transfers. He said that the two had tried to justify it as being merely a case of Tonna repaying Schembri for a loan he had advanced him while he was going through a separation.

“As if anyone will believe that Tonna needs to borrow any money,” Busuttil scoffed.

He went to insist that the facts were now pointing to the clear execution of a series of crimes, including money laundering, which in itself carried a possible 18-year prison sentence.

“I don’t even have the words to describe how disgusted I am, knowing that the chief of staff in the office of the prime minister has been accepted bribes from the sale of our passport,” Busuttil said.

“And yet, prime minister Joseph Muscat continues to defend him.”

Busuttil was adamnant in his call for the prime minister to resign immediately.

He said he also expected Schembri to be arrested immediately, interrogated as to his involvement in corruption and money laundering schemes and arraigned.

“I expect the prime minister himself to be interrogated so as to determine whether he was guilty of turning a blind eye to what his chief of staff was doing or if he too had benefited from this corruption,” he said.

Busuttil claimed the situation in the country was now very dangerous, with known criminal elements leading the country from Castille.

Asked by MaltaToday if he would be making public the evidence he had in hand, Busuttil said he felt his first duty was to present the evidence to the inquiring magistrate, avoiding any public play-acting.

“I think this a serious way to proceed and I have no doubt the magistrate will know how to use the evidence I will be presenting him.”

With regards to Caruana Galizia, Busuttil said this was not the first time that she had revealed serious events that had then gone on to be substantiated.

“It is up to her as a journalist to decide how she should act on any information she might have in hand,” he said.

Schembri denied the earlier allegations in a Facebook post.