Magistrate to kick-start Panama Papers inquiry into Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi

Magistrate Ian Farrugia has found enough grounds for a magisterial inquiry into allegations raised by PN leader Simon Busuttil

Konrad Mizzi (left) and Keith Schembri (right) have been re-appointed as minister and OPM chief of staff
Konrad Mizzi (left) and Keith Schembri (right) have been re-appointed as minister and OPM chief of staff

Magistrate Ian Farrugia has decided there are enough grounds for a magisterial inquiry to be held over money laundering allegations against tourism minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, put forward by outgoing PN leader Simon Busuttil, related to the Panama Papers leak.

The court application filed last month, signed by shadow justice minister Jason Azzopardi and lawyer Kris Busietta, lists a sequence of events starting from Mizzi’s and Schembri’s appointments in March 2017.

The list ends with a statement by Werner Langen, the chair of the European Parliament’s Panama Papers committee, who had said during a visit to Malta in February that Mizzi’s and Schembri’s situations were a “textbook case of money laundering”.

In a tweet, Busuttil said he was delighted by the development.

Reacting to the tweet, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) released a statement referring Magistrate Ian Farrugia’s order, where he said that “towards the end of the in genere investigation, it will be determined whether or not criminal action would be in place.”

According to the OPM, this meant that the Opposition leader was incorrect in his reaction.

“It is shameful for a democracy to have an Opposition leader who misinterprets court orders in this manner in order to take political advantage,” the statement read.

On submitting his allegations to the magistrate, Busuttil was faced with a criminal complaint by Keith Schembri, who reported the Opposition leader to the Commissioner for Police accusing him of “fabrications and calumny”, and of lying under oath. Schembri said he asked the Police to ascertain whether it can investigate Busuttil for what he said were lies, and called on the PN leader to present the evidence he claims to have against him.

In his decision, Magistrate Ian Farrugia said the prerequisites for an inquiry by another magistrate had been satisfied, and that it would be up to the inquiry to determine whether a criminal investigation then takes place and on what charges.

Busuttil’s application seeks a criminal investigation into Mizzi and Schembri, who were revealed to have set up a secret Panama company after March 2013, with a corresponding trust in New Zealand, documents leaked in the Panama Papers show. Busuttil also referred to a December 2015 email in which audit firm Nexia BT gives the go-ahead to open bank accounts for offshore companies belonging to the two PEPs (politically-exposed persons), with one of the banks, Panamanian bank BSI, having require minimum deposits of $1 million a year. 

Both Schembri and Mizzi have stated that no accounts had been opened for the Panama companies.

Nationalist Party press conference

In a press conference shadow justice minister Jason Azzopardi stressed that the magistrate had accepted Busuttil’s request for an investigation in its entirety.

Azzopardi said that the magistrate had received five replies, from the seven candidates, with some of the accused presumably having provided joint replies.

“Essentially what they say is that the opposition leader has no right to ask for an inquiry into the matters already being investigated, that the leader of the Opposition did not specify the suspected persons as required by law, and finally that he was not clear which crimes he was referring to in his request,” said Azzopardi.

He added that the responses also included a number of vicious attacks on Busuttil, who had written to the magistrate and addressed each of the points raised in the replies.

Azzopardi said Busuttil had rebutted all these claims in court, and that the magistrate had as a result upheld his request for a full investigation.

A magisterial inquiry will now investigate whether any of the whether allegations of money laundering are justified.



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