Updated | After 2017 denial, Keith Schembri now acknowledges existence of 17 Black

Dubai company 17 Black described as “potential client” included in “draft business plan” drawn up for Schembri’s business group • Konrad Mizzi statement

Keith Schembri during the June 2017 investiture ceremony for ministers taking their oath of allegiance after the elections
Keith Schembri during the June 2017 investiture ceremony for ministers taking their oath of allegiance after the elections

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri has admitted knowledge of the Dubai company 17 Black, which at the height of the 2017 elections was rumoured to be connected to kickbacks paid on the LNG energy project.

In a statement released at 6:41pm, Schembri described 17 Black and the company Macbridge as “potential clients” for his business group.

“17 Black and Macbridge were included in draft business plans for my business group as potential clients. My companies make dozens of business plans such as these. However, it is a fact that neither 17 Black nor Macbridge ever became clients of my business group, and no transactions were ever recorded with these companies, or with me personally. I have no knowledge of the transfers referred to, nor any knowledge of the alleged payment.”

READ MORE • Schembri’s and Mizzi’s Panama companies planned to receive payments from 17 Black

Emails leaked to The Daphne Project from an FIAU investigation into suspicious payments tracked by US anti-money laundering investigators show Nexia BT partner Karl Cini describing 17 Black and Macbridge as companies that would paying money into the offshore companies set up by Schembri and then energy minister Konrad Mizzi.

But when 17 Black was first floated in the press as a company designed to pay money into Schembri’s and Mizzi’s offshore companies, the two men had denied the allegations of kickbacks paid to them through the Dubai company.

On 27 May 2017, Mizzi described the report as “a blatant lie”, while Schembri said that any contention he “sought, or received kickbacks, or commissions or any other kind of payment while in government is false.”

“I have always maintained this, for it is the truth. I have been subject to a coordinated smear campaign for well over a year, but this latest fabrication is nothing short of criminal. Simon Busuttil’s latest publicity stunt shows how desperate he is for power and will not think twice to put at risk the country’s economic future - and our most basic principles of fairness and justice,” Schembri had said.

In a statement, tourism minister Konrad Mizzi described the reports as “a repetition of unfounded allegations and speculation” made during the 2017 elections.

Mizzi said there was no connection “direct or otherwise, between Dr Mizzi, his company or trust, and any entity called 17 Black.”

He also said his Panamanian company Hearnville Inc. held no bank account and received no money from any source.

Without denying, Mizzi referred to “attempts” by the newspapers to connect a $1.6 million payment to 17 Black to him.

Mizzi also said that he did not know the Azeri national identified as having made a payment in favour of 17 Black, or of the payment allegedly made by Orion Engineering Group in Malta to 17 Black.

“An independent audit into Dr Mizzi’s trust and company structure was completed by an international audit firm which issued its opinion that the financial statements of the structure were presented fairly, in all material respects and in accordance with accounting policies,” a spokesperson said.

Mizzi’s spokesperson said his offshore structure was solely intended as a family trust, that there have been no trading activities undertaken by both Rotorua Trust and its fully owned subsidiary Hearnville Inc and that no bank accounts were held by the trust and company.