Silence is golden for Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri

Schembri fails to answer questions about 17 Black and the Prime Minister hides behind ongoing inquiries

Keith Schembri is refusing to answer questions about the nature of his business relationship with two suspicious Dubai-based companies despite acknowledging their existence.

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff admitted last week that 17 Black and Macbridge were included in “draft business plans” for his companies and described them as “potential clients”.

During the 2017 election campaign The Malta Independent had reported that 17 Black and Macbridge were set up in Dubai as vehicles to transfer money into the Panama companies belonging to Schembri and Mizzi. The information came from leaked excerpts of a report by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit.

The report also alleged that 17 Black had received a payment from the Malta agent of the liquefied natural gas floating storage unit at Delimara.

Schembri and Mizzi had denied the allegations and did not acknowledge the existence of the Dubai firms.

But last week, The Daphne Project released an email sent by Schembri’s financial advisor at Nexia BT that showed how 17 Black and Macbridge were “target clients” of the Panamanian firms Tillgate and Hearnville owned by Schembri and Mizzi respectively.

The email says that Tillgate and Hearnville were to receive monthly deposits of €150,000 from their clients.

It was in response to this revelation that Schembri acknowledged for the first time the existence of 17 Black and Macbridge but has since gone silent.

While Schembri admitted that both companies were included in “draft business plans” for his business group, Mizzi continued to dismiss the speculation, insisting his Panama company never had bank accounts and was set up solely to manage his family’s wealth.

The pair have failed to clarify the contradictory explanations.

The Daphne Project also revealed that 17 Black had received a second payment from a company registered in the Seychelles that belonged to an unknown Azeri national.

Schembri and Mizzi have denied any knowledge of the money transfers.

In light of Schembri’s statement, it is plausible to believe that he knew who owned the Dubai companies and what type of service they required.

But after his immediate reaction to the Daphne Project, Schembri has gone silent and failed to answer questions put to him by MaltaToday.

Meanwhile, Muscat yesterday insisted that he would not comment on any of the revelations from the Daphne Project so as not to “prejudice” ongoing inquiries.

Muscat was speaking to journalists just after visiting currency firm De La Rue. It was his first confrontation with journalists since last week’s revelations.

The Prime Minister insisted on shifting his reply to the Egrant case, adding that a year after the allegation was made, nobody had come forward with a shred of evidence to substantiate the claim.

Pressed by journalists on why he insisted on discussing Egrant over 17 Black, Muscat insisted that while journalists had the right to ask whatever they wanted, he had the right to answer that “this time last year the country was in turmoil because of an allegation that the Prime Minister or his wife received a million Euro”.

“That allegation has today disappeared and it is my duty to ask and see that if there is any evidence, with all these journalists investigating, it should come out,” said Muscat.

Assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had reported that the Prime Minister’s wife, Michelle, was the ultimate beneficiary owner of Egrant, the third Panama company that was set up alongside those of Schembri and minister Konrad Mizzi.

The Muscats have strongly rejected the claim, describing it as the “biggest political lie ever to be told.”

Unanswered questions

In the wake of his statement on the revelations from the Daphne Project, MaltaToday asked Keith Schembri for more details on 17 Black and Macbridge. He has not answered any of the questions below:

  • Who owns 17 Black and Macbridge?
  • What is the nature of business they operate in?
  • When were 17 Black and Macbridge incorporated in Dubai?
  • What type of service were you/your companies going to render 17 Black and Macbridge?
  • How did you/your companies get to know 17 Black and Macbridge?
  • Have you/your companies ever provided a service to 17 Black and Macbridge before Tillgate was set up?