Murdered lawyer gave More Supermarket directors €750,000 interest-free loan

Carmel Chircop had loaned a substantial sum to people connected to the More Supermarkets bust, where millions are said to have been lost after director and owner Ryan Schembri fled the island

Ryan Schembri (right) departed from Malta in late 2014 after his supermarket business amassed millions in debt. Carmel Chircop, who was shot dead in 2015, had been one of his creditors
Ryan Schembri (right) departed from Malta in late 2014 after his supermarket business amassed millions in debt. Carmel Chircop, who was shot dead in 2015, had been one of his creditors

A lawyer who was found dead in a Birkirkara multi-storey garage in 2015, after being shot four times, had been one of the ‘investors’ in the mysterious More Supermarkets bust.

Carmel Chircop, 51, was killed in the morning of 8 October 2015 as he walked to the Birkirkara garage complex, where he died from four gunshot wounds to his upper body.

Since then, little has been disclosed of the ongoing investigations into the murder of a lawyer who enjoyed extensive community bonds and other business relationships.

Now, from information seen by MaltaToday, it transpires that Chircop had loaned a substantial sum to people connected to the More Supermarkets bust, where millions are said to have been lost after director and owner Ryan Schembri fled the island.

Schembri, now said to have relocated to the United Kingdom from Dubai, according to MaltaToday sources, has never been heard of since.

But in 2014, his More Supermarkets chain left millions in debts it owed to both traders and other associates who had loaned Schembri and his business large sums of money, as this newspaper found out in the case of Chircop.

In March 2014, Chircop entered into a contract with Ryan Schembri, then appearing as director of the company Erom Limited, to loan him the sum of €750,000.

Also appearing as debtors in the contract were Schembri’s business partner Etienne Cassar, as well as Adrian Agius: one of the men first arrested by police in December 2017 in connection with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and later released on police bail. Together, Schembri and Cassar, and Agius, owned shares in another joint company called Interaa Holdings.

Agius was one of the 10 men arrested by police in December 2017 in connection with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, but was released within days without charges.

According to their contract, Chircop agreed to loan the three businessmen, €750,000 interest-free.

Indeed, the contract suggests that the loan had already taken place, since a €50,000 repayment had taken place on the day of the contract itself, and that a further payment was expected by the end of the month on 31 March, 2014, and a further €50,000 to be paid by 30 April 2014.

A final payment of €600,000 had to be paid by not later than 15 February, 2015 – less than a year later. The contract, however, bound the creditors to repay the entire sum within seven days of being notified by Chircop of any default in payment terms.

Schembri and Cassar, who together owned Cassar & Schembri Marketing – which acquired and supplied foodstuffs to the More Supermarket chain – issued two loan notes to Chircop, personally in their names for the debt.

Additionally, Agius was guarantor on the debt, presenting as a special hypothec his grand villa property on Engineer Street, Madliena heights. Chircop exempted the notary, Malcolm Mangion, from carrying out the usual searches on the title and the property guarantee.

Three months later, Schembri started transferring his supermarket business to a new investor, the restaurateur Darren Casha, who was then under the impression that the More Supermarkets chain was in excellent financial health. Schembri later fled the island in September 2014.

Subsequently, and six months after Chircop’s murder, Adrian Agius took recourse to the law courts in a bid to cancel the notarial deed that had locked in his property as guarantee for the €750,000 debt.

Chircop’s widow, however, refused the claim, insisting that Agius himself had informed Chircop “to take his villa in Madliena as repayment for the loan to Erom. If what he now claims is true, [Agius] would have not put the villa up… the business that was to take place with Carmel Chircop never did happen because the agreement was that either Erom or the loan guarantor, pay back the money loaned to them.”

Yet neither party ever made it to court to take a stand on the alleged claim.

Indeed, in September 2017 the house Agius put up as a guarantee was sold for €1.8 million. The notary was the same person who set out the deed for Chircop’s loan.

Soon after, following various deferments, Agius’s lawyer Arthur Azzopardi told the court in January 2018 that Agius was renouncing the case after an out-of-court settlement with the Chircop heirs.

‘Where will it all dovetail?’ Revisiting the criminal landscape preceding the Caruana Galizia assassination

Chircop’s debtors: Schembri and Agius held joint company

When the Caruana Galizia assassination suspects were arrested back in December 2017, police also arrested seven other men: two of them were Adrian and Robert Agius, sons of murdered car dealer Raymond Agius ‘tal-Maskar’, shot dead in 2008 in the Butterfly Bar of Birkirkara. His killers were never apprehended. The Agiuses were later released, while three men – George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat – were charged with the murder.

It remains unclear why he and his brother had been apprehended. Yet in his testimony in court, the assassination’s middleman turned State’s evidence Melvin Theuma, alleged in court that someone by the nickname of ‘Maksar’ had procured the bomb that was used by the executors of the Caruana Galizia assassination. The name was never stated in court.

Agius had earned a mention on Caruana Galizia’s blog when she mentioned him three times in one day – 12 October 2014. The story of the day was news of the More Supermarkets bust that left an alleged €40 million in debts after its prime mover Ryan Schembri ran away from the island.

Agius held a directorship in a company related to More’s main shareholder Ryan Schembri – cousin of bête noire Keith Schembri (he had yet to reach Panama notoriety). With Schembri as director of the company Interaa Holdings, the shareholders were made up of Schembri’s own Cassar & Schembri Marketing (40%), M&R Construction (15%) and Panelix Supplies (25%), and Agius’s Imora Holdings (20%).

Caruana Galizia had alleged that Agius was taking loans from businessmen wanting to avoid tax, and promised interest of 20% on alleged shipments of “meat from Brazil” – her quotation marks indicating a heightened sense of scepticism. Yet these claims have so far never been backed by evidence.

Still, Caruana Galizia did place Agius as a friend and close associate of alleged drug dealer Terence Gialanze, who vanished in November 2012 at the age of 24, and is now presumed dead.

MaltaToday has since established that Gialanze had been in business with Agius and his brother Robert, and that four weeks before disappearing, he had disposed of his shares in the company.

Company documents show that Gialanze set up Globe International Enterprises Ltd with the Agius brothers in 2009 to import and export beverages, detergents, cosmetics, toiletries, sanitaryware and food. Shareholding was split equally between the three men. However, on 2 November 2012, company records show that Gialanze transferred his shareholding (2,000 shares) to Imora Holdings Ltd, belonging to Adrian Agius.

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