The former chief of staff for ex-Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri, was arraigned in court Saturday on charges of money-laundering, fraud and corruption.
The charges were brought following a magisterial inquiry into payment of €650,000 from Schembri to the former managing director of Allied Newspapers, Ltd., Adrian Hillman, when the news company had bought a printing press from Schembri’s business. There are allegations of payments being made to secret companies and financial structures, some of which were even set offshore in Switzerland and Gibraltar.
Schembri is part of Malta’s politically influential class and resigned in November 2019 over claims of masterminding a conspiracy for the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an anti-corruption investigative journalist who was killed by a car bomb in October 2017. Her death caused a huge outcry in the country, leading to the eventual resignation of Muscat in 2019.
While the charges in the present case relate to an investigation of financial crimes and do not relate to the murder, many see it as a step towards the vindication of Galizia’s work. The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation welcomed Schembri’s arraignment but said it was long overdue:
The failure to prosecute Schembri five years ago allowed him to commit crimes related to Daphne’s assassination and her investigative work. Prosecuting Schembri today brings us a step closer to a Malta where no one is above the law. It is the country Daphne fought for and the one we all deserve.
Schembri was denied bail on Saturday, and 10 others, many of them his associates and business partners, were arraigned for similar offences. The police also brought charges against four companies. Schembri has pleaded not guilty, terming the inquiry a “travesty of injustice” and a plot of the establishment”. Allied Newspapers has denied receipt of any payment from Schembri or knowledge of money laundering and has reiterated its commitment to fully cooperate with the investigation.