Keith Schembri (left) with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat after Labour’s election victory last year
The Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri has once again dodged a cross-examination in court as part of a libel case he had instigated against former PN leader Simon Busuttil two years ago.
In court today, Schembri argued for the first time that a cross-examination could prejudice the outcome of ongoing magisterial inquiries into the Panama Papers and insisted it be postponed until after the inquiries are concluded.
Schembri had sued Busuttil in March 2016 after the then-PN leader addressed an anti-corruption protest in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal – which revealed that Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi owned offshore companies.
On 16th October 2017, Schembri took to the witness stand to swear on the cross that he never received kickbacks, an incident which prompted Daphne Caruana Galizia to write her last-ever blogpost before she was assassinated.
Busuttil’s lawyers were originally supposed to cross-examine Schembri in March, but the sitting got postponed after the Prime Minister’s chief of staff didn’t turn up because he “hadn’t been notified in advance”.
Then in May, magistrate Francesco Depasquale postponed Schembri’s cross-examination yet again pending the outcome of an application filed before him by Busuttil and PN David Casa for an inquiry into 17 Black – the mysterious Dubai company which was named as a target client for Mizzi’s and Schembri’s companies. Depasquale eventually ruled that 17 Black didn’t warrant its own separate inquiry but should form part of another wider inquiry into the Panama Papers that was approved by the court but appealed by high-ranking officials, including the Prime Minister.
The cross-examination was meant to take place today, but was put off yet again after Schembri’s lawyer insisted that it should be put off pending the conclusion of several ongoing magisterial inquires into the Panama Papers. Depasquale postponed the case till October when he is expected to make a ruling on Schembri’s request.
“I asked to be given the chance to give evidence in front of the inquiries set in motion by Simon Busuttil,” Schembri tweeted after the sitting. “One year ago today he was given the lesson of his life. But he learnt nothing. Truth will prevail, and Busuttil will hopefully stop his sorry shenanigans.”
Busuttil retorted that Schembri’s excuse is tantamount to an admission that he is under criminal investigation.
“Why is Joseph Muscat still keeping him in office? [Schembri] can run but he cannot hide. Justice will prevail.”