The Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri refused to state who owns the mysterious Dubai company 17 Black today, instead attempting to mock the Times of Malta journalist who chased him through Valletta to find out the answer.
Schembri, who had just left the courts yesterday for a libel case he had instigated against former PN leader Simon Busuttil, originally stonewalled the journalist by referring him to ongoing magisterial inquiries into his offshore dealings.
The Prime Minister’s communications chief Kurt Farrugia then stepped in to add that Schembri would be giving evidence before the said inquiries of his own volition.
However, when the journalist pointed out that Schembri’s financial advisers Nexia BT had named 17 Black as one of two companies that would pay his Panama company $1 million a year, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff changed his tone.
“Maybe I used the [$1 million] to pay your wages, like I did over the past three years,” he said condescendingly. “I’ve been answering your stupid questions for the past four years. I won’t even bother answering you as you write whatever you want.”
This was ostensibly a referral to how Schembri’s Kasco Group supplies paper to Progress Press, the sister company of Allied Newspapers – which owns the Times of Malta.
As Schembri walked up the steps of Castille, he turned to the journalist and jokingly invited him in for a coffee, before reminding him that he needs to walk through a side door to get an access card first.
Look at how @keithaschembri makes a fool of himself trying to run away from questions on #17BLACK, just like he did yesterday in Court. But sooner or later #justice will catch up with him. @FbdnStories https://t.co/YqAzmJuQWM
— Simon Busuttil (@SimonBusuttil) June 5, 2018
The Dubai company 17 Black was first mentioned by now-assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a cryptic blogpost back in February 2017. In an email to now-defunct Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, leaked as part of the Panama Papers, Nexia BT named 17 Black and another Dubai company as target clients that would fund the Panama companies of Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi to the tune of $1 million a year each.
While Schembri and Mizzi never managed to open bank accounts for their companies, extracts from an unfinished Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) report show that 17 Black did indeed have an account.
Moreover, 17 Black had received three payments – one single payment of €161,000 from the local agent for the tanker supplying gas to the LNG power station and two separate payments amounting to €1.1 million from an unnamed Azeri national. To make matters worse, the €1.1 million was sent to 17 Black via ABLV, a Latvian bank that was recently embroiled in an international scandal after the United States accused it of enabling transactions linked to North Korea’s weapons program and of facilitating corruption connected to Azerbaijan, Russia and Ukraine. The European Central Bank eventually forced the bank to close its doors.
While Schembri later confirmed that 17 Black was included as part of his business plan, Mizzi insisted that he set up his offshore structure for family planning purposes but has shown no signs of suing Nexia BT for misrepresentation.