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Keith Schembri Opened Pilatus Bank Account Weeks Before Alleged Transfer On Passport Kickbacks

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Keith Schembri, who was the then-OPM chief of staff, had opened an account at Pilatus Bank just weeks before transfers on an alleged passport kickbacks scheme took place.

A police inspector told a court this morning that Schembri opened the account in June 2015. He received an initial transfer of €50,000 on 25th June 2015 and a further €50,000 on 19th August 2015.

According to a magisterial inquiry, Schembri is alleged to have made illegal commissions off of three Russian nationals who had applied for Maltese passports through the IIP scheme from Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna.

While the inspector did confirm that there was no prima facie evidence of kickbacks, she said that the explanations given by the men were not credible.

The inspector said that several documents and emails used to justify their claims that the payments were related to a loan given to Tonna by Schembri to assist with a legal separation were backdated. 

Experts concluded that the documents were only created after the Panama Papers leak.

A document created in 2016 referred to a transaction that happened in 2015, while minutes of a 2013 meeting was drafted in April 2016.

The inspector also revealed that Tonna, who kept notes even for very small expenses, had no notes concerning the loan. Meanwhile, Schembri said he could not remember details about signing the loan agreement, while Tonna said he could not remember who had prepared the agreement. 

The funds were transferred by Willerby Trade, where Tonna, Karl Cini, and Manuel Castagna serve as directors. The inspector said that if it was for a personal loan repayment then Tonna would have likely used the myriad of personal accounts registered under his name.

Willerby, quite notably, was initially registered to be a fund to register commissions from the IIP scheme. 

Schembri also had a second account at Pilatus, linked to a Mastercard credit card. It was used to pay €19,000 for shares in an offshore firm named Tillgate.

When interrogated by police, Schembri insisted that the accounts were for family planning, saying that he did not list himself as a PEP because he did not know he had to do so. He was serving as chief of staff for around two years at the time.

Meanwhile, Tonna insisted there was no initial loan agreement because Schembri was helping out a friend. 

Both men regularly stuck by the testimony given in the magisterial inquiry on the case and refused to change their timeline of events.

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Julian doesn’t like to talk about himself. But if he did, he would let you know that he’s into anything that has got to do with politics, the environment, social issues, and human interest stories.

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