The Nationalist Party has called out The Times of Malta for its business relationship with Keith Schembri and has questioned how heavily indebted it is to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff.
Schembri is the owner of the Kasco Group, Malta’s leading distributor of paper and printing equipment. Kasco supplies paper to the printing press Progress Press, the sister company of the Allied Group – which owns the Times of Malta.
PN paper Il-Mument today sought answers on how heavily indebted Allied Newspapers is to the Kasco Group.
“For the sake of transparency and good governance, which The Times often preaches about in its editorials, we asked how heavily indebted The Times, Allied Newspapers and Progress Press are to Keith Schembri and his companies,” the report states.
However, answers were in short supply.
Il-Mument suggested business interests are behind The Times’ critical reportage of Opposition leader Adrian Delia
“As a private company, it is contrary to our policy to discuss matters of a commercial or internal nature,” Allied Newspapers managing director Michel Rizzo explained.
Rizzo was appointed Allied managing director in 2016 after Adrian Hillman was dismissed in the wake of claims by now-assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia that he had been receiving kickbacks from Schembri. The claims, which Hillman vehemently denies, are the subject of an ongoing magisterial inquiry.
Retired judge Giovanni Bonello was entrusted with conducting an internal inquiry into the claims, but his findings have not been made public. Meanwhile, Bonello was appointed chairman of the Strickland Foundation, which is a majority shareholder in the Allied Group.
Although The Times has repeatedly pledged that its editorial and business arms are kept at arms’ length, Il-Mument suggested that this was not the case.
“When Hillman was managing director, The Times had harshly attacked Lawrence Gonzi’s government, such as over Arriva and [then Transport Minister] Austin Gatt,” the paper wrote. “Moreover, in the most systematic way possible, The Times pushed the idea that Lawrence Gonzi’s government was rife with internal infighting. We are now seeing the same strategy being deployed.”
Keith Schembri was doorstepped by a Times of Malta journalist about 17 Black last year
This appeared to cast doubt over The Times’ recent critical coverage of the Nationalist Party, such as how the FIAU had flagged a “reasonable suspicion of money laundering” in an investigation into Opposition leader Adrian Delia and how PN MPs Kristy Debono and Hermann Schiavone had requested money from Tumas Group CEO Yorgen Fenech, who also owns the secret Dubai company 17 Black.
Schiavone reacted to this report by suspending himself from the PN, arguing that he wants to shoulder political responsibility as he seeks to clear his name.
Last year, Schembri famously referred to his business relationship with the Allied Group when a Times of Malta journalist grilled him about a leaked email which showed his Panama company was supposed to receive $1 million a year from 17 Black and another Dubai company.
“Maybe I used the [$1 million] to pay your wages, like I did over the past three years,” he said back then.