Criminal proceedings against Keith Schembri and his associates resumed today with the former OPM chief of staff still absent from court as a result of cancer treatment he is understood to be receiving.
Schembri’s father Alfio, along with Kasco Group CEO Malcolm Scerri and financial controller Robert Zammit were in court again today as proceedings against them continued today before the courts.
Keith Schembri has been granted an exemption from appearing in court after it was informed back in May that he was receiving treatment for an illness, understood to be a brain tumour.
Given that the case is still in the compilation of evidence stage, proceedings can continue without Schembri. A decision on a way forward will have to be taken if and when a bill of indictment is issued.
During today’s sitting, the court heard from police officers who described the accused’s arrest as well as searches of their properties and belongings.
It also heard from Mario Vella, who previously held the role of Malta Enterprise chairman at the time when Progress Press had applied for a grant to help fund the purchase of printing press equipment from Kasco Engineering – part of the Kasco group of companies.
The equipment’s sale was the subject of one of two magisterial inquiries into Schembri’s dealings on which the charges against him and his co-accused are based.
Vella ran the court through what he knew about the procedure involved in applying for a Malta Enterprise grant, emphasising that such funding could only be provided to cover costs related to capital investment and not to fund operations.
Replying to questions by defence lawyer Mark Vassallo, Vella confirmed that Progress Press had requested a grant for an investment it planned to make that was estimated to cost some €5.6 million. He also confirmed that Malta Enterprise had agreed to fund €1.6 million of the costs.
In previous sittings, the defence has argued that it could not be stated that Progress Press had attempted to defraud Malta Enterprise by requesting funding for consumables – which can’t be covered by such grants – arguing that the company had made it clear in its application that the cost of the project included consumables.
Vassallo asked Vella to confirm how the €1.6 million figure had been arrived at, suggesting that the Malta Enterprise had been aware that the grant would also be going to consumables, given that the amount it had agreed to fund was calculated as a percentage of the estimated €5.6 million to project was envisaged to cost.
Vella said he could not remember exactly how the figure was calculated, with Vassallo insisting that he confirm this and be made to return and reply to the question.
Vassallo also pointed out that a Malta Enterprise employee tasked with analysing the company’s proposal had told the court that the letter of intent issued in relation to the grant was based on the company’s proposal – which listed consumables in the total cost – but Vella said this was not the case, and that the letter of intent would have been issued on the basis of the board’s assessment of the proposal.
All four men have been charged with alleged crimes identified in two magisterial inquiries. The first was linked to claims that Schembri had received kickbacks linked to the sale of Maltese citizenship from his accountant and IIP scheme agent Brian Tonna.
The second inquiry delved into the suspected corruption in a purchasing of printing press equipment by Progress Press through Kasco Engineering and which is believed to have seen Schembri and his associates defraud the company out of millions.
Lawyers Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo are appearing for the accused and Andrea Zammit from the Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting. Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech is presiding.
The case continues in October.
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