Times of Malta’s editor-in-chief has distanced himself from Keith Schembri’s recent claim that he had managed to build a strong “bridge” with the newspaper.
“Keith Schembri said he built a bridge with Times of Malta, but he built it with [former Allied Newspapers managing director] Adrian Hillman, who was part of Allied Newspapers,” Herman Grech said during a live stream by Repubblika last Saturday.
“If he tried to build bridges with the editorial side of the company, it would have been in the way every chief of staff and Prime Minister tries to build bridges with everyone. We speak to everyone but it doesn’t mean we’ll be bought out by anyone.”
Grech strongly dismissed allegations that his company is in bed with Schembri, arguing that his journalists’ work on the Panama Papers in recent years is proof enough “that the famous bridge Keith Schembri referred to didn’t exist”.
“It’s important that we’re fair with everyone but I can assure you that right now there are many attempts to smear and disarm the media to prevent it from impacting society.”
“This is taking place strategically and certain people, including Keith Schembri, are doing their utmost to try and smear The Times.”
He said that although the situation is “very uncomfortable” for Times of Malta, he pledged his newspaper will keep on following and pursuing the story, even if it ends up implicating former or current directors.
“That’s what justice requires.”
Schembri was recently charged with corruption, money laundering, criminal conspiracy, fraud, giving false testimony and making false declarations.
The charges are related to two magisterial inquiries. One inquiry is related to allegations that Schembri channeled over €650,000 to Hillman between 2011 and 2015, and the other is related to suspected kickbacks amounting to €100,000 from the sale of citizenship between Schembri and Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna.
Hillman is expected to be extradited from the UK to Malta to face charges, while Vince Buhagiar, his predecessor as Allied Newspapers, has been charged with money laundering, criminal conspiracy, fraud, corruption and false declarations to both Customs and Malta Enterprise.
Shortly before his arrest, Schembri wrote an impassioned Facebook post, alleging that the charges were nothing but an attempt to accommodate Moneyval and a plot by the “Nationalist establishment”, who couldn’t believe that his company Kasco had won a tender to build a new Progress Press printing press fair and square.
“This same establishment couldn’t understand how a Labourite had built such a strong bridge with Times of Malta,” Schembri wrote. “This bridge was so strong that Times of Malta was ready to at least listen to what the Labour Party had to say, after years where the relationship between the two sides was inexistent.”