Josette Schembri Vella, the wife of disgraced former Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, has been charged with money laundering months after her husband’s day of reckoning.
For many, she has worked quietly in the shadows, barely making the news before today’s developments. Schembri Vella is more than just Schembri’s wife, she’s his shrewd business partner with interests that stretch across some of Malta’s most controversial industries, including the sale of passports and road works.
So, who is Josette Schembri Vella, the wife of one of Malta’s most infamous political figures that’s now also facing criminal charges?
The Schembris have been together for roughly two decades and prior to Keith’s entry into politics, they were mostly known as up-and-coming figures within the business community.
While her husband made a name for himself in the paper industry, notably through Kasco Ltd., Josette’s interests were initially focused upon the design field, setting up LOFT through 3 City Design Ltd, which counts Kasco as a shareholder and Nexia BT as its former auditor.
LOFT positioned itself as one of the spots for interior decoration – with its now-defunct shop in Naxxar proving a popular spot for people all across the islands.
Still, the business had quickly become a point of controversy once Keith Schembri became chief of staff and enterprises from all corners began to court favour with one of the head honchos of Joseph Muscat’s administration.
In July 2019, Lovin Malta revealed that a controversial development project in Balluta Bay having long been criticised for breaching planning laws was “designed and styled” by LOFT.
The development in question is being led by Michael Stivala, the Secretary-General of the Malta Developer’s Association. It has been mired in controversy with Din L-Art Helwa’s Alex Torpiano even penning an article to show how the project, which juts out onto the bay, was slowly altered and approved with a series of different permits.
Schembri Vella’s charges deal expressly with her involvement in 3 City Design Ltd. The offences reportedly date back to 2008, the same year the company was opened, with inspectors identifying a number of transactions that went from Kasco Group to 3 City Design, and back to Kasco Group.
The amount of money suspected to have been laundered is in the region of €1.5 million. The exact specifics are still unclear and we will all find out more in subsequent sittings.
However, Josette Schembri Vella first thrust herself into the spotlight after opening up Temple Concierge, a company that offers a range of services for the ultra-rich, most notably referring clientele to the sale of Maltese passports as part of the citizenship by investment scheme.
The company, and accompanying magazine, has changed faces many times over the last few years, recently re-launching with none other than Alex Cutajar, Konrad Mizzi’s former head of communications, by her side.
Her involvement in the sector had raised eyebrows at the time, however, the issues were quickly dismissed, with Schembri Vella removing all trace of the company’s passport service from the website.
Still, almost four years later, serious questions remain, particularly since Keith Schembri’s arrest and charges in connection to kickbacks from the controversial scheme.
As mentioned, Schembri Vella’s business interests are wide-ranging with her family’s massive stake in the construction and road works industry raising concerns after it was revealed that they raked in millions from direct orders and contracts.
Schembri Vella is a shareholder in Carmel Limited, the sole shareholder of Central Asphalt Limited.
A freedom of information request by Lovin Malta revealed that Central Asphalt Limited made millions under the Labour Government, with its total government earnings between 2013 and 2019 standing at around €16,435,000.
The company was even part of a consortium awarded a €6,000,000 contract to help complete the Marsa Junction Project, and it was also one of the major developers of Malta’s Coast Road, which was revealed to cost €49 million by then Infrastructure Minister Joe Mizzi.
Schembri Vella is also involved in FSV Limited – a Kasco Group company where both she and her father-in-law Alfio Schembri, who has also been charged with money laundering, served as directors. The company was a private property arm of the group.
Through her husband, Schembri Vella also has links to a wealth of companies under Keith Schembri’s empire – which include K&S Malta Ltd, K&S Marketing Ltd, Graphic Supplies Ltd, Kasco Recycling Ltd, Kasco Holdings Ltd, Kasco Trading Ltd, Kasco Ltd, Kasco Engineering Ltd, Cinebiss Ltd, and wealth of offshore structures from Cyprus, BVI, Gibraltar, New Zealand, Panama, and others.
Until today, Schembri Vella played her role from the shadows, oftentimes evading all criminal associations brought on by her husband’s alleged crimes.
The Schembris’ web is far-reaching, hopefully the courts will further shine a light on their tentacled control over Malta.
What do you think of the charges?