A court on Monday issued an order to freeze all assets held by former chief of staff Keith Schembri, including his companies, as well as those of his accountants at Nexia BT Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, among others.

A garnishee order was placed on bank assets and the court issued freezing orders on movable and immovable property belonging to a number of people, including family members of the two men. 

The attachment order was issued by madam justice Edwina Grima at the request of the attorney general.

The court said it agreed with the attorney general that there was reasonable suspicion that the persons mentioned in the application are guilty of a crime under clause 3 of chapter 373 of the Laws of Malta.

Clause 3, chapter 373 concerns the investigation and prosecutions of offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.    

Dozens of companies, Maltese banks, and local authorities such as the Commissioner for Revenue, Customs, Lands and the Stock Exchange were given 24 hours to comply with the order to notify all possessions of the people in question, together with any goods, accounts, services or safety deposit boxes they have with Maltese financial institutions.

An attachment order freezes the suspects' assets for 45 days, which is further extendable by another 45 days.

Concluded inquiry into kickback claims 

It comes days after news  that a magisterial inquiry into claims that Schembri took a €100,000 kickback on passport sales was concluded.

The inquiry was based on a leaked FIAU report that raised suspicions about two €50,000 transactions that passed between the pair via Pilatus Bank. The men had said that the €100,000 was repayment of a loan from Schembri to Tonna. 

The attorney general had declined to publish the report "at this stage".

Times of Malta reported on Sunday that business advisory services company Nexia BT, the firm which Tonna led as managing partner and which opened offshore companies for Schembri and former minister Konrad Mizzi, will be hiving off much of its operations to another company. 

Schembri and Tonna's offshore dealings were laid bare by the Panama Papers data leak in 2016. 

At the time, the attorney general had told the police that seizing Nexia BT's servers to gather evidence would be too intrusive. 

The police took little tangible action after that date to continue the Panama Papers investigation. 

A leaked e-mail published by the Daphne Project in 2018 linked Schembri and former minister Mizzi to 17 Black, the mystery company owned by murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.

Police are still in the process of seeking information from the United Arab Emirates to confirm Fenech's ownership of the company.

News of the development spread like wildfire on Monday night, with many critics of Schembri saying justice is finally about to be served. 

Among them was former Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil, who had first made the kickback allegation about Schembri and requested the inquiry into them.   

The Nationalist Party in a statement welcomed the development.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia said Prime Minister Robert Abela needed to shoulder responsibility for the way he and his colleagues had defended Schembri while 'he laundered money derived from corruption'. 

The PN said it was a shame that Monday's development had not taken place several years ago, and it expected the authorities to act without further waste of time to ensure that all those responsible for corruption faced justice.  

Rule of law organisation Repubblika said the fight for truth and justice would continue. 

The NGO pointed out that for a long time some people hindered or had not done his duty to reveal corruption. It hoped that after a four-year delay before, it was not too late for justice to be done.

It paid tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated because she wanted a Malta that was free of corruption.

The NGO said it would not tolerate any interference by the prime minister in the public inquiry into the state's responsibilities in the Caruana Galizia assassination. 

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