Updated 4.15pm with OPM response

A court on Monday upheld a request by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil for evidence in the Panama Papers scandal to be preserved.

In a decree by magistrate Doreen Clarke, the court said the documents presented by Dr Busuttil and NGO Repubblika gave credence to the request for an inquiry to preserve evidence.

The magistrate said a series of facts were presented that could indicate a crime took place.

The court said the list of potential crimes presented to it were not fully covered by another inquiry being led by magistrate Charmaine Galea.

For this purpose, the court ordered that the evidence presented to it form part of the inquiry being led by Dr Galea.

The inquiry by Dr Galea is looking into the ownership of the Dubai company 17 Black.

Evidence implicating Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna and Karl Cini as well as LNG tanker agent Mario Pullicino will now form part of this inquiry.

A joint investigation by Times of Malta and Reuters last year revealed that 17 Black is owned by Tumas Group CEO Yorgen Fenech, who forms part of the Electrogas power station consortium.

The Office of the Prime Minister said in a statement that the ruling meant there would be no new inquiry as a result of Dr Busuttil's request but merely an addition to the existing inquiry. The OPM said the magistrate had described a "large overlap" between the issues raised in this request and the inquiry being led by Magistrate Charmaine Galea.

A previous request for a broad inquiry into the Panama Papers filed in 2017 was turned down on appeal in January.

Dr Busuttil said in the 77-page application calling for the magisterial inquiry that the ‘institutional paralysis’ over the Panama Papers scandal breached EU laws.

The former Opposition leader said the country’s institutions “flagrantly and consistently” failed to act against the two top government officials over a three-year period after the Panama Papers leak revealed they opened secretive offshore structures.

He questions the use of bearer shares to further obscure the ownership of the Panama companies opened by Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi as well as the mystery Panama company Egrant.

Using such shares was a classic layering technique used in money-laundering to guarantee the company’s owner absolute secrecy, Dr Busuttil argues in the application.

The use of bearer shares means the only evidence linking a person to the company is the physical share certificate. Nexia BT, the financial advisory firm that set up the three companies, negated the use of such shares.

Dr Busuttil said in the application that German journalist Bastian Obermayer, who received the Panama Papers leak, is willing to vouch for the authenticity of the e-mails that outed Mr Schembri’s and Dr Mizzi’s plans to receive payments of up to $2 million from 17 Black.

Fellow PN MP Jason Azzopardi represented Dr Busuttil and Repubblika in court.

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