Police have called in a number of people for questioning as part of an investigation into alleged graft and money laundering involving former chief of staff Keith Schembri and ex-Allied Newspapers managing director Adrian Hillman.

Sources said police had spoken to Matthew Pace, Malcolm Scerri and Vincent Buhagiar over the past two days. All three have since been released.  

Pace used to be involved in Zenith Financial Management, (formerly MFSP Financial Management), used by Schembri for offshore transactions exposed in the Panama Papers.

Scerri is a business partner of Schembri and fronts some of his local operations.  

Buhagiar served as the former managing director of Allied Newspapers, preceding Hillman.

Sources said other interrogations were planned in the coming days, including Schembri who is currently on quarantine having tested positive for COVID-19. Hillman is currently overseas and is also expected to face interrogation.

The police have also approached Progress Press to provide further documents dating back to Hillman's tenure. 

On Sunday, Times of Malta reported how criminal charges are expected to be filed against Schembri and Hillman.

Police and the state prosecutor’s office are understood to be mapping a way forward to take court action against the two with one high-level source saying the pair could be charged in court “in a few weeks”.

The expected court action comes on the back on an inquiry, conducted by Magistrate Josette Demicoli, which was handed over to the state prosecutor’s office for consideration last Monday.

Although its conclusions have so far remained under wraps, sources told Times of Malta that the inquiry had recommended criminal charges be filed against both Schembri and Hillman.

It is not yet known whether the planned charges will include the crimes of money laundering and graft, or less serious offences such as deliberate tax evasion. The allegations of financial crime surrounding the two were first reported by Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2016.

Former opposition leader Simon Busuttil had then requested the inquiry, based on information found in a leaked intelligence report, following fears that the police at the time were deliberately not proceeding with the case.

Leaked report had flagged 30 'suspicious transactions'

The leaked Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit report had detailed how Schembri allegedly filtered over €650,000 to Hillman in over 30 “suspicious transactions” between 2011 and 2015.

Hillman was also found to have deposited €225,000 in cash into his HSBC account between January 2011 and February 2016.

In May 2017, Simon Busuttil presented then magistrate, now judge, Aaron Bugeja with eight box files of documents which, he said, contained detailed proof of €650,000 in transactions from Schembri to Hillman, who at the time was at the helm of the company which publishes Times of Malta, among other publications.

Bugeja had decreed that there was sufficient evidence for the files to be considered further by an ad hoc magisterial inquiry.

The opposition described the matter as a clear case of bribery and money laundering linked to a major investment undertaken by Allied Group to purchase a new printing press in Mrieħel.

Hillman went on garden leave and the company severed all ties with him shortly afterwards.

Allied Newspapers Ltd has said it has no knowledge of the payments allegedly paid to its former managing director.

According to the documents presented to the inquiring magistrate, Schembri used bank accounts in Switzerland and Gibraltar, as well as the Ta’ Xbiex-based Pilatus Bank, to pass the money to Hillman directly or through his secret company Lester Holdings with the assistance of Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna.

The FIAU report was compiled after some of the secret structures used for these transactions were revealed in the 2016 Panama Papers leak.

To date, no one implicated in the leak has been prosecuted.

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