MEPs from the Panama committee inquiry visiting Malta next Monday are still awaiting a reply from the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri on whether he will be appearing before them to answer questions.
While Minister Within the Office of the Prime Minister, Konrad Mizzi – one of the two politically exposed persons (PEPs) uncovered by the Panama leaks as owning a company in Panama – yesterday announced that he will appear in front of the committee, Mr Schembri, the Prime Minister’s right-hand man, is still to decide and inform the committee on whether he will accept their invitation.
Asked yesterday by the Times of Malta on whether his chief of staff will be meeting the committee on Monday, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat did not reply.
“That is up to Mr Schembri to communicate to the public,” was his terse answer.
In a reaction, the Nationalist Party said that the Prime Minister should not continue to “hide” behind Mr Schembri but should order his chief of staff to appear in front of the committee.
The main figures behind Nexia BT have declined the invitation to appear before the committee
Dr Mizzi’s last-minute decision to attend Monday’s meeting with the 16-member-strong MEP delegation has led to some changes in the committee’s programme, which will now also include a hearing with Manfred Galdes, the former FIAU boss and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna.
Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar and the Tax Compliance Unit are also scheduled to appear before the committee. The EP’s Panama Committee yesterday sent written questions to Nexia BT – the financial advisory firm that made the necessary arrangements for Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri to open their companies in Panama. Both Brian Tonna and Karl Cini – the main figures behind Nexia BT – have turned down an invitation to appear before the committee but said they would be ready to reply to questions in writing.
The Panama committee has sent its questions to Nexia BT with an emphasis on the third Panamanian company opened at the same time as the ones opened for Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri.
The MEPs asked Nexia BT to say who is the beneficial owner of Egrant – the third company – and to state whether the owner is also a PEP. MEPs also want to know why Nexia BT chose to send the details of the beneficiary owner of Egrant through a Skype call instead of through e-mails as in the case of the two Maltese PEPs.
The Panama committee asked Mr Tonna – the managing partner of Nexia BT – to explain his relationship with Keith Schembri and Mr Schembri’s private business, the Kasco Group.
He was also asked whether it was true that he had a desk at the office of the Prime Minster and whether he thought that there was a conflict of interest, given that “he has been in business with the Prime Minister’s chief of staff”.
It has been established that despite opening a trust in New Zealand and a company in Panama, both Dr Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff failed to notify, as obliged by law, the local tax authorities of their overseas financial vehicles.
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