Updated 9.15pm with Brian Tonna's reaction
A magistrate has decided there are enough grounds for chief of staff Keith Schembri and Nexia BT's Brian Tonna to face a criminal investigation over the sale of passports scandal, the Opposition leader said this evening.
"This is a dramatic development... Keith Schembri and Brian Tonna should be taken to court," Simon Busuttil said in a statement on Net TV, shortly after he said he had been informed that Magistrate Aaron Bugeja found enough grounds to proceed against the two.
Dr Busuttil presented his proof in court testimony which showed that €166,831 had been paid by three Russian nationals - whose identity is known - after applying for Maltese citizenship.
Shortly after Mr Tonna received the money, he made two payments to Mr Schembri's account, of €50,000 each.
Mr Schembri and Mr Tonna denied the claims, saying that the payment was for a loan granted in 2012.
Addressing a news conference this evening, Mr Schembri's lawyer Edward Gatt said his client "will not appeal and will not resign". Mr Schembri was not present for the conference.
Dr Busuttil said that news of the decree (read decree in pdf link below) meant that a magistrate should be appointed to lead a new inquiry into the allegations.
"From now on, I'm no longer alone in making these allegations. With the proof I presented, the magistrate felt there's enough to carry out an investigation."
Dr Busuttil said Dr Muscat had travelled around the world to sell Maltese passports, often accompanied by Mr Schembri. Yet until this morning, the prime minister said he has faith in his chief of staff.
"Muscat is personally responsible for Schembri's actions. Not only should Muscat leave, but he no longer has a place in politics. This election is not a normal one. The choice is between Malta and a leader struggling under accusations of corruption encircling the people around him," Dr Busuttil said.
Addressing a political rally in the evening, the prime minister said the magistrate decided that the papers Dr Busuttil had taken to him did not have anything to do with the case he was investigating and should be passed on to another magistrate.
Read: Muscat downplays magistrate’s decision
This was also the claim made in a statement issued by the government immediately after Dr Busuttil's statement.
The government said that what Dr Busuttil asked the court to investigate was not relevant to the "false allegation" that the Prime Minister and his relatives had anything to do with the secret Panama company Egrant.
Dr Muscat has asked the inquiring magistrate to investigate allegations that Egrant was owned by his wife Michelle.
In another statement, the Labour Party said the court's decision today clearly showed that Dr Busuttil's allegations on Dr Muscat were a lie.
The PL said that what the court said confirmed that Dr Busuttil had not presented any proof against the Prime Minister.
This was just pre-electoral rubbish by a desperate Opposition leader, the PL said.
Keith Schembri 'will not appeal and will not resign' - lawyer
Addressing a press conference in outside the law courts, lawyers Edward Gatt and Paul Lia said their client did not want to appeal as he was concerned about the timing of these proceedings.
Asked whether Mr Schembri would be stepping down in view of the new developments, Dr Gatt said he would not, “as there was nothing for which he should step down”.
Dr Gatt emphasised that the only thing the magistrate did was order a separate investigation as the claims made by the leader of the Opposition were not related to the claims on the Prime Minister's wife and her association with Egrant.
The magistrate only said that the claims made by the Dr Busuttil should be investigated in a separate forum, Dr Gatt said.
“It will then be up to the new magistrate to see whether the claims on the kickbacks merit a bill of indictment against my client.”
Dr Gatt said this was Mr Schembri's position and one had to see what Mr Tonna's position was going to be.
Asked why Mr Schembri was not present for the conference to face the media himself, Dr Gatt said Mr Schembri should be asked that question.
Pressed to state whether the police should have investigated the case on its own once it became conscious of the kickback and corruption claims, Dr Gatt asked the media to seek a reply from the Police Commissioner.
Reports that magistrate found sufficient evidence for criminal investigation 'false and incorrect' - Brian Tonna
In a statement this evening, Mr Tonna said the reports to the effect that the magistrate found sufficient evidence for a criminal investigation to be launched in his and Mr Schembri’s regard were false and incorrect.
"The magistrate did not evaluate any evidence, let alone make any factual finding, not even a preliminary one. Rather, the magistrate found simply that the allegations are such that, if proved, can lead to the conclusion that an offence or offences have been committed.
"This is a very different determination to the one as reported, which is intended to convey the message that the magistrate weighed the evidence and drew conclusions from it. This is simply not the case."
He categorically denied the accusations of corruption and money laundering saying they were entirely without basis in fact.
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