After two years of public denials, former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri has finally admitted he knew all along that 17 Black was owned by murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.
When Times of Malta and Reuters first revealed Fenech was 17 Black’s owner in November 2018, Schembri had flatly denied knowing the Tumas business magnate was behind the company.
In the summer leading up to revelations about 17 Black ownership, on one occasion Schembri declined to answer multiple questions by Times of Malta about who owned the company.
Even in April 2018, when the Daphne Project first unearthed an e-mail linking 17 Black to Schembri’s once-secret Panama company, Schembri had initially declined to answer specific questions about the e-mail, then later issued a statement saying he had “draft business plans” with 17 Black.
Schembri had claimed he was 'not aware' of e-mail
Schembri had also claimed that at the time it was sent, he was unaware of the contents of the e-mail sent by his own financial advisers Nexia BT.
However, that all changed in court on Monday.
Schembri said on the witness stand that he had listed 17 Black as a target client because Fenech was a good friend of his and a person with whom he wished to do business in the future, once he left politics.
The former chief of staff has always claimed that he stopped his business dealings when he took up the position in 2013, yet he has now admitted that he was planning to do business with Fenech.
Schembri said he had 20 “target clients” in total.
However, in an e-mail sent by Nexia BT, who had set up the Panama company for him, only two target clients are mentioned: 17 Black and Macbridge. It is still not known who owns Macbridge.
The e-mail, dated December 17, 2015, said that Schembri’s Panama company, along with that of former minister Konrad Mizzi, would receive up to $2 million from 17 Black in a single year.
Times of Malta and Reuters revealed on Friday how 17 Black made a €4.6 million profit off Enemalta’s decision to buy a wind farm plot in Montenegro.
Schembri has yet to respond to a request for comment about the wind farm deal.
Former prime minister Joseph Muscat told Times of Malta that to his knowledge, Schembri was not involved in negotiating the wind farm deal, but it was best to ask him directly about it.
Muscat on 17 Black
Muscat has been similarly reticent when asked if he knew that Fenech was 17 Black’s owner.
In April 2019, Muscat said he saw no need to ask Schembri simply out of curiosity what his plans were with 17 Black.
During the days leading up to Fenech’s arrest, Muscat too claimed not to know who owns the company.
He also claimed he could not remember the last time he met Fenech, despite having him at his birthday bash early on in the year.
According to Schembri's testimony on Monday, it was the prime minister who instructed his chief of staff to contact Fenech to advise him not to leave the country hours before his eventual arrest.