The new currency-printing facility attracted to Malta with the help of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, purchased equipment serviced by his company Kasco, the Times of Malta has learnt.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat described Mr Schembri as the “catalyst in making sure things got done” when the deal to bring Crane Currency to Malta was first inked in September 2016.
A few days later, Dr Muscat said he had “no clue” if Mr Schembri was set to personally gain from the deal after it emerged that Crane Currency could buy equipment from Japanese firm Komori, represented in Malta by Kasco.
Mr Schembri later admitted in a statement that his company “may” be tasked with servicing the Komori machines if Crane Currency decided to buy them, “as had been the case with the other company in the currency industry that operates in Malta”.
Crane Currency’s Komori machines were bought directly from the Japanese manufacturer.
Four Komori machines have been installed at Crane’s Ħal Far plant, industry sources said. The Japanese company brought over a team of experts to oversee the installation of the equipment, they added.
Mr Schembri's company was set to earn thousands of euros from the servicing agreement over the lifespan of the Komori machines, the printing industry source noted. Asked how much Mr Schembri stood to gain from Crane’s decision to buy the equipment and whether this was a conflict of interest, a spokesman for the Prime Minister asked this newspaper to “direct your questions to the director of the company”.
“It is public knowledge that Allied Group, among other printing houses, have similar arrangements with Kasco Group. In those cases, much as in the case you refer to, Keith Schembri was not involved in any way, therefore, there is no conflict of interest,” the spokesman said. “For transparency’s sake, I insist you publish this reply in its entirety,” he continued.
Although Mr Schembri resigned from his directorship of various companies in 2013, he retained a 99.9 per cent shareholding in the main holding company.
Former Labour prime minister Alfred Sant last week questioned the subsidies given by the government to Crane.
Crane, which recently changed hands for $800 million, was given loan guarantees by Malta Enterprise to purchase, among other things, plant and machinery, including the Komori equipment.
This paper has reported that Mr Schembri financially benefitted from a number of government contracts post-2013, when Labour was returned to power.
Information furnished after a request from the Times of Malta under the Freedom of Information Act showed that Kasco won six tenders worth €193,905 to supply paper to the government printing press between 2013 and March 2015.
The printing press falls under the direct control of the Prime Minister’s Office. The company also won a €85,000 tender to supply Enemalta with photocopy paper.
In 2016, Mr Schembri’s wife, Josette, set up a company called Temple Concierge offering services linked to the controversial cash-for-passports scheme.
Dr Muscat last month skirted questions in Parliament about whether Ms Schembri’s role in the company amounted to conflict of interest for his chief of staff.
Mr Schembri is being investigated by the Magistrates’ Court after a report by the government anti-money-laundering agency raised the possibility that he took a €100,000 kickback on passport sales.
He is also the subject of a separate inquiry over €650,000 in payments he passed on to Adrian Hillman, the former managing director of Allied Newspapers. Mr Schembri has denied any wrongdoing.
In an e-mail on the eve of last year’s June election, Mr Schembri said Dr Muscat, who he described as his best friend, had rejected his offers to resign on various occasions.