Updated 5.40pm, adds government statement
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said today that he has “no clue” if his chief of staff Keith Schembri’s printing business stands to gain from the $100 million investment in Malta by Boston-based currency printers Crane Currency.
Mr Schembri’s company is one of the leading suppliers of printing equipment in Malta.
Mr Schembri was present at the signing of the deal in Boston, last week and the Prime Minister had described him as “the catalyst in making sure that things got done”.
Asked today if his chief of staff was involved in the negotiations, Dr Muscat replied with a curt “no”.
When it was pointed out to him that he himself had said Mr Schembri was involved in the negotiations, the Prime Minister said he simply thanked his chief of staff for his role in facilitating matters. The actual negotiations were between Malta Enterprise and Crane Currency, he said.
Questioned by this newspaper if Mr Schembri’s company would be supplying printing equipment to Crane Currency, Dr Muscat said he had no clue.
“I do not have a clue. Why shouldn’t it, if it is a private company and if it wins a bid, why should it be disqualified?,” Dr Muscat said.
Crane Currency has signalled that a major part of the investment would be in equipment for the new Malta-based facility.
Asked if he saw a conflict of interest given his chief of staff’s role in the deal, Dr Muscat replied: “Not at all, I totally disagree with you”.
He said his chief of staff’s company was not engaged in any government work.
PN DEMANDS ANSWERS
The Nationalist Party said Dr Muscat needed to give a detailed explanation of Mr Schembri's involvement in the Crane deal.
It said Mr Schembri has 'an obvious conflict of interest' and the people deserved to know whether he would be making money from this deal, directly or indirectly.
The party also reiterated that Mr Schembri should be removed by the prime minister, not only because of his secret company in Panama but also because of his 'major conflicts of interest' involving his private business and his public position.
In a statement in the afternoon, the Office of the Prime Minister described the PN reaction as the "latest bitter political attack".
It said the $100 million American investment which will create 300 productive, quality jobs, and the PN reaction is nothing but another desperate attempt to foil quality jobs from coming to Malta.
"As a commercial entity Crane Currency, which works with some 60 governments including the US government, chooses its own suppliers according to its commercial needs.
"Since equipment related to currency requires strict security features, Crane Currency purchases its equipment directly from the supplier and does not need agents. The government is not aware of commercial decisions which are, or will be taken, by the company now or in the future.
"This government will remain steadfast in providing investors and entrepreneurs the right environment to invest in our countries and keep providing better jobs for the Maltese and Gozitans."
Mr Schembri in a separate statement said companies in his Kasco group would not supply machines to Crane , but if Crane procured machines from Komori, which Kasco has represented for eight years, Kasco may be asked to carry out maintenance work.
Mr Schembri said he was proud to work to attract investment to Malta despite the attacks made.
A freedom of information request by this paper in May showed that Mr Schembri’s company had won six tenders since the general election to supply paper to the government’s printing press, which used to fall under the Office of the Prime Minister’s responsibility.
This paper reported in June that Mr Schembri’s company also won a tender to supply paper to Enemalta.
Dr Muscat called it an “obsession by certain people” that Mr Schembri’s company should be disqualified from undertaking any business.
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