Josette Schembri Vella is one step closer to being tried for money laundering, with a court ruling on Tuesday that she has a case to answer for that crime.
The court issued what is known as a prima facie decree against Schembri Vella, meaning that on the basis of evidence put forward so far, there is enough for her to face trial under indictment.
Her indictment will only be confirmed once the attorney general issues a bill of indictment against her.
Schembri Vella, who is the wife of former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, faces the charges in her role as a director of her company 3 City Designs and not in a personal capacity. 3 City Designs is jointly owned by the couple.
She was arraigned last month. Her husband is being personally charged with corruption, money laundering and other crimes in a separate case.
A court on Tuesday heard how money moved between 3 City Designs, Keith Schembri's Kasco Group, Allied Group and its former managing director Adrian Hillman. Allied Group is the publisher of Times of Malta.
Inspector Leanne Bonello said that around €239,000 that flowed to 3 City Designs from Allied Group was unaccounted for: Schembri Vella had justified the money by saying they were for design services for a bookshop, but the documentation did not tally with that claim.
Bonello said they suspected the money was linked to corruption on the sale of printers at inflated prices. A separate court heard earlier this year how police believe the company, while Hillman led it, was overcharged by $6.5m for printing machines that it bought from Schembri’s Kasco Group.
Funds also moved to 3 City Designs from accounts controlled by Schembri’s business partners Pierre Sladden and Malcolm Scerri, the court heard.
Schembri Vella, who was questioned by police twice before being arraigned, told investigators that 3 City Design bank accounts were controlled by Kasco Group and its financial controller Robert Zammit. Zammit also faces money laundering charges in a separate case.
Schembri Vella also claimed her husband controlled the joint account they held as a couple. That account recorded several large transactions at the time that Kasco Group was receiving money for the printing machinery it sold to Allied.
The court heard that Schembri Vella told investigators that those incoming transactions were loans given to her and her husband by his father Alfio. But there was no documentation to back that claim up.
Alfio Schembi is also being charged with money laundering.
Schembri Vella’s defence lawyer Edward Gatt told the court that the prosecution’s evidence was a “leaflet” full of several figures, many of which came from other cases linked to this one.
He argued it was very difficult to sift what was possible from what was probable and that his client had been arraigned for no reason.
The defence however said that it would not be contesting the fact that Schembri Vella had a case to answer, though Gatt was at pains to emphasise that this did not mean that the defence was changing tack.
Having heard both sides, magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech declared that Josette Schembri Vella has a case to answer and delivered a prima facie decree.
The accused’s lawyers also asked the court to slightly modify her bail conditions, to allow her to leave home at 6am instead of 6.30am to ensure that she could accompany her daughter to school.
The case continues on November 11.
Lawyers Antoine Agius Bonnici and Andrea Zammit from the attorney general's office assisted inspector Leanne Bonello.
Edward Gatt, Mark Vassallo and Veronique Dalli represented the accused.