Keith Schembri's attempts to avoid testifying about secret company 17 Black in a libel case he filed against former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil have been quashed by a court. 

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff has been trying to dodge cross examination about 17 Black.

He argued that the Dubai company was not in the public domain at the time Dr Busuttil made an allegedly libellous speech about Panama Papers corruption in March 2016.

However, in a decree handed down this week by magistrate Victor Axiak the court denied the request by Mr Schembri to be exempted from testifying.

How did we get here?

Mr Schembri was expected to testify in libel proceedings against Simon Busuttil, after the former Nationalist leader had accused him of receiving kickbacks.

But the case was adjourned in January as lawyers argued over whether Mr Schembri should also testify over secret company 17 Black.

The company had been named in leaked e-mails as one of two companies that would pay $2 million to Mr Schembri's and Konrad Mizzi's Panama companies.

What is 17 Black?

17 Black was identified in a leaked e-mail authored by Mr Schembri’s financial advisers as the main source of income for Tillgate, his once-secret Panama company.

Information about the company was first published by the Daphne Project in April 2018. 

A joint investigation by Times of Malta and Reuters revealed that 17 Black is owned by power station investor Yorgen Fenech.

Mr Schembri has acknowledged in an official government statement that he had "draft business plans" with the company. 

What is the case about?

Mr Schembri filed a libel case against Dr Busuttil after comments he made on 6 March 2016 during a corruption protest in Valletta. 

But the case was adjourned as lawyers argued over whether Mr Schembri should also testify over secret company 17 Black.

Magistrate Francesco Depasquale was promoted to judge before he could decide on whether Mr Schembri should be forced to testify about 17 Black.

In a decree handed down this week by magistrate Victor Axiak, who is now hearing the case, the court denied a request by Mr Schembri to be exempted from testifying about 17 Black.

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Why does Keith Schembri have to testify about 17 Black?

Mr Schembri's lawyer had previously argued that questions on 17 Black should not form part of the libel case because the company had not been mentioned at the time of the March 2016 protest.

However the court decree says it is irrelevant whether Dr Busuttil knew about 17 Black when he made his speech in March 2016.

In a stern rebuke, the court made it clear that it would not accept any further delays in getting Mr Schembri onto the witness stand, and would not accept any calls for the case to be deferred by either party, unless merited by a serious health case.

Revelations about Mr Schembri's links to 17 Black have done little to damage his standing in Prime Minister's Joseph Muscat's eyes.

Dr Muscat has said he sees no reason to ask Mr Schembri about his involvement with 17 Black.

Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, who steered through the lucrative power station deal, was also linked to 17 Black through his Panama company. 

Criminal investigators were handed an extensive report by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit about 17 Black and the Panama Papers in March 2018. 

None of the main players are known to have been questioned by the police