It took police nearly seven years to issue an international arrest warrant for the man at the centre of a massive money-laundering case, raising concerns of deliberate inaction over one of Malta’s most infamous fugitives. 

Ryan Schembri, the boss of the defunct More supermarket chain, was extradited from Scotland and brought to Malta last week to face charges of fraud and money laundering estimated to be in the tens of millions of euros. 

Investigators believe the case is linked to a homicide and a series of other crimes. 

However, despite the severity of the case, sources have confirmed that an international request for his arrest was only issued on April 11, nearly seven years after he first fled the country, leaving millions of euros in debt. 

Sources told Times of Malta that the lack of action in such a serious case raised questions about the way police treated major financial crimes in recent years.

“This is a very serious case that we believe is linked to at least one murder, and possibly other serious crimes. Questions need to be asked about the way the case was handled,” a source privy to the case said.

It is understood that the police top brass put a new team of officers on the case in 2020, after reviewing unsolved case files related to alleged financial crime. 

Failings date to Abdilla's time in charge

When the case was first opened, the police team tasked with investigating alleged financial crimes was headed by assistant commissioner Ian Abdilla. 

Abdilla was sidelined in 2020 when police chief Angelo Gafà took over the running of the force.

He was then suspended on half-pay in 2021, shortly after the publication of a damning public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, which raised concerns about the way major financial crime cases were being investigated. 

Contacted for comment, Abdilla brushed off questions about the More supermarkets case, saying he was not the investigating officer. 

As assistant commissioner in charge of the economic crimes wing of the police, Abdilla had been tasked with overseeing the work of investigating officers and signing off on major police operations.

Times of Malta had in 2019 exposed how Abdilla had sent a botched request for information to Dubai into alleged murder conspirator Yorgen Fenech. 

Contacted for comment, Abdilla brushed off questions about the More supermarkets case, saying he was not the investigating officer

Abdilla had also been widely criticised for inaction against former minister Konrad Mizzi and ex-OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri (cousin of Ryan Schembri) following the publication of the Panama Papers. 

Questions sent to the police’s media relations unit on Friday afternoon were not replied to by the time of going to print.

Who is Ryan Schembri?

Ryan Schembri, along with his companies, Cassar and Schembri (Marketing) Ltd and Food World Ltd, were last Sunday charged with money laundering and fraud. He is pleading not guilty to charges.

He has long faced fraud claims over the spectacular collapse of the More supermarket chain, which left behind a trail of unpaid debts.

In 2016, Darren Casha, who had taken over the sinking chain, claimed in a judicial protest that Schembri had fooled him into making the investment and that the accounts he had been shown were “mistaken and far from the truth”.

Schembri is believed to have left Malta with around €40 million in debts.

In the judicial protest, Casha’s lawyer claimed his client had suffered huge damages due to Schembri’s “deceit, illegal, abusive and fraudulent behaviour”.

Slain lawyer Carmel Chircop was one of the investors in the supermarket chain.

Chircop had personally entered into a contract with Schembri to loan him the sum of €750,000.

Appearing as debtors in the contract were Schembri’s business partner Etienne Cassar, but also Adrian Agius – now known as one of the men first arrested by police in December 2017 in connection with the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, and later released on police bail.

Agius was last year charged with commissioning Chircop’s murder, while his brother Robert is separately charged with supplying the bomb used to assassinate Caruana Galizia.

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