The embattled ex-supermarket boss and meat importer, Ryan Schembri, who fled Malta leaving a trail of debts worth millions of euros, has been living in Dubai, The Sunday Times of Malta can reveal.
The 35-year-old businessman was staying at an aparthotel on the coast of Dubai City, about 30 minutes away from the iconic Burj Al-Arab tower.
However, it is believed he checked out yesterday morning, after this newspaper established contact with him.
The Sunday Times of Malta obtained confirmation of his location through a phone call, in which a female journalist from this newspaper asked to be put through to his room.
One of Mr Schembri’s former business associates said he was confident the recorded male voice on that call, with an unmistakeable Maltese accent, was that of the man wanted by numerous creditors.
Attempts by this newspaper to obtain more information on Friday evening appear to have put Mr Schembri on alert, as he hurriedly checked out of the residence the following morning, a hotel receptionist confirmed.
‘He hurriedly checked out the next morning’
The probe carried out by this newspaper suggests Mr Schembri has been staying and working in Dubai for some months, possibly since fleeing the country last September.
Sources close to the businessman said he had extensive contacts in the food trading business there. However, he may have chosen the Gulf state also because Dubai does not have an extradition agreement with Malta.
“There is a burgeoning community of Maltese people in Dubai so that would have been a risk factor for him; but given his contacts there and the fact there is no extradition agreement, I think the place was chosen carefully. Ryan is not stupid, even though he’s made some stupid mistakes,” a former business associate of Mr Schembri said.
Sources said the police have been acting on similar information but the extradition issue proved to be a stumbling block. Officially, the police’s press office said it would not comment at this stage in the investigation into his activities.
Ryan is not stupid, even though he’s made some stupid mistakes
Mr Schembri is believed to have slipped out of the country via the Sicily catamaran on the weekend marking Malta’s 50th Independence anniversary, after loan sharks turned on him and started threatening him and his son. When he left, rumours surfaced that he could owe as much as €40 million. To this day, the only companies and individuals that have come forward made claims in the region of €5 million.
About €1.6 million of that is being claimed by 17 companies as dues owed by More Supermarkets chain, which Mr Schembri co-owned with his business partner for 14 years Etienne Cassar.
Among the creditors are big names like Alf. Mizzi and Sons (€600,000), Farsons (€300,000) and the government’s utilities paying agency Arms.
On top of that, two businessmen, Alexander Farrugia and Edmond Mugliett, have claimed Mr Schembri borrowed €1.5 million and €2 million from them respectively. It is believed many others have not taken action because they would have a problem explaining where the money came from.
Though there has been speculation that Mr Schembri’s meteoric rise in the food industry may have been fuelled by a questionable side trade, the picture that emerges from business associates and people he owed money to is that of a severely overstretched business that was fuelled by loans which Mr Schembri would take personally from individuals on the black market, sometimes at exorbitant rates of interest exceeding 10 per cent.
“It all caught up with him when the operation in Libya, where he had a grand distribution trade and a supermarket (at Corinthia’s upmarket Palm City residential complex), came to a grinding halt because of the conflict.
“Everything came apart after that but it was bound to happen because he was basically borrowing from one end to pay a loan at the other and that is unsustainable,” a former associate said.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us