The Prime Minister’s top aide, Keith Schembri, and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi were investigated in Panama and New Zealand after the Panama Papers leak, documents show.
New e-mails and documents from the Panama Papers reveal how anti-money-laundering investigators in Panama wrote to Mossack Fonseca in 2016 seeking information about Mr Schembri’s company Tillgate and Dr Mizzi’s company Hearnville.
The documents, which include e-mails, passport copies and criminal case files, are dated from early 2016 through the end of 2017, a few months before the firm collapsed.
This new leak was obtained by Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which organised a global collaboration to pore over the new files. The Times of Malta is part of the collaboration.
Mossack Fonseca wrote back to Panamanian financial investigators about the two companies in March and April 2016.
The Panamanian law firm confirmed that Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi were the beneficial owners of the two companies, whose shares were held by two New Zealand trusts.
On setting up the trusts, both officials requested that they not be audited.
Shortly after the news broke of Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi’s involvement in the trusts, tax investigators in New Zealand demanded records of any assets they held. Mossack Fonseca trustees wrote back in May and June 2016, saying the only assets held by the two trusts were the shares in the Panama companies.
Shortly after the news broke of their involvement in the trusts, tax investigators in New Zealand demanded records of any assets
The leaked e-mails give insight into how close Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi were to opening bank accounts for their Panama companies with Winterbotham Bank in the Bahamas.
Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi’s financial advisers Nexia BT said that the two government officials would each earn $1 million through these accounts.
The accounts were going to be funded by two Dubai-based “target clients” called 17 Black and Macbridge, Nexia BT told Mossack Fonseca
Both men have declined to say who is behind these companies.
Local anti-money-laundering investigators found that $1.6 million was transferred to 17 Black in 2015, around the time when Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi’s financial advisers instructed Mossack Fonseca to set up bank accounts for the Panama companies.
In a February 17, 2016, e-mail message, Mossack Fonseca sent Nexia BT two bank opening documents for Dr Mizzi to sign. Two days later, Nexia BT sent an e-mail thanking Mossack Fonseca for the documents. The Tourism Minister has always denied signing any account opening forms. He says the enquiries for bank accounts were part of the service offered by Nexia BT.
Nexia BT’s money-laundering reporting officer, Karl Cini, told Mossack Fonseca that his firm was able to provide a professional reference letter for Dr Mizzi directly to Winterbotham. At this stage, Mossack Fonseca also began to fill out the bank opening forms for Mr Schembri.
Mossack Fonseca were set to charge Nexia BT $9,000 for opening the bank account. The firm justified this cost by reminding Nexia BT that it had already spent several months unsuccessfully trying to set up bank accounts for Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi around the globe.
All attempts by Nexia BT to set up these Bahamas accounts were stopped in their tracks after assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia hinted on February 22, 2016, that she knew what the two men were up to.
Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi did not respond to this newspaper’s request for comment.