Updated 12.50pm - Added PM's comments
The Prime Minister’s top aide, Keith Schembri, and Nexia BT boss Brian Tonna have not provided records of the bank transaction through which Mr Schembri claims to have loaned Mr Tonna €100,000 in 2012.
Asked to provide the documents in view of the conclusions from the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) that it could have been a “bogus loan” – a mechanism used in white collar crime to hide the proceeds of crime and corruption – both Mr Schembri and Mr Tonna turned down the request from this newspaper, citing the ongoing magisterial inquiry on claims of kickbacks from the IIP.
Mr Schembri told the Times of Malta that in light of “the unfounded and utterly false allegations being so freely bandied about, I feel that it’s in the public interest that the matter be subjected to the rigorous due processes of the law, rather than participating in a trial by media”.
Mr Tonna adopted the identical stance.
“The matters on which I am being asked to provide information may be investigated by the judiciary, and, of course, if that happens, I will cooperate fully in the full knowledge that I am innocent of the accusations levelled against me and provide all the information requested of me,” Mr Tonna said.
Mr Schembri has denied the claims made by Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil that there is evidence that the Prime Minister’s right-hand man received €100,000 in kickbacks from the sale of Maltese passports.
Dr Busuttil presented the evidence to an inquiring magistrate, who last week, ordered a fresh investigation after finding that the legal requisites had been met to look into the kickback accusations.
Mr Schembri denied that he had received kickbacks from passport sales but admitted that he had received €100,000 from Mr Tonna through a secret company registered in the British Virgin Islands for the settlement of a loan made in 2012.
An investigation conducted by the FIAU could not find the banking transactions or other transactions justifying Mr Schembri’s loan claims.
The FIAU, which according to the law has access to confidential banking information, reported to the police in May 2016 that it was “unable to identify a transaction or a serious of transactions which could confirm that Mr Schembri did in fact lend money to Mr Tonna, raising serious doubts as to whether the transfers identified in favour of Mr Schembri could in fact constitute a repayment of a loan or whether this was a bogus loan”.
The FIAU could not trace any proof to substantiate Mr Schembri’s claims notwithstanding an in-depth review of several bank accounts held with different credit institutions both in the names of Mr Schembri and Mr Tonna and in the name of several companies with which they are connected.
The FIAU told the police that “it cannot be excluded that the funds might have been transferred through alternative channels or in cash”.
When asked by this newspaper, both Mr Schembri and Mr Tonna refused to say whether the €100,000 loan had been made in cash.
Despite the serious findings concerning the top echelons of government being passed to the Police Commissioner on May 17 of last year, no investigations were conducted.
While the FIAU insisted that the police should investigate further, as the intelligence unit did not have the power to arrest suspects and question them, the damning report was kept under lock and key at the Economic Crimes Unit and no investigations were carried out.
Last Sunday, when the details of the FIAU report were published for the first time, Mr Schembri acknowledged that he had never been questioned by the police on the matter.
When the PN leader made the corruption allegations against Mr Schembri, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said he still trusted him.
IIP scheme 'is tamper-proof' - Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat this morning insisted that the cash-for-passport scheme was “fool proof” and could not be tampered with.
Dr Muscat was replying to questions about allegations that his chief-of-staff Keith Schembri had taken kickbacks from the Individual Investor Programme (IIP).
“It’s irrelevant how powerful a person is or how rich an applicant is, the system is tamper proof,” Dr Muscat said.
Asked whether he still believed this to be true despite the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit(FIAU) concluding that a loan between by Mr Schembri to accountant and Nexia BT boss Brian Tonna could have been a “bogus loan”, Dr Muscat insisted that he did.
“In the coming days I look forward to hearing more information about this FIAU report. Stay tuned,” the Prime Minister told journalists.