Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Tuesday declined to say if he had ever asked his top aide and close friend Keith Schembri what his plans for 17 Black were.

Speaking to the media, Dr Muscat said that was a question for an inquiry to ask, and not simply something to ask out of curiosity.

Dr Muscat has kept Mr Schembri by his side ever since the Panama Papers scandal broke in 2016. The massive data leak revealed Mr Schembri’s 2015 plans to receive large payments using complex offshore structures that disguised his financial interests in them.

Dubai-based company 17 Black was mentioned in a leaked e-mail as being one of two companies that would feed up to $2 million into Mr Schembri’s secret offshore holdings.

Since 2016, Mr Schembri has always maintained that the money from his offshore holdings was going to come from his business earnings before taking office.

He only volunteered that he had “draft business plans” with 17 Black in April 2018, and only after the Daphne Project revealed the e-mail link between the Dubai company and his Panama company.

A joint investigation by the Times of Malta and Reuters would later reveal that 17 Black was owned by power station investor Yorgen Fenech.

Mr Schembri claims not to know that 17 Black was owned by the Tumas Group CEO.

Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, whose Panama firm was mentioned in the same e-mail as a potential beneficiary of funds from 17 Black, also claims not to know who was behind the company.

Explainer: The roadmap to 17 Black

The Prime Minister said on Tuesday that nothing had changed in Mr Schembri’s regard.

He said the points raised by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil in a request for an inquiry overlapped with another inquiry that was already ongoing.

A court on Monday ordered evidence from the Panama Papers scandal to be preserved, saying that a crime may have been committed by Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi.

Dr Muscat said that if nothing else, Monday's court decision confirmed that an inquiry was already ongoing.

Apart from the 17 Black inquiry, the Prime Minister’s top aide is also facing two other separate inquiry about money-laundering.

Those inquiries have been ongoing for two years.

jacob.borg@timesofmalta.com

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