The Prime Minister’s top aide Keith Schembri yesterday dismissed questions about his secretive offshore dealings as “stupid”.
Facing questions by Times of Malta after exiting the law courts following a libel case about corruption allegations levelled against him by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, Mr Schembri refused to entertain any questions about the Panama Papers.
Asked about draft business plans involving the Dubai company 17 Black, which was set to earn him and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi $1 million each through their Panama companies, Mr Schembri replied: “Maybe I used them to pay your wages, like I did over the past three years.”
In a statement, Allied Newspapers categorically denied Mr Schembri’s comments.
“Kasco is simply one of the many suppliers to Allied’s sister company, Progress Press,” the company said.
I have been answering your stupid questions for four years
Mr Schembri, who before the June 2017 election described Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as his “best friend”, also refused to answer questions about Colson, a once-secret company he owned in the British Virgin Islands.
“I have been answering your stupid questions for four years,” Mr Schembri said, when asked if Colson was declared to the local tax authorities.
The Panama Papers leak showed Mr Schembri held over $700,000 offshore in 2014, via Colson. Pushed to answer, Mr Schembri said: “I can't even bother answering you. You write whatever you want.”
On 17 Black, Mr Schembri said it would be better to wait for the magisterial inquiries under way to be concluded.
At one point, OPM communications chief Kurt Farrugia, who was walking with the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, insisted Mr Schembri would be giving evidence before “the inquiries”.
Two inquiries into Mr Schembri affairs are currently under way.
One is examining an alleged €100,000 kickback he took on passport sales, while another is investigating a suspected €600,000 money laundering scheme with former Allied Newspapers managing director Adrian Hillman.
Mr Schembri is also resisting the start of another wide-ranging inquiry that would look into all of his Panama Papers dealings.
This case also involves the Prime Minister, Dr Mizzi, Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, Mr Schembri’s business frontman Malcolm Scerri, and Mr Hillman.
A court last month ruled that a requested investigation into 17 Black should be handled by this inquiry. No specific inquiries into 17 Black are known to currently be under way.
When it was pointed out that Mr Schembri is appealing the inquiry that would investigate 17 Black, Mr Farrugia said: “As if, as if.”
Challenged to say who was leading the 17 Black inquiry, Mr Farrugia directed this paper to ask Simon Busuttil.
“There are various. He [Simon Busuttil] has been coming and going to the courts,” Mr Farrugia said.