Wednesday, 23 September 2020, 13:46
Last update: about 1 hour ago
Keith Schembri’s lawyer, Edward Gatt, described the freezing order issued on Monday against Keith Schembri, his family and companies, as ‘draconian’, highlighting that they are contemplating legal remedies.
Gatt, while speaking to The Malta Independent, expressed his belief that Schembri’s arrest was a PR stunt, arguing that one cannot be disproportionate with Keith Schembri just because of who he is.
Schembri was arrested on Tuesday, interrogated by the police, and then let go on police bail that evening.
Schembri’s arrest, along with that of Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, came after a court ordered the freezing of their assets, as well as the assets of several other individuals and companies over possible money laundering. The court order came just days after the conclusion of a magisterial inquiry into claims that Schembri took a €100,000 kickback from Tonna, on passport sales. The inquiry was requested by former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil in April 2017 and the conclusions are not yet publicly known.
On Tuesday, Keith Schembri’s lawyers had originally said that their client was not going to take part in the interrogation process until the conclusions of the magisterial inquiry on the alleged kickbacks were made available to him. Speaking with The Malta Independent on Wednesday, Gatt said that Schembri was questioned after they were given the disclosure of evidence they had asked for.
“The inquiry had been going on for the past three and a half years. We were privy to the acts of the inquiry as the inquiring magistrate had granted everyone involved disclosure as per the law. We were not, however, aware of the conclusions. That was the only part that was not known to us.”
He said that the police had, originally, only given them partial disclosure of evidence.
“We filed a request to the Magistrate stating that the police were not abiding by the law and granting us full disclosure. The Magistrate issued a decree, recommending the Police Commissioner to act according to law and grant us material disclosure. When the police were notified with the decree, they abided by the court order. We then got to know what the conclusions were. My client was interrogated and then released.”
Regarding the interrogation, Gatt said that one needs to understand that this has been an “ongoing grilling for the past three and a half years, I cannot quite understand why someone tried to restart the whole thing. I can understand that if the magistrate recommended some investigation or to flag something, then obviously they have to act upon it, but not to start the whole process afresh. What the Magistrate did was very thorough.”
Asked what the next steps will be, Gatt said: “I am under the impression that this whole PR stunt is being done because the individual happens to be Keith Schembri.”
Gatt said: “You cannot over-react and be disproportionate because he is Keith Schembri.”
“At the moment, we are studying the situation as that is what we think is happening. We think that it is being over-done, exaggerated, and we believe it is a prosecutorial tactic. We are not ready to accept this. We are studying the situation and seeing how things are going to evolve, even because of the freezing order, which was quite draconian.”
“We are acting on it, studying it and contemplating legal remedies.”
“We have always adopted this policy that, whenever the police call for Schembri, he goes there and answers what he is asked.”