Prime Minister Robert Abela has said that he has “never defended” former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri.
The Malta Independent approached Abela on Monday morning and asked him if he still believes and defends Schembri following his arraignment last Saturday.
In response, Abela said that he has “never defended him” and refused to give any further comments when pressed about the matter.
Schembri and 10 others were charged in court with money laundering, corruption and forgery charges last Saturday. The 11 were arraigned in connection with a recently concluded magisterial inquiry in connection to allegations surrounding Schembri and former Allied Newspaper managing director Adrian Hillman and another magisterial inquiry. In the Schembri-Hillman inquiry, Schembri had allegedly passed €650,000 on to Hillman through regular €5,000 payments between 2011 and 2015. This is linked to when Keith Schembri’s company, Kasco, had won a tender to supply Allied Group’s Progress Press with a printing press back in 2009.[embedded content]
This newsroom also asked a number of other ministers whether they still believe and defend Keith Schembri. The ministers asked were Minister for Research, Innovation and the Co-Ordination of Post Covid-19 Strategy Owen Bonnici, Minister of Finance and Employment Clyde Caruana and Minister for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement Byron Camilleri. They all responded that they are waiting for the institutions to conduct their work and for the court to give its verdict. None of the ministers confirmed if they are still defending Schembri.
The government had been defending Schembri up until the latter’s resignation in 2019. Last Sunday, when asked if the government’s defence of Schembri was in the national interest, Abela said that he could “only answer for what [he] did” as a Cabinet consultant and MP, and now as Prime Minister. Furthermore, speaking about the arrests, he had said that he is “determined to see that justice be done”. “That is what my conscience demands and that is what I will keep on doing”, he said.
Abela also said that Schembri is not a member of the Labour Party under him and that he has every right to defend himself in his case.
Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had also spoken out about the situation, by writing a message on Facebook. “After many stories, accusations and a number of inquiries, a number of people were charged in court over an alleged case of corruption in the private sector, most notably with The Times of Malta, which is being said were carried out under a Nationalist Government before 2013,” Joseph Muscat said, without mentioning Schembri by name. “I will wait for justice to take its course as I always have.”[embedded content]