A top adviser to former Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat accused of bribery by journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, whose brutal murder shook the nation, was charged Saturday with money laundering and fraud.
Anti-corruption activists hailed Keith Schembri’s prosecution as vindication of the work of Caruana Galizia, whose death in a car bomb in 2017 sparked pain and anger across the Mediterranean island.
Schembri, who was Muscat’s chief of staff from 2013 to 2019, appeared in court Saturday on charges of money laundering, corruption, fraud and forgery. He pleaded not guilty and was denied bail.
He was among those police said would be a total of 11 people prosecuted for similar crimes, including several of his associates. Charges have also been brought against 20 companies.
The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, an NGO created after his death, said the charges were “long overdue.”
“Prosecuting Schembri today brings us one step closer to a Malta where no one is above the law. It is the country that Daphne fought for and the one that we all deserve, ”he said.
The author of a very popular blog, Caruana Galizia, had denounced widespread corruption within Muscat’s inner circle, including Schembri.
After she was killed, her son accused the then prime minister of presiding over a “mafia island.”
Muscat resigned in January 2020 after protests over his handling of the investigation into the journalist’s murder.
Schembri had already resigned as chief of staff the previous November after his name was mentioned by businessman Yorgen Fenech, the main suspect in the murder of Caruana Galizia.
In September 2020, Schembri was arrested and his assets were frozen over an investigation into alleged bribery related to the sale of Maltese passports to wealthy foreigners.
Former opposition leader Simon Busuttil, who initiated one of the investigations that led to the charges against Schembri, said it was a “historic turning point in our fight for justice.”
And a confirmation that Daphne was right. Daphne, this is for you. We are finishing what you started, ”he tweeted.
In a Facebook post earlier this week, Schembri said he expected to face charges after an investigation into his dealings with Adrian Hillman, the former managing director of the Allied Group, owner of the Times of Malta newspaper and other publications, was completed.
The investigation was investigating claims that Schembri paid Hillman 650,000 euros ($ 780,000) between 2011 and 2015 through overseas bank accounts, for a deal for his company Kasco to provide machinery for a new printing press.
Schembri called the investigation a “parody of justice.”
“For the establishment, the ‘crime’ I am guilty of is being part of Joseph Muscat’s team that led to a series of electoral victories for the (Labor) party that I love so much,” he said.
He added: “I hope the time will come soon when I can clear my name of all the accusations that they have been trying to harm me with.”
Hillman, who is reportedly in Britain, has previously insisted that he is innocent.
Meanwhile, the case against the murderers of Caruana Galizia advances.
Fenech is awaiting trial for the murder, but one of the three men charged with carrying out the bombing last month pleaded guilty.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism