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Opposition says it will not be stopped as PM's chief of staff says he will file libel proceedings against Opposition leader

Video: Steve Zammit Lupi

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri said he will be filing libel proceedings against the Leader of the Opposition over his statements regarding a company his trust in New Zealand holding a company in blacklisted Panama.

The trust was revealed yesterday evening by blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia.

In a statement this afternoon, Mr Schembri said:

“I was in business and built my own group over 20 years of hard work. Over these two decades my interests have always been fully audited. I own and have interests in a number of businesses, both locally and abroad. ‎The group and my family also own real estate.

“After taking up my current job, I stepped down from directorships on my companies and consolidated my structures by opening a family trust both locally and abroad. At the same time, all my companies are being managed by a team of professional executives. I do not get involved in decisions taken by my companies' directors and allow trustees to make decisions at arm’s length about my holdings. In fact, I am aware, and do not intrude with the fact that my group trades with Nationalist Party-owned companies, and is owed substantial sums by them.

“I was also informed of the possibility of my local bankers changing their business model or transferring their trusts business to third parties. ‎ My New Zealand-based trust, together with any attached company, which have not traded so far, was opened as a contingency for this reason upon advice from my financial advisors.‎ I will also be asking a reputed auditing firm, independent of my financial advisors, to audit the New Zealand-based trust and related operations, and will make this report available to the media.

He said he reserved the right to take further legal actions to protect his family's interests‎ and reputation against those who are trying to tarnish them, doing so solely for their political convenience, "just as they did prior to the last election".

Earlier today, Mr Schembri refused to reply to questions raised saying he would be issuing a statement “within the next couple of hours”.

Mr Schembri was also asked about the visit to Azerbaijan in 2014 and why no civil servants had accompanied the Prime Minister, Mr Schembri, OPM Communications Director Kurt Farrugia and Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi – whose own trust in New Zealand holding a company in Panama was revealed last week.

“I wouldn’t know why no civil servants went but meetings were held with the President, we signed a memorandum of understanding with Azerbaijan; basically, that’s it,” Mr Schembri replied, before saying he had to listen to what Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had to say to the party faithful in Zejtun, traditionally a Labour stronghold.

When the Prime Minister was approached on the same issue, he told journalists "follow my speech". Journalists were then elbowed out of the way by his security.

OPPOSITION SAYS IT WILL NOT BE STOPPED

No libel and no intimidation will stop the Opposition from carrying out its work in the interest of the people.

More than 16 hours after reports came out on Mr Schembri’s secret company in Panama, he was confirming he owned this company without making reference to Panama, because he knew what this meant.

The PN noted that Mr Schembri did not say when he set up the company, if it was on the same day that Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi set up his and if it was at the same time that together with the Prime Minister they had gone to Azerbaijan behind the people’s back.

It was the Prime Minister who should now speak about the behaviour of the two people who were closest to him.

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