No answers forthcoming from Prime Minister's chief of staff Keith Schembri

The PM’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The PM’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The Prime Minister’s right-hand man, Keith Schembri, has consistently failed to answer questions about his offshore financial affairs, including a company in Panama.

For the past week Mr Schembri, employed as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, has ignored questions sent by this newspaper on the contents of a statement he released to the press on February 28.

In his statement, Mr Schembri said he had relinquished all directorships and opened a family trust in Malta and abroad after taking up his public service job in 2013.

He then described the opening of a New Zealand-based trust and an attached Panama company as a contingency plan. The model was suggested by his financial advisors, as Maltese banks were considering transferring their trust business to third parties, he said.

He described the opening of a New Zealand-based trust and an attached company in Panama as a contingency plan

But while Mr Schembri insisted the Panama company had not yet traded, he failed to say why he felt the need to make recourse to a secretive jurisdiction two years into his public office.

Mr Schembri admitted ownership of a Panama company after his involvement in the affair was highlighted by blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia.

It transpired that Mr Schembri had opened a New Zealand trust that in turn acquired the shell company in Panama at about the same time as Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi.

The timing also coincided with a visit to Azerbaijan, for which only the Prime Minister, Dr Mizzi, Mr Schembri and the government’s communications coordinator were present.

­­Mr Schembri’s advisers are Nexia BT, a firm set up by auditor Brian Tonna. Nexia also acts as auditors for Mr Schembri’s private business, the Kasco Group.

It was Ms Caruana Galizia who shed light on Dr Mizzi’s financial set-up in an unfolding series of revelations that have targeted two of the Prime Minister’s most trusted men.

Dr Mizzi has since pledged to close the Panama company and asked the Tax Commissioner to investigate him.

Experts have nevertheless shed doubt on that request, given Panama’s secretive reputation.

The unanswered questions

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri has so far failed to answer questions sent to him by the Times of Malta.

1. What was the reason for opening another trust in New Zealand in 2015 when family matters were settled in 2013 soon after Mr Schembri took up public office as chief of staff?

2. When was the New Zealand trust opened?

3. Who are the New Zealand trustees?

4. What is Mr Schembri’s role in the New Zealand trust?

5. What assets was Mr Schembri considering putting in the Panama company, given his claim that it had not yet traded?

6. Who is the ultimate beneficiary of the Panama company?

7. What other trusts does Mr Schembri own and when were they created?

8. Does Mr Schembri confirm owning (whether directly or indirectly through a trust) a company in the British Virgin Islands?

9. When did Mr Schembri take possession of the BVI company?

10. Why did Mr Schembri and Konrad Mizzi set up a trust with a shell company in Panama at the same time shortly before going to Azerbaijan?

11. When did Mr Schembri inform the Prime Minister about this financial set-up?

12. Can Mr Schembri provide a full list of all offshore companies in which he is a beneficial owner?

13. Given that questions have been raised about his financial dealings, does Mr Schembri feel his position is still tenable?

Additional reporting by Jacob Borg

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