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Keith Schembri says he wants to 'set the record straight'

Keith SchembriKeith Schembri

This article was written by Keith Schembri, the prime minister's chief of staff

While I have stated, on previous occasions, that I would not discuss my companies’ activities and strategies, and despite it being entirely unprecedented that a legitimate business activity becomes a sensational news item, I feel I have to address the conspiracy being manufactured around my commercial interests.

Fascination has now taken hold over the viability of my business interests, with the Times [of Malta] insisting, once again, that Kasco is a loss-making endeavour. The losses reported by Kasco Holdings, the company I own, over the years 2012-2014, are borne from two key factors.

Principally, there has been a reduction in the foreign export of paper and a reduced profit margin on paper. Secondly, as with all ventures that bear risk, the group suffered the consequences of absorbed losses from one of our companies. A simple look at the audited accounts of all the companies forming part of the group would attest to this.

The facts dispute all other assertions promulgated in some sections of the press.

The group’s annual turnover exceeds the €10 million mark, with the flagship company of the group, Kasco Paper, always turning a profit. The credit afforded to the group by principal retail and commercial banks in Malta attests to the soundness of the Kasco group’s activities. Those who intend on finding fault in this aspect of my business only seek to serve a political conspiracy over my business group.

These aspersions have been cast by the Times in particular; but for all the various questions put to me, this newspaper has failed to report my replies, let alone give a full and fair account of them. Questions have been asked on more than one occasion, about a third-party loan of approximately €1.5m given by Kasco in 2012.

The insinuation is that I financed the Labour Party’s 2013 political campaign. I categorically deny this. I have not financed the Labour Party in any manner whatsoever. The third-party loan, referred to above, was actually granted to a major client of Kasco which was struggling to meet payment terms. As it happens, the Times newspaper is well aware of the identity of this client. The loan was given to a subsidiary of the Allied Group itself, its very own publisher, Progress Press. Essentially Kasco served as a financing vehicle to assist Progress Press and Allied Newspapers to meet their payment terms. To date Kasco still has a substantial amount of account receivables that are pending from Allied Group.

I have not financed the Labour Party in any manner whatsoever

I have been a businessman who has always taken pride in seeking out opportunities and taking the necessary risks to translate those opportunities into successes. If this is a crime in the books of Simon Busuttil and certain voices in the press, then this country is in for a rough ride. Entrepreneurship is this island’s very backbone, the success story of this nation, and a principal factor (amongst others) why this country is punching way above its weight.

When I started the Kasco Group from the small printing press my father owned, I saw the opportunity in paper that would later turn the business into one of the leading paper merchants on this island. I also saw the possibility of a flourishing export trade. Today Kasco has expanded, diversifying into recycling, machinery, engineering services, foodstuffs, and interior design, to name but a few.

I cannot help noticing that the soundness of this enterprise is being unfairly called into question, and for reasons I can only attribute to character assassination.

It is clear that the strategy of the Nationalist Party in opposition is to attempt to foment instability by attacking the country’s institutions. It seeks to undermine public trust and to denigrate anyone who is remotely associated with the Labour Movement or the Labour government.

Confidential and privileged information from bank officials sympathetic to the Nationalist cause has been leaked to equally sympathetic bloggers, much to the detriment of the banks’ and the country’s respective reputations. These tactics are an insult to all people of good will who expect a measured and temperate forum of democratic debate, not cloak-and-dagger machinations and conspiracy theories.

My appointment as chief of staff to the Prime Minister in 2013 was partly motivated by his wish for me to serve the government with the drive I have always shown in other fields. This has come at great cost to my family and my business interests, but I understand the burden that attends this office.

I recognise that my actions have exposed me to legitimate public scrutiny, and that I have given scope for those who intend to do harm to this Government to run wild with their conspiracy theories.

I serve this country and its Prime Minister with no expectation of gratitude or reward. I do however take great comfort from the fact that this government is guaranteeing this country economic results it has never known in the past. This prosperity is allowing households and businesses alike to flourish. Nothing the Opposition says or does will ever take that away.

Statement from the Allied Newspapers board

Referring to Keith Schembri’s comments about commercial relationships between Kasco Limited and the Allied Group, the board of directors of Allied Newspapers yesterday said it would not comment in public on any reports appearing in the media or on the workings of the independent Board of Inquiry, so as to allow the inquiry to proceed in full serenity.

“The company however agrees with Mr Schembri that commercial matters involving both companies should not be the subject of public discussion and invites him, should he feel the need, to bring any matter to the attention of the Board of Inquiry.”

The board of inquiry was set up to probe allegations that the former managing director of the Allied group, Adrian Hillman, received secret payments for purchases from Kasco.

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