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17 Black subject to criminal investigation

Magisterial inquiry also underway

Konrad Mizzi witnesses the arrival of the LNG tanker in Marsaxlokk. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Konrad Mizzi witnesses the arrival of the LNG tanker in Marsaxlokk. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

The police have been investigating the once-secret offshore company 17 Black ever since the financial intelligence unit flagged its concerns back in March, investigators have told The Sunday Times of Malta. 

The criminal investigation has also prompted a magisterial inquiry – separate to the one held up in the courts – in a bid to get hold of evidence.

The police sources said the probe started the same week they received an intelligence report naming Electrogas power station director and businessman Yorgen Fenech as the owner of the mystery Dubai company 17 Black.

Mr Fenech, the CEO of business giant Tumas Group, is one of the partners in the new €450 million gas-fired power station.

His company 17 Black had first hit the headlines back in 2016 when it was identified in a leaked e-mail as one of two sources of income for the Panama companies Hearnville and Tillgate, owned respectively by minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri.

The police sources said the magisterial inquiry was opened “a few weeks ago” and was looking into the ownership of the company and other matters related to the case.

We are talking about a 120-page intelligence report

“This is not the magisterial inquiry that everyone is talking about – the one being delayed because of appeals. There is another magisterial inquiry which began as a result of our investigations and which is currently ongoing that no one else knows about,” a senior police source said.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has come under mounting pressure for failing to remove his chief of staff and the minister after the ownership of 17 Black was exposed in a joint investigation by Times of Malta and Reuters earlier this month. 

Dr Muscat has insisted he will wait for the judicial and law enforcement authorities to finish their inquiries and establish the facts before deciding on whether he should take any action against Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi.

Watch: 17 Black in 90 seconds

His critics have pointed out that the pair’s planned financial relationship with Mr Fenech is based on documentary evidence and not allegations, and that the two prominent members of government cannot be left in place when there are such strong indications they were involved in corruption.

Police sources said they had opened a criminal investigation into the ownership of 17 Black and “other persons” a few days after they first received the hefty report from the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU).  

“We are talking about a 120-page intelligence report with supporting documents. Once it had been reviewed, we began the process of an investigation. This is the way these things are done,” a source involved in the investigation said. 

They added that the police had reached out for information from foreign jurisdictions such as Dubai and Latvia but none of the requested evidence had been supplied.

Read: The roadmap to 17 Black

The police then went to a magistrate for what are technically known as letters rogatory – official requests for information from another jurisdiction.

This process, they said, was long-winded and required the request to be drafted in the language of the jurisdiction holding the information.

Once this had been done, the jurisdiction then had a window in which to review the request before accepting or refusing to hand over the information. The magistrate which had made the request on the Maltese police’s behalf is also looking into the case.

This does not mean that another inquiry will not take place. The inquiry being delayed by appeals – a probe first called for by then Opposition leader Simon Busuttil last year – will still go ahead once the appeals are heard. However, sources familiar with the procedure said this could take “quite some time”.

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