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MALTATODAY 21 March 2021

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2 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 21 MARCH 2021 NEWS CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 Keith Schembri yesterday pleaded not guilty to charges of corruption and giving false testi- mony. He was alone accused of forgery. He was charged together with Alfio Schembri, his elderly fa- ther, a director of several of the Kasco companies, and business partner Malcolm Scerri and fi- nancial controller Robert Zam- mit. Also charged with separate money laundering charges were former Nexia BT partners Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, Manuel Cast- agna and their financial control- ler Katrin Bondin Carter, as well as Zenith Finance's owners Mat- thew Pace, a PA board member, and Lorraine Falzon. Zenith was formerly MFSP Financial. Also accused was former Al- lied Group managing director Vincent Buhagiar. Not included in the charges was former Allied Group managing director Adri- an Hillman, who is expected to be brought to Malta from the UK to face the charges. The charges stem from alle- gations made by the former PN leader Simon Busuttil, based on information in the hands of the late journalist Daphne Carua- na Galizia, that he transferred €650,000 through various off- shore companies and then paid out in the form of financial in- struments. Among the beneficiaries, it was alleged, was Hillman himself, as one of the Allied directors when Schembri's Kasco group won a tender for the construction of Allied's €30 million printing press. A total of 20 companies con- nected to the Kasco, Nexia and Zenith principals, were also in- cluded in the charges. All 11 accused pleaded not guilty, but only Buhagiar was granted bail. At all stages of the proceedings, the prosecution, led by Superin- tendent Frank Anthony Tabone, Inspectors Joseph Scerri and Anne Marie Xuereb, and lawyer Elaine Mercieca Rizzo, opposed the granting of bail. "The ac- cused are professionally quali- fied individuals who are accused of facilitating serious crimes. Secondly they have assets abroad and could abscond. The investigations are still ongoing, even with regards third parties," Mercieca Rizzo told the court, adding that their release could lead to tampering with evidence. The defence counsels were vo- ciferous in their opposition to the prosecution's request. Ste- phen Tonna Lowell, for Brian Tonna, insisted that the grav- ity of the crime alone was not grounds to deny bail. "The fear of absconding is based on in- correct facts in this case. Two companies mentioned do not exist anymore. The accused live and own property in Malta; their families are in Malta. They had been on police bail since last year… There is no risk of them absconding... Their respect for the police bail conditions shows that they will be respecting the court's conditions. These fears are simply phantasmal." Other defence counsels in- cluded Michael Sciriha, Franco Debono, and Gianella de Marco. But Magistrate Charmaine Galea, after an interminable round of protestations, decided she would not grant bail. Karl Cini, one of the Nexia partners, could be seen crying in the dock. Defence lawyer Edward Gatt was equally as vociferous in de- manding that his client Keith Schembri is given bail. He also told the court that in another magisterial inquiry concerning the alleged kickbacks from Ton- na to Schembri on the sale of Maltese citizenship to wealthy foreigners, no prima facie ev- idence against Schembri had emerged. Gatt argued that the court had the comfort from the police say- ing they had not feared the men absconding while on police bail. "These people have everything in Malta. Their families, assets, their life. What is society going to gain by keeping these people under arrest? Here you have a case where the evidence is all documentary and preserved. If they are given bail today or next week, or next month, what is the benefit? The denial of bail must be based on reality not the hypo- thetical." Gatt made himself heard loud and clear in the court. "This looks like the 'justice of Keith Schembri'… smoke and mirrors. Now that he has been charged, let justice take its course. The same police who decided to give these men police bail are now objecting to their release from arrest." Prosecuting lawyer Mercieca Rizzo retired that the prosecu- tion's fears were linked to the fact that the investigations are still underway. "This is not the 'justice of Keith Schembri'. It is the same justice for all." With bail denied for Schembri and his associates, the same fate awaited Matthew Pace and Lor- raine Vassallo, who were assist- ed by lawyers Mark Vassallo and Edward Gatt, Ishmael Psaila and Shaun Zammit. They too plead- ed not guilty. Gatt argued that Enemalta scandal accused Tancred Tab- one and others "never spent 15 minutes in prison". Still, the court decided that nobody would get bail. On the other hand, the ageing Vincent Buhagiar was granted bail, with a €20,000 deposit and €40,000 personal guarantee. He will have to observe a curfew. Buhagiar was charged with money laundering, conspiracy to commit a crime, making false declarations to Malta Enterprise, Bank of Valletta and customs, fraud and corruption. The charges concern an alleged €1.7 million cash aid from Malta Enterprise to the Allied Group, on which a specific amount of money or rebates could have been fraudulently obtained. Reactions Opposition leader Bernard Grech reacted to yesterday's happenings by dubbing it the start of the road to justice on a case revealed by Daphne Carua- na Galizia. "Today is another ep- isode that confirms how a crim- inal gang captured the Labour government and then captured the institutions so that none of them will face justice. Today is another episode that confirms the country's need to turn a new page and close once and for all this black chapter in its histo- ry. This is another step to start clearing this country's reputa- tion." No bail for Keith Schembri, right, and his father Alfio Schembri; below, Matthew Pace of Zenith Financial is seen (left) and on the right, former Times managing director Vince Buhagiar; bottom photo, Nexia BT partners Brian Tonna (left) and Karl Cini (right) were also denied bail PHOTO JAMES BIANCHI

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