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MALTATODAY 2 April 2023

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12 NEWS maltatoday | SUNDAY • 2 APRIL 2023 MATTHEW VELLA NEW light was shed on the op- eration of the More Supermar- kets, the chain of stores that went bust after its owner, Ryan Schembri, fled the country and left behind millions in debts owed to suppliers and a multi- tude of lenders back in 2014. The court decision handed down in the past week crowned one of the more mysterious as- pects of the operation: two mys- terious lenders who claimed a €3.5 million debt on the stores, had their claim thrown out by Mr Justice Ian Spiteri Bailey. Key to the story is the drama- tis personae of the protagonists: the plaintiff, who challenged the debt, was the new More Super- markets owner Darren Casha, a longtime lender to the chain run by Schembri; and Adrian Agius 'tal-Maksar', the man accused of ordering the murder of More Supermarkets lender Carmel Chircop, whose brother Robert and associate Jamie Vella stand accused of supplying the bomb that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia. Nothing could be more 'Mal- tese' in this story of characters set six degrees apart: Schem- bri, fugitive who left his family behind to hole up in London with his partner Aviva Kushner after running off to Dubai, is the cousin of disgraced Muscat chief of staff Keith Schembri. The mysterious bust of the su- permarket, rumoured to have tallied €40 million in debt, was itself the springboard for Carua- na Galizia to reveal the name of Adrian Agius as part of the Ryan Schembri 'cartel' that was alleg- edly financing this supermarket and food import business with loans of undeclared cash from major business people. Much of these transactions are now bound to be the subject of FIAU investigations: one of them is the share transfer of the business of five of the six More stores to creditor Darren Casha, popularly known as the owner of the Medasia restaurant and lido; the sixth store, More Ham- run, whose directors included Adrian Agius itself had not been sold to Casha in this transac- tion. The Court has also flagged other suspicious transactions to the FIAU, namely the alleged €1 million debt that retailer Alex- ander Farrugia claimed he had passed on from mystery lender Abdul Rahman to Schembri; while Farrugia and Mugliett's claims of a €300,000 VAT re- fund ruse have been referred to the Tax Commissioner and Po- lice Commissioner for action. And the notary who sat in for the false constitution of debt, Claire Camilleri, has also been referred to the Notarial Council to deliberate on her role in facil- itating the constitution of debt. Bogus debt Medasia owner Darren Casha, who challenged the €3.5 million claim from Edmond Mugliett and Alex Farrugia – allegedly extraneous entirely to the oper- ations of the supermarket – had claimed in court that Schem- bri had conspired with 'Mak- sar' gang suspect Adrian Agius to bleed the company with the bogus claim as the chain's cred- itors lined up to get their cash back. Casha stepped in to stop the claim in December 2014, accus- ing Schembri and Agius of rop- ing in Mugliett, who acquired the remnants of media house WE Media, and undergarments retailer Alex Farrugia to create a constitution of debt for €2 million and €1.5 million against the supermarket chain, without having such authority. Casha claimed these alleged debts to Ryan Schembri's super- market expansion, were made on behalf of mystery lenders that the two strawmen could not identify. "It seems other companies gave Mugliett and Farrugia instructions to pass on the money, without us knowing who they are or for what. How have these companies not pre- sented themselves personally to claim their dues?... there's noth- ing in More's records of deal- ings with either Mugliett or Far- rugia," Casha had told the court. "To me this was another con- firmation that this was Schem- bri's ruse, and that Mugliett and Farrugia are involved with him in a bid to take from More Su- permarkets something they are not entitled to." Casha was already a major creditor of the supermarket chain, having loaned Schembri at least €5.7 million in the years before he decided to take over the entire operation, sometime in May 2014, for just €94,000. The recent court decision fur- ther explains that Casha was acting as a guarantor of loans to Schembri: €8.4 million loaned in a business styled as Copacabana Investments, and another with developer Adrian Zamit for €2.2 million. These debts were the subject of criminal complaints to the police, Casha told the courts, but were unconnected to the supermarket business. But after the More share trans- fer to Casha, Ryan Schembri and Adrian Agius – who were retained as directors of More's Hamrun outlet – created the €3.5 million constitution of debt, unbeknownst to Casha. Casha found out in October 2014, by which time Schembri had fled the island. "It was the start of summer and I was on- ly just getting the hang of the business, with a new store about to open," Casha claimed in his affidavit. "I planned to keep the old directors in Hamrun so that they help me out, so that I get a proper handover as indeed I did from Camilleri and Delia particularly," he said, explaining why Schembri, Adrian Agius, Chris Delia and Kurt Camilleri had been retained as directors of the Hamrun store despite him buying the entire chain. Mystery investor Alex Farrugia's story was that he had travelled to Libya with Debt ruse sheds light on More Supermarket's When More Supermarkets collapsed in 2014, millions in debt were owed to suppliers and a multitude of lenders

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