Malta's former chief of staff Schembri charged with money laundering

VALLETTA (Reuters) - Keith Schembri, the former chief of staff of ex-Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, was arraigned in court late on Saturday charged with money laundering, fraud and corruption, police said. He entered a plea of not guilty, court officials said.

FILE PHOTO: Keith Schembri, Chief of Staff in the office of Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, arrives for a joint news conference between Muscat and President of the European Council Donald Tusk in Valletta, Malta, March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Schembri resigned in November 2019, shortly after Yorgen Fenech, a close friend of his, was charged with masterminding the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017. Fenech pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Prime Minister Muscat resigned two months later.

Court officials said charges against Schembri on Saturday are not connected to the Caruana Galizia murder case.

Schembri, Muscat and Fenech have all denied involvement in the murder and no charges related to it have been made against Schembri or Muscat.

The charges against Schembri stem from a magistrates’ investigation after Schembri’s company won a multimillion-euro contract in 2010 to sell a printing press to Allied Newspapers, publishers of Times of Malta, the country’s biggest-selling newspaper.

Caruana Galizia had written about alleged money laundering in a 2016 blog post about the contract. Her family, who were present in the courtroom on Saturday, welcomed the arraignment but said it was overdue.

“Prosecuting Schembri today brings us a step closer to a Malta where no one is above the law,” they said in a statement.

In a lengthy Facebook post on Thursday, Schembri said the accusations against him, which were already circulating in the media, were an “establishment plot” and he looked forward to clearing his name.

His lawyers were unavailable for further comment.

Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Gavin Jones and David Goodman