PANAMA PAPERS: Maltese prime minister’s chief of staff’s company/trust details

Published: April 3, 2016 at 11:20pm

Details of the New Zealand trust and Panama company set up by the Maltese prime minister’s chief of staff were published tonight by the Financial Review.

Keith Schembri’s company in Panama is called Tillgate Inc, and his trust in New Zealand is called the Haast Trust. Ownership of his Panama company was transferred to his New Zealand trust in June last year.

In August last year, Mossack Fonseca wrote to a bank in Dubai seeking to open secret accounts for two Panama companies – Tillgate Inc (Schembri) and Hearnville Inc (Konrad Mizzi). The bank insisted on being told who the real owners of the companies are.

Meanwhile, Mossack Fonseca’s “New Zealand colleagues” became concerned that both of them are politically exposed persons (PEPs) and asked for assurance that the money/assets to be handled did not come from corruption, and that it was not acquired after they entered public office – though they appear to have been more concerned as to how they would be able to explain this away should the need arose (which it now has).

Another email, which is among the 11 million leaked documents, says “There is also some negative publicity regarding the amount of remuneration for KM’s [energy minister Konrad Mizzi’s] wife”.

The stated purpose of both Konrad Mizzi’s and Keith Schembri’s companies screams money-laundering and corruption: “management consultancy and brokerage” – this when one is a senior minister of the government and the other the Prime Minister’s chief of staff in a European Union member state.

Mossack Fonseca in New Zealand was not satisfied with this, emailing that “the reference to ‘management consultancy and brokerage’ does not explain this”.

While all this was going on, the FPB Bank in Panama refused to open accounts for Hearnville Inc (Konrad Mizzi) and Tillgate Inc (Keith Schembri) after learning the identity of the ultimate beneficial owners (UBOs).

The bank offered several reasons for the knockback, but “the principal of them [is] that the UBOs of the said companies are PEP”, an executive at Mossack Fonseca wrote.

When Konrad Mizzi told the press a few weeks ago that his Panama company and New Zealand trust do not have bank accounts, he was disingenuous. It wasn’t for want of trying: it was because his attempt at opening one at a Panamanian bank was refused, and similar attempts with a bank in Dubai appear to have failed for the same reason that he is a minister of the government of Malta, an EU member state, and therefore a (hugely) politically exposed person.

The Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, and his chief of staff, Keith Schembri, at Konrad Mizzi's swearing-in as Energy Minister.

The Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, and his chief of staff, Keith Schembri, at Konrad Mizzi’s swearing-in as Energy Minister.