BREAKING/Prime Minister’s chief of staff has stopped going in to work at the office

Published: December 8, 2016 at 2:48am

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, no longer goes in to work at the Office of the Prime Minister and now spends all his time at home, occasionally advising the Prime Minister on government business from the confines of his living-room, where he is attended to by the family’s immigrant housekeeper from the Philippines.

One month ago, he travelled to London for medical tests, accompanied by Labour MP Franco Mercieca, who is an eye surgeon. Mrs Schembri did not accompany them because her golden retriever was about to give birth, which it did, with the Prime Minister’s chief of staff tweeting photographs of the puppies on his return.

I reported then that Schembri was told he has an inoperable tumour in the eye area, and that he then went on to the United States for further tests and to enquire about treatment.

Schembri and his aides then spent several days briefing against me in telephone calls and conversation, saying that my story wasn’t true. He did not, however, issue a statement to contradict it.

Two weeks later, Schembri’s lawyer wrote to the Data Protection Commissioner asking him to instruct me to delete that information – on the basis that these are his private health details. I responded, citing two judgements of the European Court of Human Rights on the matter of publication of health information about politicians, and the matter is still being deliberated upon.

Now I can report, more specifically, that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff was diagnosed with a malignant glioma, a rare tumour of the optic nerve which occurs almost exclusively in men between the fourth and sixth decade. Neither the Prime Minister nor his chief of staff have made a statement to the press giving details of his illness or the prognosis, as is customary in these situations.

Yet the fact that the Prime Minister is looking increasingly unwell, worried and distracted, while his chief of staff has disappeared completely from public view, cannot be ignored. That the press has chosen not to recognise this as a story or a public-interest matter is mystifying. Keith Schembri is the Prime Minister’s key aide, on whom he relies heavily, by his own admission. He masterminded the Labour Party’s last electoral campaign but may not be around for the next one.

In the absence of any information from the Prime Minister’s Office, and with my questions about this subject having been ignored by the government’s head of communications, I spoke to sources in the medical field for more knowledge about this type of tumour. They explained that it is extremely rare, inoperable, and though patients from Malta are sometimes referred to a specialist doctor of Maltese origin in the United States, there is no treatment that can do anything other than prolong life marginally, and usually not even that. “Prognosis for this kind of tumour is extremely poor, with life expectancy of one year, at most two, preceded by blindness,” my sources said. “Malignant gliomas are inoperable and untreatable.”

Schembri has been at the epicentre of a major scandal which broke nine months ago, when it was discovered that just a few days after the general election, he, Konrad Mizzi and a third, unnamed person had given instructions for the incorporation of companies in Panama, with their ownership concealed by nominee directors and shareholders. Documents pulled from Mossack Fonseca’s server in Panama, which came to be known as the Panama Papers, also revealed that Schembri has companies, which were concealed from the Maltese authorities, in the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus and Gibraltar, and that he used the services of corrupt accountant Brian Tonna, of Nexia BT, to restructure them for greater secrecy, using a ‘Russian dolls’ system of nominee shareholders and directors.

Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and Kurt Farrugia in March 2013.

Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and Kurt Farrugia in March 2013.