EXCLUSIVE/Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri were setting up bank accounts in the Bahamas when the Panama story broke last February

Published: February 20, 2017 at 11:08am

The Maltese Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, together with Konrad Mizzi, who at the time was Malta’s Minister for Energy and Health, were far along in the process of setting up bank accounts with The Winterbotham Merchant Bank in the Bahamas, in February last year. The process appears to have been disrupted when this website suddenly broke the story that both of them own companies in Panama and trusts in New Zealand, the setting up of which began just a few days after the general election in March 2013.

The Panama Papers documents revealed last year that Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri had been turned away by several banks, even in questionable jurisdictions like Dubai, Panama and other Caribbean states, because they are politically exposed persons (PEPs). The Panama Papers documents, however, do not extend beyond December 2015 and so do not include information about further attempts which the two made to find a receiving/transfer base for their money.

The negotiations for the setting up of these bank accounts in the Bahamas, for the Prime Minister’s chief of staff and top cabinet minister, were carried out by Brian Tonna and Karl Cini of Nexia BT, who submitted – on behalf of their high-profile clients – documents and papers required by The Winterbotham Merchant Bank. The documents and papers include no indication that both men are highly politically exposed as members of the government of a European Union member state.

A high-level source in Malta’s police force has informed this website that detailed information about the cabinet minister’s and Prime Minister’s chief of staff’s negotiations to set up bank accounts with The Winterbotham Merchant Bank in the Bahamas were included with the report which the then Financial Information Analysis Unit chief, Manfred Galdes, handed over to the then Commissioner of Police, Michael Cassar, with a formal request for their prosecution.

Mr Cassar took extended leave of absence from work a few days later and never returned, submitting his resignation “for health reasons”. Dr Galdes resigned two or three months later, after Mr Cassar was replaced by Lawrence Cutajar, who is known to be very close to the Prime Minister and to be inclined to put his partisan political beliefs before his duties as a police officer. Mr Cutajar has since failed to act on the FIAU’s request for the prosecution of Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.

This website attempted this morning to contact both Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi, but without success. The government’s head of communications, Kurt Farrugia, did not answer his phone, either. A message sent to Mr Farrugia has not yet been answered. The message says: “Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi were in the process of setting up bank accounts with the Winterbotham Trust in the Bahamas in February last year. This process appears to have been interrupted when I broke the story, at the end of that month, that they both own companies in Panama and trusts in New Zealand. What is the Prime Minister’s position on this?”

The Winterbotham Merchant Bank is owned by the The Winterbotham Trust Company Limited, which has offices in Hong Kong, the Bahamas, Uruguay and the Cayman Islands. Its website says that it is “a provider of solutions in banking, fiduciary services and fund administration” and that it “provides cash management services to a broad range of business involved in cross-border financial transactions, trade and investment”. The bank says that its clients can “receive and pay money internationally with ease and efficiency and optimize overnight placement of surplus liquidity”.

The Winterbotham Merchant Bank also says that it “provides cash management services focusing primarily on receipts and payments, and fiduciary placements for companies, trusts, investment funds and other structures which we administer on behalf of our customers”.

On the subject of KYC regulations – ‘know your client’ requirements designed to combat money-laundering – The Winterbotham Merchant Bank says that its policy “requires compliance procedures” and that it “has always operated under strict ‘know your customer’ policies imposed both internally and by our regulators”.

“We have interpreted such policies literally and always invested significantly in meeting with principals personally prior to contract, to learn about their background and business and to better enable the design and innovation of relevant services,” the bank says.