Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne gave some hints to a frosty relationship between himself and the former Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, telling a public inquiry he believed Schembri actively worked against his bid to become PL deputy leader.
“Rightly or wrongly, I felt that he had tried to hinder my election prospects,” he told the public inquiry looking into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
While Schembri had first approached Fearne to take on the role as Parliamentary Secretary for Health in 2014, things quickly turned sour in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal.
Fearne said that he made it clear to former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat that both Schembri and then minister Konrad Mizzi should go.
However, Muscat backed his right-hand-man and said Schembri’s position was not up for discussion.
“The Prime Minister had told me that Mizzi would not remain a minister. As for Schembri, he told me ‘he is my person of trust and it’s up to me to decide, not Cabinet’” Fearne said.
Mizzi would lose his Health and Energy portfolios, along with his position as Labour Party Deputy Leader. However, he still remained Minister responsible for Public-Private partnerships, keeping his grasp on the VGH and ElectroGas deals, along with any other state sale.
Fearne would later back both Mizzi and Schembri in confidence votes, even if he told the inquiry that a free vote on the issue was not allowed.
In a small dig at Schembri, Fearne reiterated that he believes the role of chief of staff must be reformed, insisting there “was too much concentration of power”.
The Deputy Prime Minister did concede that there was more he could have done to keep power to account, but stressed he was never aware of any ‘kitchen cabinet’ referenced by Ministers Edward Scicluna and Evarist Bartolo.
Mizzi and Schembri would be forced to resign more than three years later in the wake of Yorgen Fenech’s arrest in connection to the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Mizzi and Schembri’s Panama companies listed 17 Black as their target client, along with the as-yet-unknown Macbridge.
17 Black is the Dubai company of Yorgen Fenech, the main suspect in the murder.
Earlier, Matthew Caruana Galizia hinted that Electrogas, where Fenech was a shareholder, was at risk of defaulting on a major €600 million government-guaranteed loan which could trigger a collapse in the government’s credit rating . He noted this could be a motive behind the murder.
A report by the FIAU found that 17 Black had received at least three payments – one of €161,000 from Maltese local agent for the tanker supplying gas to the LNG power station and two separate payments amounting to €1.1 million from Baratzada through ABLV Bank.
ABLV was recently raised in one of Latvia’s most extensive investigations into money laundering yet.
More recently, 17 Black was found to be at the centre of a dubious deal involving the purchase of a Montenegro wind farm by Malta’s state-owned Enemalta plc.
Recent reports by Reuters and Times of Malta uncovered that the Maltese government had agreed to pay out €10.3 million for a Montenegro wind farm that had just been bought for €2.9 million two weeks prior.
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