LA VALLETTA (MALTA) (ITALPRESS/MNA) – Malta, former Chief of Staff at the OPM arrested over alleged bribery and money laundering Keith Schembri, the former chief of staff at the Office of the Maltese Prime Minister has been arrested as part of an investigation on bribery and money laundering allegations in connection to the selling of Maltese passport.
Keith Schembri was arrested at 12.30am last night while he was at his private residence in Mellie?a. He is being interrogated at the Police Headquarters. The police also detained Brian Tonna and Karl Cini from the financial advisory firm Nexia BT amongst others, the agents for the selling of Maltese citizenship to a family of three Russian nationals. The Panama Papers revealed that Nexia BT was responsible for the setting up of secret companies for Keith Schembri and former Labour government Minister Konrad Mizzi.
On Monday, Madam Justice Edwina Grima issued an order to freeze all assets held by Keith Schembri, his wife and one of his two daughters, among others. The lengthy list includes Nexia BT and its partners. The court concluded that there is reasonable suspicion that money laundering offences have been committed. The order followed a request by the Attorney General to freeze the assets of 40 individuals and several companies. Several companies were given 24 hours to comply with the order and to notify the Attorney General of all possessions of the defendants, together with any goods, accounts, services or safety deposit boxes they have with financial institutions.
The application comes days after the conclusion of a magisterial inquiry into whether Schembri took a 100,000 kickback on passport sales. The inquiry was based on a leaked report compiled by the Financial Intelligence Agency Unit.
Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg has refused to hand over a copy of the inquiry report into allegations of bribery between Keith Schembri and Brian Tonna to former Leader of the Opposition Simon Busuttil who triggered the investigation in April 2017.
LA VALLETTA (MALTA) (ITALPRESS/MNA) – The health authorities in Malta announced three coronavirus related deaths in 24 hours. This week was a record-breaking week for coronavirus cases, with the first day of more than a hundered posituve cases registered from the start of the pandemic. Malta has now reported 20 coronavirus-linked deaths in total, with five this week alone.
Unlike in the two previous cases, for the twentieth victim, the health authorities specified that an elderly man was suffering from other health conditions. He is an 85-year-old who was tested positive on 12 September when he was hospitalised at Mater Dei Hospital. The man was receiving treatment at the Infectious Diseases Unit.
The eighteenth and nineteenth coronavirus victims are both woman, a 72 year old and an 86 year old respectively. The 72 year old was hospitalised on 11 August. She was tested positive the next day. The woman has been in intensive care since 15 August. The second woman was also in intensive care. She had tested positive on 8 September and was hospitalised on 16 September. Their death follows that of an 86 year old woman who died on Monday at the Infectious Diseases Unit and a 91-year old woman who died at Mater Dei hospital between Thursday and Friday night.
The number of COVID-19 active cases now stands at 663 while 2,071 patients have recovered.
Concerns on migration in the Mediterranean were on top of the agenda during a brief state visit to Malta by European Council President Charles Michel.
Michel, a former Belgian Prime Minister paid also his respect to Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia at the site of her assassination in Ba?rija. While addressing the journalists, Michel declared “what happened here is shameful for Europe and an attack on the free press. My presence here is to pay my respects to Daphnès memory and her family who gave her life for freedom of speech, seeking the truth.” He was accompanied by Caruana Galiziàs husband, Peter and one of her sons, Matthew. After visiting the site, he had a private meeting with Caruana Galiziàs family.
On his arrival to Malta, Michel paid a visit to the Armed Forces of Malta, followed by a meeting with Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela in Valletta. Migration was top of the agenda. A particular reference was made to the European Union’s new pact on migration and asylum due to be unveiled next week. The upcoming pact has been kept under tight wraps, though Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas emphasised on agreements with countries of origin and transit, stronger border controls and what Schinas described as a system of “permanent, effective solidarity.”
During the meeting, Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela argued that allocating EU funds to Malta was no solution, insisting that there should be burden sharing. He insisted that there should be a permanent mechanism through which asylum seekers could be relocated from member states on the EU’s frontiers. “The reality we face is that every day, the AFM commander informs us on a number of boats leaving Libya, each with 90, 100 or 120 people”, he said.
He lamented that in the absence of proper mechanisms, each case was dealt with ad hoc, as he defended the government’s controversial decision to prevent the Maersk ship ‘Etiennè from disembarking in Malta for 38 days after it rescued a group of 27 migrants. He insisted that the impasse would have been solved had every member state accepted to take in a single person.
However, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have long opposed any mandatory relocation of asylum seekers.
Malta has registered a record high number of new positive coronavirus cases. The local health authorities confirmed that after 2,470 swab tests, 106 new cases were detected. This is the highest number of cases registered in 24 hours since the start of the pandemic bringing a total of 2,560 cases; 591 still active, 1,953 patients have recovered and 16 others lost their life.
The Malta Union of Teachers, MUT, is urging the Maltese government to not re-open schools and educational institutions to protect the health of educators, students and their families. Also, the Union of Professional Educators expressed its concern at the increase in numbers of COVID-19 positive cases. It stated that the situation is unsustainable and with the opening of schools on the 28th of September 2020, the number of cases will defiantly increase to unsustainable numbers thus putting a burden on our health care system. The Maltese Association of Parents of State School Students has warned that the reopening of schools would be “premature” and should be postponed. The association representing parents of state school students also called on the Maltese authorities to take the necessary actions to control the spread of the virus as there was “clear evidence that the spread of COVID is not slowing down”. “It is evident that the measures taken so far have not been effective enough,” it said.
Meanwhile, in a paper published in the Journal of Community Health, five medical professionals, including Superintendent of Public Health, Professor Charmaine Gauci declared that inconsistent messages earlier in summer from sectors “outside health” claiming that “everything is under control” gave false signals that COVID-19 was over.
Superintendent of Public Health described the present situation as “serious and worrying”. While the number of people treated in hospitals has increased, over the past few days many elderly residents in different care homes have contracted COVID-19. The Ministry for Family together with the Parliamentary Secretariat for the Elderly have issued a set of measures to be adhered to at all homes for the elderly. The residential care homes are also using staff-to-patient allocation and creating safe zones on each storey as well as taking other measures aimed at controlling the infection and residents who test negative are being tested again every three days.
The Maltese government is being accused by the humanitarian non-governmental organisation Alarm Phone for not saving 27 migrants, and keeping them as “prisoners” for four weeks on board the Danish registered cargo ship “Etienne”.
The NGO called on Malta to “provide everything necessary to ensure a safe and quick disembarkation of the 27 people.” However no rescue has been carried out by the Armed Forces of Malta, despite repeated alerts by Alarm Phone. No official comments were made from the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Home Affairs in Malta. The migrants are almost 16 nautical miles in the South of Malta, outside the Maltese territorial waters but within the Maltese search and rescue area.
On Twitter, Alarm Phone said that Malta has violated the right to freedom and asylum to this group of migrants. The NGO also said that these 27 migrants are suffering as they face uncertainty since they do not know if they will be brought to Europe or pushed back to Africa.
The 27 migrants were saved on the 5th of August who were in distress in the Mediterranean. Maersk Tankers said that the cargo vessel is running out of supplies. According to local reports, the migrants are threatening to jump from their rescue ship into the sea.
29 euro-parliamentarians from three political groups are urging the Maltese authorities to allow the oil tanker to bring the group of migrants to Malta.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Luigi Di Maio, was received in Tripoli by the President of the Presidential Council of the Government of National Accord of Libya, Fayez al Sarraj. At the core of the visit, among other things, the recent agreement for a ceasefire. Di Maio was accompanied by Undersecretary Manlio Di Stefano.
“Libya is an important player for us, a crucial hub for building a new model” of development in the Mediterranean, “with flourishing trade and growth opportunities” for all the countries in the area, Di Maio said during the meeting. “Italy welcomes the agreement reached with Saleh for the promotion of a ceasefire and we support it. We also believe, as we have always said, that all external interference should cease,” Di Maio stressed.
Sarraj, for his part, proposed the setting up of the Commission for economic issues between Italy and Libya “as soon as possible”, and added: “We want Italian companies to come to us to support the development and growth of Libya”.
The police in Malta have enough evidence to arraign Neville Gafà, former official at the Office of the Prime Minister after he threatened investigative Italian journalist Nello Scavo.
Scavo regularly reports on the Catholic media L’Avvenire, on the plight of asylum seekers risking their lives in a bid to reach safety in Europe, and has closely followed the tragic death of asylum seekers which occurred over Easter: and the subsequent pushback of survivors to Libya.
But last June, Gafà, who enjoys close ties to Libya and who has been presenting himself as a key anti-immigration figure, had used his Twitter account to tell Scavo “stop your dirty business. If not, we will be stopping you.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Malta has asked the police to investigate Gafà, and as a result he will be taken to Court.
Gafà described himself as the victim of a concerted campaign which pressured the authorities to act against him. He specifically mentioned the Italian Embassy in Malta and numerous press freedom organisations, including Reporters Without Borders and the European Federation of Journalists. He also insisted that he had no intention to threaten Scavo, “let alone doing so publicly on social media.”
During a sitting of the Italian parliament on the 17th July 2020, the issue of threats by Neville Gafà was brought up during question time. Alessandra Ermellino spoke of the various threats which journalists face, naming Scavo among them and warning that should these journalists consider travelling to Malta, they should take precautions “even in Malta, and in this case, I would strongly recommend that no one ventures into these countries without sufficient preparation and precaution”. She asked if the Italian government was going to ask its Maltese counterpart to take steps in this matter.
Answering for the government side, Gianluca Castaldi referred to the threats to Nello Scavo “from a person close to government.” Castaldi confirmed that Scavo had been placed under police protection. He added that under the present administration, Gafà has not been given any particular posting. Castaldi said that “While there have been no official communications with the Maltese government, the ministry for foreign affairs of Malta spoke informally to the Italian embassy in Valletta and condemned the alleged threats. It also assured the embassy that a magisterial inquiry would be opened on the case.” In Parliament, Castaldi concluded that if there will be no results from this inquiry in the coming weeks, fresh pressure on the government will be made via diplomatic channels.
Gafà admitted under oath that he had co-ordinated the push back of the 51 migrants involved in the Pasquetta Tragedy on instructions of the Office of the Prime Minister. Gafa admitted that he been co-ordinating push backs for the past three years. He later added that he did not co-ordinate push backs but made sure the boats did not enter Maltàs search and rescue area.
An 86-year-old woman has died after testing positive for Covid-19, the eleventh victim of the pandemic in Malta. The Health Ministry said that the woman had tested positive for the coronavirus on 18 August, and that she had been in intensive care at Mater Dei Hospital ever since. The Ministry appealed to the public to continue following the advice of the health authorities.
Malta has been allocated 330,000 doses of a potential Covid-19 vaccine through an agreement reached by the European Commission with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Through the contract, EU member states will be able to purchase 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, should it come to fruition, with an option for a further million doses.
These are to be distributed on a population-based pro-rata basis, and Health Minister Chris Fearne confirmed that Maltàs allocation is just under a third of a million doses.
Fearne emphasised that front-line workers and the vulnerable would be prioritised for vaccination until enough doses are acquired to immunise the entire population.
Meanwhile, the number of active cases of Covid-19 in Malta fell by 31 overnight, as health authorities have reported 27 new cases and 58 recoveries. According to the health authorities, the latest number of active cases now stands at 593. The new cases were identified through 2,290 swab tests carried out over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of swab tests carried out in Malta up to 186,644.
Malta has reported 1,847 cases of Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. 1,244 patients have since recovered, but the pandemic has claimed 10 lives.
Malta has the second highest rate of new COVID-19 cases. This was declared by the Medical Association of Malta (MAM) and the Association of Public Health Medicine (MAPHM) who have written to the superintendent of public health requesting more measures to bring the numbers of coronavirus cases down to under 10 every day as soon as possible. Both associations declared that “a choice exists between continuing with the current measures which may or may not reduce the numbers slowly and introducing further measures to decrease the number of daily cases at a faster rate”.
Over the past 24 hours, 32 new positive cases were confirmed and 65 more patients have recovered. The average age of new cases over the past 6 days is that of 40 years of age. Malta has registered a total of 1,820 cases; 624 are still active, 1,186 patients have recovered and 10 have died due to COVID-19.
While addressing a press conference, the Superintendent of Public Health, Professor Charmaine Gauci said that the situation is still unpredictable however it is getting more stable. She mentioned how in the past days more measures have been implemented to contain the spreading of the virus. The Superintendent of Public Health declared that once the schools re-opon, the use of a mask will be required.
However, the doctors and professional health workers confirmed that the virus is spreading amongst the vulnerable. “Inevitably, as numbers increase amongst vulnerable patients, the risk of avoidable deaths increases. 10% of patients admitted to Mater Dei Hospital may need many months to recover their normal health situation. Every effort should be made to keep numbers manageable by the health services”.
MAM and MAPHM declared that at 46 cases every day, Malta now has the second highest rate of new cases (14-day average) in the entire EU. As a result, at least 16 EU countries have introduced travel restrictions to/from Malta, and arrivals have decreased significantly, with serious and long term sustained economic consequences on the tourism sector. “Malta can only promote itself as a safe island for tourists once it is indeed safe by epidemiological standards,” said MAM and MAPHM.
The doctors and professional health workers are demanding further restrictive measures which should be decided by the superintendent of public health; and wherever they are introduced financial compensation to businesses and support of affected employees must be continued. Such measures should include a valid test performed 72 hours prior to departure from all countries, including Maltese nationals returning from abroad until a vaccine is found and he expiry date for vouchers to kick start the Maltese economy should be extended until the end of December.