Schembri claims asset freeze is human rights breach

Miguela Xuereb

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Keith Schembri, who had been chief of staff to disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, has filed a constitutional case in which he claimed that the order to freeze his assets and of numerous others constituted a breach of human rights.

The application was filed by Schembri and 22 other persons or companies, including his wife and parents, whose assets had also been frozen by the order.

The court order had frozen the assets of Schembri, his company Kasco, as well as Nexia BT, its partners, the families of all involved as well as a number of related companies.

Schembri was arrested within hours of the order, along with Nexia BT’s partners Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and Manuel Castagna. All have been released on police bail following questioning.

These actions followed the conclusion of a magisterial inquiry into claims that Schembri earned kickbacks from the sale of passports with Nexia BT’s assistance. Though Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg has refused to publish the inquiry – a decision which earned the new appointee a degree of criticism – it appears to have concluded that there was enough evidence to institute criminal proceedings.

The lawyers also lamented that their clients’ rights were breached by the way the Prevention of Money Laundering Act was worded, which did not provide for a legal remedy for such court orders. A legal remedy is only provided for those who have actually been arraigned, they pointed out.

In a writ signed by Schembri’s lawyers Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo, they are arguing that the order breached their right to a fair hearing, their right to the enjoyment of their property, and their right not to be punished without a conviction.

They also insisted that the Attorney General’s action was disproportionate since the allegation was that Schembri earned €100,000 in kickbacks, whereas the order froze the assets of many people, preventing the salaries of around 80 people from being paid.

Around 78 of Schembri’s employees have filed separate proceedings in a bid to unfreeze their wages.