Update at 3:30 p.m.
Josette Schembri Vella, the wife of former chief of staff Keith Schembri, was charged on Friday with money laundering offenses linked to her business.
The charges relate to transactions linked to the company 3 City Designs and carried out over the period 2008 to 2020.
Inspector Leanne Bonello of the Anti-Money Laundering Team said the suspicious amount charged was € 1.5 million.
Schembri Vella and the company are jointly accused of converting or transferring property when they knew or suspected that it had been directly or indirectly acquired through criminal activity.
The objective was to conceal the origin of this property or to assist people involved in said criminal activity.
They are also accused of having acted as accomplices in criminal activities.
Only Schembri Vella is accused of failing to ensure that the company fulfills its legal obligations. According to her lawyer, the problem simply boiled down to the fact that she had not called the board meetings.
The prosecution was hotly attacked by defense attorney Edward Gatt, who called the charges “fabricated” and said his client was being brought to justice simply because of her husband.
Keith Schembri was indicted for money laundering last March.
Schembri Vella had been questioned by the police financial crime investigation service in recent days as part of a money laundering investigation.
Details of the first hearing were scarce, but the court agreed to post bail to Vella Schembri against a deposit of € 10,000 and a personal guarantee of € 40,000.
2:20 p.m. The hearing is over but Schembri Vella is still present in the courtroom until the bail money is settled.
Fees between 2008 and 2020
2:15 p.m. The offenses date between 2008 and 2020.
Schembri Vella is separately accused of non-compliance with one of the provisions of the Companies Act.
2:05 p.m. The court accepts the release on bail. Schembri Vella will however have to sign the bail book at Qawra police station four times a week.
The defense lawyer clarifies that the accused is not a teenager but a mother who may need to transport her children and would therefore need extended hours.
The magistrate grants a deposit with a curfew from midnight to 6.30 am against a deposit of 10,000 € and a personal deposit of 40,000 €.
“Let’s not make things worse for the Schembri family”
2 p.m. Turning to bail, the prosecution says fears of flight to justice still remain. But in this case, as long as there are strict measures, they will not oppose the release on bail.
Agius Bonnici emphasizes that in this case, Vella Schembri is not accused personally but as a representative of the company.
The defense lawyer points out that the seizure order affected the entire family, even the couple’s children.
“They are well and truly struggling to deal with money matters these days. Please don’t make it worse,” says the lawyer.
Suspicious figure of 1.5 million euros
13:55 Inspector Leanne Bonello of the Anti-Money Laundering Team then testifies and claims that the suspicious amount that is the subject of these charges is 1.5 million euros.
The defense intervenes right away and says the inspector is not telling the truth.
“If this amount subsequently changes, the inspector will assume responsibility,” said attorney Edward Gatt.
The magistrate confirms the order to freeze the company’s assets.
Kasco and 3 city models
1:50 p.m. The police disclosure related to a number of suspicious transactions by 3 City Designs.
Their source was suspicious and that’s what Schembri Vella was questioned about, AG’s lawyer explains.
Gatt asks Superintendent Frank A Tabone of the FCID Anti-Money Laundering Team to testify regarding the disclosure.
Tabone says two other inspectors were assigned to the case who traced suspicious transfers from Kasco Ltd to 3 City Designs and vice versa.
Gatt: “Do you know that Kasco owns 50% of the other company?
Prosecution cannot provide numbers
1:45 p.m. The magistrate wonders why the prosecution cannot even provide an approximate value of the alleged money laundering.
The magistrate explains: “We are not experts in money laundering but to say that the accusation does not have the amount, it is not acceptable”.
Agius Bonnici insists that the prosecution cannot provide amounts today and that the case stems from an investigation by magistrate Josette Demicoli. Suspicious amounts were cited in this investigation and that is where the predicate offense comes from, AG’s lawyer said.
Lively lawyers protest
13:40 The defense lawyer inquires about the amount of money allegedly laundered.
“We can’t say that today,” replies AG Antoine Agius Bonnici’s lawyer.
“Of course you can’t!” shouts the defense team in unison.
The magistrate intervenes and asks if a value will be indicated in due course.
“Yes but not today.”
But the freezing order is requested today, retorts lawyer Edward Gatt.
“There were similar indictments last week and a value was given. But this time they can’t come up with an amount because the predicate offense is the fact that no board meeting didn’t has been summoned. “
“So today we are throwing a lifeline to the prosecution coming to arraignment and simply asking for a freeze order with no underlying offense!” “
“Indicted because she is Keith Schembri’s wife”
13:35 Defense attorney Edward Gatt said his client has been the subject of a seizure order for months and that order expires today.
“I can only oppose the freezing order. These proceedings against Josette Vella are abusive. She is being charged simply because she is Keith Schembri’s wife! And I will stop there!
“Worse yet, the money laundering charge needs a predicate offense. And that doesn’t exist here. It appears that the prosecution is now running away with the habit of removing this predicate offense.
He says his client is accused of giving up her responsibilities as a business manager simply because she did not call the board meetings.
Plead not guilty
1:30 p.m. Schembri Vella stands before the magistrate. She gives her contact details and pleads not guilty.
The prosecution is asking for an order freezing the company it represents.
The defense lawyer immediately objects to it, saying the country has recently witnessed indictments of a fiscal nature, triggered by a national situation.
“We don’t think there should be a freezing order. Here we have charges that are made up from nothing, non-existent. Of course, the charges are issued by the attorney general.”
1:15 p.m. Police said in a brief statement on Friday that a 45-year-old woman from Mellieħa and a company would be charged with financial crimes, including money laundering at 1:30 p.m.
The prosecutions are led by attorneys for Attorney General Antoine Agius Bonnici and Andrea Zammit with the assistance of inspectors Lianne Bonello and Ian Camilleri.
Edward Gatt, Ishmael Psaila, Mark Vassallo, Veronique Dalli and Shaun Zammit appear for Schembri Vella.
Schembri Vella is due to appear before magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit.
Keith Schembri himself already faces charges of money laundering, criminal conspiracy, fraud and forgery.
The former chief of staff is currently undergoing medical treatment.
Schembri Vella was seen arriving at FCID headquarters in Sta Venera in March, the day her husband was arraigned.
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