The civil court has ordered the dissolution of a film production company, in which disgraced former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, who now faces money laundering charges, owned 50% of the shares.
The action in the civil court in its commercial section was brought by former film commissioner Oliver Mallia, who held a 25% stake in Cinebiss Limited – a company which provides an international film shooting service in Malta. Mallia complained that banks treated him with prejudice because of his connection to Schembri.
Cinebiss was established in 2007, the same year Mallia resigned as film commissioner. The company was established with Mallia, Schembri and a holding company Spira Trading as shareholders. Spira Trading is owned by Pierre Sladden and held a 25% stake.
In court, it emerged shareholders had finally agreed to liquidate the company in 2018, with Mallia asking the company’s accountant, Brian Tonna, to arrange the liquidation. However, despite a resolution by which Robert Zammit was appointed liquidator in January 2019, the Malta Companies Registry was never officially informed of his appointment, so nothing happened.
Schembri was ultimately charged with money laundering in the Allied Newspapers case in March 2021 and his assets were frozen.
In court, Mallia said Schembri’s arrest and subsequent criminal prosecution had a negative impact on his personal and professional banking transactions, as banks treated him with prejudice because he owned property in a company partly owned by Keith Schembri.
Judge Ian Spiteri Bailey, who was presiding over the court, said the court takes allegations of money laundering seriously and operates a zero-tolerance policy on cases warranting investigation.
The Civil Court said that in the current business environment, both local and global, commercial banks are expected to investigate the activities of their customers.
“This must happen especially when there is a link between its customers and criminal activity or with people suspected of having committed (money laundering). This is what a commercial and financial services environment requires serious and clean.
The court noted that in this case, the plaintiff is a shareholder with another person (Schembri) who has been charged with money laundering. Additionally, the company was also hit by the freezing order.
The court ordered the forced liquidation of Cinebiss under Article 214 of the Companies Act.
In 2018, the company made headlines after disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was caught off guard when he told parliament that Schembri had no business interest in the film business since his chief of staff retained its stake in Cinebiss Ltd.
The company was created to meet the needs of the $70 million Hollywood film Agora, after which it showed little commercial activity, but remained active.
Murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had revealed that Sladden and Schembri owned another film company – Grigal Films Ltd – with Phyllis Muscat who is a close friend of Joseph Muscat.
Phyllis Muscat had been appointed CEO of the organizing committee for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2015 by the then Prime Minister.