In an exclusive story, The Times, as part of the Daphne Project, reported that “Local criminal investigators have been handed an intelligence report naming Electrogas power station director and businessman Yorgen Fenech as the owner of the mystery Dubai company 17 Black.
The report was based on a joint investigation by Times of Malta and Reuters.
Mr Fenech is the CEO of Tumas Group, a local business giant that is one of the partners in the new gas-fired power station, a project pushed and fronted by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi during the 2013 election.
17 Black was identified in a leaked e-mail as one of two sources of income for the Panama companies Hearnville and Tillgate, which were set up by OPM consultants Nexia BT for Dr Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Opposition Leader Adrian Delia has called for the removal of Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri. He said that if Prime Minister Joseph Muscat does not remove them, then the Opposition will not be silent and not stop there. Delia said that Joseph Muscat has a choice, either to defend Malta or defend Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri. The Malta Independent
The Democratic Party has called for “an immediate and thorough” police investigation into the allegations that Dubai-based company 17 Black is owned by Electrogas shareholder and director Yorgen Fenech. “It has become undeniable that the rule of law in Malta has broken down despite the massive propaganda campaign by the government and its network of yes-men in key positions,” the PD said. Malta Today
The Labour Party hit back at Delia’s resignation call, insisting that it was incomprehensible for the Opposition leader to ask for resignations when he acknowledged that the 17 Black reports were “allegations”. The PL said that to be credible, Delia had to ask for an investigation into the serious allegations made against PN MEP David Casa by a whistleblower.
The Times reports that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Friday night said he would wait for ongoing inquiries into the offshore holdings of his chief of staff Keith Schembri and minister Konrad Mizzi before deciding whether action was merited following the latest 17 Black revelations.
Fielding questions from reporters, Dr Muscat gave his first reaction to a probe by Times of Malta and Reuters which today revealed how local criminal investigators have been handed an intelligence report naming Electrogas power station director and businessman Yorgen Fenech as the owner of the once secret company 17 Black.
The company had been named as the target client of similar companies owned by Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri, and according to leaked emails was destined to pay them the hefty sum of €150,000 monthly.
Dr Muscat said he had first heard of Mr Fenech’s connection to 17 Black, which he said he could not verify, when he received questions from Reuters.
The International Media
Two people familiar with the subject in Malta said a report by Malta’s anti-money laundering watchdog had identified Yorgen Fenech, the chief executive of a Maltese property developer, as the owner of 17 Black. A third person familiar with the subject in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said account records at a bank in Dubai identified Fenech as the owner of 17 Black. Reuters last month reviewed UAE banking correspondence that described Fenech as the owner and signatory of a 17 Black account at Noor Bank in Dubai.
Fenech is a director and co-owner of a business group that won a large energy concession from the Maltese state. In 2013, that group was granted the right by the Maltese government to build a 450 million euro (£397.2 million) gas power station on the island.
When asked to comment, Fenech declined to say whether he owns 17 Black.
The ownership of the company is significant because of another document, an email written in December 2015 by accountants for two senior figures in Malta’s government. That email was discovered by Maltese financial regulators among documents obtained from the accountants’ firm, according to a person briefed on the investigation. Its existence has been reported before and its authenticity has not been challenged. The two senior political figures concerned are Konrad Mizzi, who was Malta’s energy minister from 2013 to 2016, and Keith Schembri, the prime minister’s chief of staff. Mizzi conceived and promoted the idea of offering the power station concession.
According to the December 2015 email, Panama companies owned by Mizzi and Schembri stood to receive payments from 17 Black for services that were unspecified. The email said the Panama companies expected 17 Black to be a “main target client,” with payments of up to $2 million expected within a year. The email made no reference to the gas power station energy scheme and there is no evidence the payments went ahead.
It remains unclear why the Panama companies owned by two senior political figures expected to receive money from 17 Black.
The December 2015 email was first published in April by the Daphne Project, a collaboration of news organisations, including Reuters, that has been carrying on the work of the murdered journalist. In a response at the time, Schembri said that firms he owned had a business plan to earn money from 17 Black but that those plans did not go ahead. He did not elaborate. Mizzi denied all knowledge of 17 Black.
Schembri and Mizzi both told Reuters in October they had no knowledge of any connection between 17 Black and Fenech, or of any plan to receive payments connected to Fenech or the energy project. Fenech denied making any plans to pay any politician or any person or entity connected to them.
A UAE government official, who was unwilling to be named, said UAE financial and law enforcement authorities were examining 17 Black’s activities after a request for assistance from Maltese authorities. The official declined to elaborate.
A simple question lets the Chief of Staff of the Maltese Prime Minister flee: “Who owns 17 Black?” It’s a sunny afternoon in June, and Keith Schembri, the chief of staff, plump, blue suit, shark collar, hurries through the alleys of Valletta’s old town, the capital of Malta, flanked by three men. On his heels, a reporter who keeps asking this question, once, twice, ten times at the end: “Who owns 17 Black?”
Schembri is visibly uncomfortable, almost everyone knows him here, after all, he is one of the most powerful men in the country. And if he knows the answer to the journalist’s question, it could cost him his job, or even freedom. Because Schembris secret letterbox company should, according to a note in the Panama Papers, get from an enigmatic company called 17 Black a million. This never happened in the end, apparently because the Panama Papers took precedence over the deal – but Schembri could never invalidate the suspicion that his company was originally supposed to get money from this obscure company.
So who owns 17 Black? According to findings of the SZ and other media, just one of the investors in the 450 million project could be behind the company: Yorgen Fenech, one of the board members of the Electrogas consortium. That Fenech is called in a bank correspondence, which could also see the SZ, as a 17-Black owner. He had not been noticed by expertise in the energy sector until then; he operated casinos and hotels. After his family business then became a partner of the Electrogas consortium, he moved to the board.
Several sources confirmed this information to the reporters of the Daphne project – a coalition of investigative journalists, led by Forbidden Stories, which is continuing the research of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered last year. The SZ is also part of this cooperation.
“I 10 milioni transitati a Dubai”
La mail del dicembre 2015, documentava come sia la “17 Black” che la “Macbridge” fossero società registrate a Dubai. Ma le verifiche effettuate a Dubai sul conto della “Macbridge” non hanno prodotto alcun riscontro. Al contrario, i documenti bancari visionati dalla “Reuters” per il Daphne Project indicano che la “17 Black” è stata registrata nel vicino emirato di Ajman ed ha aperto un conto presso la “Noor Bank” di Dubai nel giugno 2015.
Una fonte a conoscenza della procedura di set-up della società negli Emirati Arabi sostiene che la “17 Black” è una società cosiddetta “flexi-desk”, vale a dire cui è concessa la registrazione negli Emirati pur non richiedendo che le attività di business siano svolte all’interno del Paese. La stessa fonte aggiunge che, nel 2015, sono transitati sul conto della “Noor Bank” intestato alla “17 Black” tra i 9 e i 10 milioni di euro, dopo di che il conto è diventato dormiente. Di tale circostanza non è stato possibile acquisire evidenze scritte che la confermino. Di più. Stando alla medesima fonte, la gran parte del denaro movimentato attraverso il conto della “17 Black” è stato rapidamente trasferito verso altri beneficiari, lasciando una giacenza attiva e depositata pari a 2 milioni di dollari. Cifra che, lo scorso mese, è stata congelata dalla stessa “Noor bank” a seguito della mancata produzione di documenti in grado di giustificare le numerose transazioni in entrata e uscita avvenute sin li sul conto.
In una dichiarazione scritta, la “Noor Bank” ha rifiutato di discutere delle attività sul conto della “17 black” “perché tenuta al segreto bancario”, ma ha aggiunto di aver trasmesso ogni informazione al riguardo di fronte alle richieste formali avanzate dalle diverse autorità. A tal proposito, secondo quanto riferisce una fonte investigativa maltese e documenta un rapporto del 2017 della Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, le autorità finanziarie maltesi hanno tracciato due pagamenti alla “17 Black”.
Un primo bonifico a favore della società risale al 10 luglio del 2015, per un importo di 200 mila dollari, risulta disposto dalla “Orion Engineering Group Ltd.”, ed è giustificato a titolo di “fornitura di manodopera in Qatar. La “Orion” è una società registrata a Malta di cui è proprietario l’imprenditore maltese Mario Pullicino, che aveva anche rivestito cariche sociali nella “Armada floating Gas Services Malta Ltd.”, società costituita nel giugno 2015 per provvedere alla fornitura di una nave gassiera (la “Armada”) per lo stoccaggio del gas destinato ad alimentare la nuova centrale elettrica.
Rintracciato telefonicamente, Pullicino ha confermato di aver disposto quel bonifico di 200 mila euro a favore della “17 Black” sostenendo che nulla aveva a che fare con il progetto della centrale elettrica, ma si è rifiutato di fornire ogni ulteriore dettaglio su quella transazione, limitandosi a dire che la sua società “non ha mai effettuato pagamenti a beneficio di soggetti politicamente esposti”.
Nel marzo del 2018, secondo fonti vicine al dossier della società negli Emirati, la “17 Black” ha cambiato il nome con cui era stata registrata nel 2015, in “Wings Development”, società che risulta tutt’ora operativa nella zona franca dell’emirato di Ajman.
La société avait été brièvement mentionnée sur son blog par Daphne Caruana Galizia. La journaliste maltaise assassinée dans l’explosion de sa voiture, le 16 octobre 2017, avait pressenti que « 17 Black » cachait des pratiques douteuses de son gouvernement. Cette entité est utilisée par des responsables politiques maltais « pour déplacer de l’argent depuis et vers Dubaï », avait-elle écrit sur son blog, huit mois avant sa mort. Elle n’avait toutefois pas pu aller plus loin.