VALLETTA/DUBAI, (Reuters) - In February 2017, the Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote in her blog about a mystery company in Dubai called 17 Black Limited. She alleged it was connected to Maltese politicians, but offered no evidence.
She was unable to discover who owned the company, and it remained unclear whether 17 Black had any significance.
Eight months later Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb, prompting an international outcry. No evidence has emerged that connects her death to any of her journalism. But her killing did renew interest in her many different claims, leading to media reports about such subjects as banking regulation and Malta’s sale of passports. Now Reuters and other media have begun to unravel another mystery, that of 17 Black.
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 ($517 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.
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