Erstwhile Prime Minister Dom Mintoff, at the heart of accusations levelled by Cecil Pace, the director-shareholder of the Bank of Industry, Commerce and Agriculture (BICAL), has defended himself in Court from allegations of having been at the centre of the collapse of the BICAL bank.
Appearing in front of the Court of Magistrates in the lawsuit which has held this newspaper liable for damages for reports on the BICAL case, Mintoff has denied allegations that messengers had asked Cecil Pace to transfer 50 per cent of his shareholding to Mintoff’s nominees.
Mintoff said he knew Cecil Pace as an industrialist: “As leader of the Labour Party and responsible for Malta to be removed from its dependence on the United Kingdom and its institutions, as Prime Minister I helped anybody who worked in Malta’s favour. It is true that I helped Mr Pace in his industries. And there is a distinction to be made between the industries and the bank. I helped Pace in all his industries before 1971.”
Mintoff has, however, denied having offered Pace the post of party deputy leader, calling it a “lie that nobody could ever believe.”
“This was a man who knew nothing about politics and whom I had helped in his industry. It was impossible for me to appoint him deputy leader, because he employed people who were members in the General Workers’ Union, and nine out of ten of them were Labourites. Although Pace didn’t understand politics, one realises, from the way he writes that Saviour Balzan, does understand politics. However, it looks like he did not ask himself whether there was any basis for this affirmation. And in fact there are many who are still alive and who lived in those times.”
Mintoff said MaltaToday attempted to depict the BICAL story as a “national plot”:
“The context of this national conspiracy, supposedly inspired by myself as some demon, and plotted by myself, was that during the time in question I had taken advantage of my position as party leader and Prime Minister, of the fact that this bank was finding itself in difficulty. It is alleged that I wanted to vindicate myself because, as Cecil Pace told Balzan, I had sent somebody to tell Pace to give me half of his shares for free. There could not be a graver accusation. All the journalist had to add, is that I grabbed Pace by the neck and threw him in jail myself. And he almost said this as well.”
Mintoff said this newspaper had failed to contact him, expecting him to “read all newspapers and watch every television channel.” He said this newspaper had expected him to answer to all that was written without ever communicating with him: “He [the editor] knew I suffered from a bad ear because he had met me briefly before and he could have also phoned and I was unable to hear him. However I am sure this person did not write to me. Before people brought my attention to what was being said on television, asking me if I was going to stay for what was being said, the convened was expecting that since I had not answered him I was scared and was hiding away.”
Mintoff said he had investigated the matter personally, asking people who were somehow involved in the matter to reveal details of what had happened.
“After having carried out my investigations, I spoke to whom I knew. They said that what they remembered was contrary to the stories being unearthed. What was written was such an invention that he once mentioned the name of Minister Dalli (Labour MP) and in another edition of the newspaper he wrote he had made a mistake and the person he wanted to mention was Frans Dalli.
“I had quite an ordeal to see what had happened thirty years ago, and this had happened by word of mouth and not on paper. One of the hardest things to do was contacting this Frans Dalli to tell him I remembered nothing about what Mr Balzan was saying, to therefore ask him what he remembered.
“When I questioned him he said he remembered the contrary of what was written. He told me he had been deceived, and said he was ready to draft an affidavit immediately, that what Mr Balzan was saying was not true.
“Frans Dalli asked me who was my lawyer so that he could make an affidavit. Frans Dalli is one of the persons who was mentioned by Mr Balzan, who not only mentioned him but also accepted the paternity of what he had written.”
Mintoff said from research that he conducted although Cecil Pace was competent in managing the deposits in his bank, but it was also revealed that this bank had no strength from within.
“I know that a law which had been presented by the Nationalists concerning the Central Bank had been passed in Parliament and this bothered everybody because the discourse was technical… So much did we genuinely want to have a serious and modern law that a rumour had spread that Mario Felice, (then PN Shadow Finance Minister) his son and myself were business partners, but this was not true…
“The banking law I had passed ensured the bank would not keep on working the way they did before, but together. The Central Bank could intervene when banks clear each other’s cheques.
“According to my research, when Pace came to settle his dues with the Central Bank, he cited a bank called Caribbean as guarantee, which was based in London. In that same period, one of the Central Bank’s highest ranking figures, a certain Henry Degabriele, was abroad and somebody brought to his attention the financial problems at BICAL and the Caribbean since the cheque he had shown him was not backed by cash.
So when the Cenral Bank was carrying out its verifications with the bank nominated by BICAL, Degabriele informed those responsible for BICAL at the Central Bank. This is where the story started.
“Neither myself, nor the Minister of Finance of that time, started the bank’s troubles. The Finance Minister of that time, today dead, had some of his personal money deposited in BICAL. As far as I know this amounted to some Lm5,000. That is why he had no interest in breaking BICAL when he himself had money deposited there.
“The bank was being investigated according to the legal parameters of the Central Bank. All technical work was carried out by the Central Bank. The legal work was carried out by the Government’s legal office, and the only decision I had to take as Prime Minister was to see what we were ready to do in these circumstances. That is to see what the Government was ready to do to save the money of the depositors and more than that to save the 3,000 employees – a number which I do not contest - who worked with Pace.”
Continues next week
Editorial note: Mr Balzan’s testimony will be published in the weeks to come