MaltaToday | 31 August 2008

NEWS | Sunday, 31 August 2008

Tourist Resources saga that pushed Dalli

The audit report into the procurement of airline tickets by government ministries – commissioned by the prime minister upon minister John Dalli’s resignation in 2004 – is about to be presented to the Speaker of the House of Representatives when the summer recess is over.
The office of the Auditor General has confirmed that the report is planned to be presented to the Speaker in just a few weeks’ time, in September, after which it will be tabled in the House.
The report on the procurement of airline tickets was completed by former Auditor General Joseph G. Galea, but was never submitted to the Speaker because Galea’s second and last constitutional mandate had come to an end and he was therefore not legally empowered to sign the finalised report.
Short of sealing the controversy over Dalli’s procurement of Lm40,000 in airline tickets from a company related to family interests, the report is most likely to be an examination into good practice in government procurement of air tickets.
In July 2007 MaltaToday revealed that the audit was never an investigation into John Dalli’s purchase of air tickets for the foreign ministry from the company Tourist Resources Ltd – owned by another company whose shareholders were his daughters.

Dalli had just lost a bitter leadership election to Gonzi in February 2004. In May, he came under attack from the Labour Party for allegedly using his influence convince the Iranian national shipping line (IRISL) to choose Gauci Borda Shipping, his daughter's company, as their sole agents.
On 9 June, the Tourist Resources saga was revealed by The Times – a surprising revelation from the pro-Nationalist newspaper, which had Dalli double-take on where the attacks on him were coming from at the time.
While John Dalli categorically stated the tickets saga was “the excuse used by the Prime Minister” to accept his resignation, he accused journalist Ivan Camilleri – brother to Gonzi’s spokesperson at the time – of having “kept up the attack” by featuring the Times report in the PBS news bulletin.
And then on 11 June, Dutch firm Simed gave Gonzi a private investigator’s report that claimed Dalli’s brother Sebastian had collected a kickback for a hospital tender to go the way of Italian company Inso.
When Dalli resigned on 3 July, he was never put under investigation over any of the allegations. Instead he proposed to Gonzi to put his procurement of airline tickets to the Auditor General’s verdict.
This Gonzi did, which led many to believe that Dalli was under some sort of investigation, an impression reinforced by former PN secretary-general Joe Saliba, who in December 2006 told Super One TV that Dalli “will not be found to have done anything inappropriate” once the audit was finalised.
As questions mounted over the reason why Gonzi had accepted Dalli’s resignation short of any wrongdoing being found, Saliba later told PBS in June 2007 that Dalli’s resignation was accepted due to the criminal investigation into the fabricated Joe Zahra report.
Saliba’s declaration led Dalli to comment that the airline tickets audit was “totally irrelevant”.
He said his resignation had been forced by the fact that the prime minister had been given the fabricated private investigator’s report.
Gonzi, according to Dalli, told him he “couldn’t have a minister in [his] Cabinet under investigation” – and Dalli proceeded to resign on 3 July.
But Gonzi only called Commissioner of Police John Rizzo to Castille to investigate the report on the 15 July.

Public exoneration
In the meantime, private investigator Joe Zahra – a once-henchman of Labour minister Lorry Sant, who was at the time working for TV journalist Lou Bondì – was served a two-year imprisonment for fabricating the kickback allegations.
Spending three years on the backbench, Dalli led an open war of words against the Gonzi government from his column in The Sunday Times.
And despite the audit report never being published, in November 2007 Lawrence Gonzi called a press conference in which he publicly rehabilitated Dalli by appointing him his personal advisor on economic affairs.
Gonzi unilaterally ‘absolved’ Dalli by stating that “nothing has resulted from the accusations made against John… I want to make it clear that every insinuation made against John Dalli and which could have brought about his resignation have been found to be unfounded and false.”

Auditor’s report

Dalli’s rehabilitation


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