Karl Stagno-Navarra Mimcol’s chief executive officer Mario Mizzi has been asked not to report for work and to stay home on ‘forced leave’, pending a police investigation into allegations of corruption in the privatisation process for Malta Superyachts.
Mizzi, who was last week called in for interrogation by Assistant Commissioner Michael Cassar, was reportedly held for questioning for 48 hours, during which he also faced Police Commissioner John Rizzo.
Senior police sources said they were investigating details mentioned in the statement given by Mizzi, and that the next step would be obtaining data from phone companies to establish contacts made with bidders.
It is understood that Mizzi has been advised not to approach colleagues from Mimcol until further notice.
Further interrogations continued yesterday, with other members from the Privatisation Unit being called to the Police headquarters in Floriana.
Another person to be interrogated was Mimcol’s chairman Ivan Falzon.
Contacted by MaltaToday, Falzon denied having submitted his resignation as was reported in the media, and stressed that “neither the Prime Minister nor the finance minister had refused the resignation, because there never was a resignation.”
The investigations into allegations of corruption were instigated by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi last Wednesday after he was quizzed in parliament by Opposition leader Joseph Muscat as to whether he knew of any allegations that were forwarded to members of his staff.
It transpired that Leonard Callus, a senior official in the prime minister’s secretariat, had been personally informed of the damning allegation back in September 2009: namely of an invitation to tenderers to grease the wheels of the privatisation process, in the hope of a favourable outcome for the interested bidders.
Callus took the allegation to the finance ministry, which sought its own explanations from Mimcol but never reported it to the police.
Gonzi said he was told last Tuesday that a claim on these lines had been made to the OPM last September and asked for the Police Commissioner to investigate the claim.
Joseph Muscat said it was “disgraceful” that eight months had passed before an investigation was called.
Last Sunday, the Prime Minister refrained from answering questions by MaltaToday pending the police investigation. One of these questions concerns statements by Gonzi and finance minister Tonio Fenech that tendering was suspended soon after the corruption allegations were made.
This newspaper has confirmed that Mimcol’s Privatisation Unit only cancelled the tendering process in November 2009, because it deemed the proposals for the superyacht facility were not “sufficiently satisfactory”.
Finance Minister Tonio Fenech has stated he summoned the members of the Privatisation Unit’s negotiating team to tell them about the allegation, which they all denied. He did not report the allegation to the police, claiming this week that the allegation “was just hearsay.”
But when tendering was cancelled in November, bidders were told in writing that none of the proposals had satisfied the Evaluation Committee. No reference was made to any allegations of corruption at this point.
The finance ministry even retained the same members of the evaluation committee to oversee tendering, after accepting their denial of the corruption allegations. Asked by MaltaToday why the same people involved in the privatisation were retained to evaluate the bids, the OPM declined to answer.
After cancelling the tendering process, the PU invited all bidders to resubmit their proposals.
This decision irked bidders who had been actually shortlisted by the PU, but never approached to improve their offers. Initially, five firms had submitted offers for the superyachts facility: Neapolitan firm Palumbo, which has since acquired Malta Shipyards; the Manoel Island Consortium, which has since acquired the Manoel Island Yacht Yard; Melita Group; Hili Group; and CGA-CGM.
Hili and Melita were shortlisted, but after the cancellation of the tendering process, Melita decided not to resubmit a bid. Neither did CGA-CGM.
Instead, Palumbo and Manoel Island Consortium submitted a joint bid, a move which the finance ministry denied amounted to collusion. According to the ministry, the joint bid was permissible under the conditions laid down in the request for proposals.