News | Sunday, 30 May 2010

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Borg Olivier knew about ‘corruption’ allegations

PN secretary-general ‘presents himself’ to police, after entrepreneur Beppe Hili says he informed Paul Borg Olivier of kickback allegation in superyacht privatisation

The secretary-general of the Nationalist Party, Paul Borg Olivier, was this week questioned at the police headquarters in Floriana, in the ongoing investigations into corruption allegations on the tendering process for the privatisation of Malta Superyachts.
MaltaToday understands that back in 2009, Borg Olivier was informed of allegations made to him by bidders for the superyacht facility, allegations that only surfaced last week after Labour leader Joseph Muscat made scant reference to it in parliament.
But Borg Olivier is denying having been informed of an allegation of ‘possible corruption’ back in late 2009 by one of Malta’s leading entrepreneurs: Beppe Hili.
“I went to Borg Olivier to open my heart to him, and his response was: ‘these things should not happen’,” Hili said about when he told Borg Olivier of his concerns on the privatisation of the Malta Superyachts, for which his consortium was bidding.
Borg Olivier yesterday told MaltaToday, that no allegation was made to him by Hili or anyone else over the “possibility of ‘corruption’ or ‘irregularity’ in the tendering process.” Reacting, Hili said he could not understand why Borg Olivier was changing his version of events. “The fact that he was summoned by the police to say what he knew about the allegations, is evidence enough that a meeting between myself and Borg Olivier happened… I told the police to summon him.
“My family is a well-known Nationalist family, and we don’t accept corruption,” Hili declared.
The allegation concerns an invitation to tenderers – made right before tendering was about to start – to grease the wheels of the privatisation process for the superyacht facility, in return of a favourable outcome for the tenderer who obliges with a kickback.
The same allegation was reported to Leonard Callus, a senior official in the Office of the Prime Minister, in September of last year.
Borg Olivier has denied the allegation had been reported to him at the same time, claiming he had no reason to pass on the information to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.
Gonzi has declared he was only made aware of the allegation last week, after Muscat brought the matter up in parliament.
“No allegation was made to me over the possibility of ‘corruption’ or ‘irregularity’ in the tendering process for the superyachts. For this purpose I had no information to pass on to the Prime Minister or the Police,” Borg Olivier told MaltaToday, who demanded that questions be made to him via e-mail.
Borg Olivier referred to Labour organ One TV’s news bulletin of Sunday 23 May, in which the PN secretary-general’s visual was brought up. “In the course of events, One TV’s news bulletin reported the Opposition leader alleging that the information of ‘grave corruption’ was known to a high-ranking official in the PN. The same news bulletin when referring to the PN Official brought up my visual in the footage.
“Unlike Dr Muscat, who thought he can spread allegations and fly out of the country for ten days without going to the Commissioner of Police, I thought that it was most prudent for me to present myself to the Commissioner of Police to give an explanation of the above,” Borg Olivier said.
Muscat flew out of the island on a trip to Australia, shortly after he raised the matter of the corruption allegations in parliament.
MaltaToday last week also reported that the chief executive of Mimcol, Mario Mizzi, was called in for interrogation by the Commissioner of Police and was now on ‘forced leave’.
Mizzi, long-standing head of the government’s investment arm, was summoned to the police headquarters, to be questioned over the allegations made about the privatisation of Malta Superyachts.
The allegations were brought to the attention to OPM official Leonard Callus back in September 2009, by a group of bidders. Callus then took the allegation to the finance ministry, which sought its own explanations from Mimcol but never reported the allegation to the police.
Mimcol’s Privatisation Unit cancelled the tendering process in November 2009, because it deemed the proposals for the superyacht facility were not “sufficiently satisfactory” – but not for reasons related to the corruption allegation, at least publicly.
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 last week that the allegation “was just hearsay”.
The finance ministry retained the same members of the evaluation committee to oversee tendering, after accepting their denial of the corruption allegations.
After cancelling the tendering process, the PU invited all bidders – 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 – to resubmit their proposals.
Hili and Melita had already been shortlisted by the PU, but after the cancellation of the tendering process in November, Melita decided not to resubmit a bid. Neither did CGA-CGM.
Palumbo and Manoel Island Consortium submitted a joint bid, a move which the finance ministry denied amounted to collusion and was permissible under the conditions laid down in the request for proposals.
The PU once again cancelled the process in February over claims that the offers are still not suitable, and a new call for tenders was never issued again.

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