in ,

Cover your assets: Economy Minister Chris ‘Horndog’ Cardona

Malta Economy Minister Chris Cardona

Economy Minister Chris Cardona sets the example on ignoring regulations: he is involved in at least two companies that are in breach of the law, one of which is owned by the Labour Party in government.

In 2008, Cardona had said that if elected, “everyone in the Labour Party would have to dispose of commercial ties, this is a commitment we all made. I will follow suit by transferring my shares [in Sapmac Company Ltd] and resign from director.”

This was hardly how things played out.

Newsrooms have been highlighting Cardona’s company Sapmac Ltd’s breach of regulations for years. Nothing changed. The company – a joint venture between Cardona, his former chief of staff Mario Azzopardi, Stuart Azzopardi and Labour developer Carmelo Penza – has not filed annual audited accounts as required by law for the last eight years.

Cardona’s declaration of assets has changed over the years. It no longer includes the substantial properties and assets of his former Ukranian wife, but one thing remains constant – his 25% shareholding in development company Sapmac Ltd.

Cardona does not declare any directorships in his asset declarations. His 2013 declaration noted that he resigned from all of them, yet some digging revealed this to be false.

The Economy Minister was appointed as a director of Sound Vision Print Ltd in July 2016, replacing former Labour Party Deputy Leader Toni Abela who Prime Minister Joseph Muscat promoted to Judge.

Sound Vision is the company that owns and operates the Labour Party newspaper Kulhadd, and Cardona is still listed as sole director.

This appointment makes Cardona the exception as Ministers typically resign from directorships as opposed to accepting them during their tenure (mandated by the Code of Ethics) .

That is the Economy Minister and the company is owned by the Party in government while picking up direct orders for advertising from the same government, including his Ministry.

A double page spread promoting the government's work in Labour Party newspaper Kulhadd.
A double page spread promoting the government’s work in Labour Party newspaper Kulhadd.

To add insult to injury, the company has not filed its annual audited accounts as required by law since 2010 (filed in 2013). The Labour Party has stopped filing its audited accounts for the company since it came to power.

A conservative estimate makes Cardona, as sole director, personally liable to a fine of over €2,600 (and counting) for late filing of audited accounts, at least according to laws that apply to others with no links to the government.

The fine by the MFSA is €23.29 + 47c per day of delay.

Meanwhile, Cardona’s sprawling Madliena villa and office in Birkirkara remain listed in his asset declarations, but one property has dropped off the list. In 2013, the year the Labour Party was elected to govern, Cardona had declared “apartments and garages in Fort Mansions in S. Erardi Street, Zabbar”.

In 2017, the reference to apartments and garages became the singular, “apartment/garage” suggesting that there may have been some asset sales.

Last year, the item disappeared altogether, yet Cardona’s bank balance does not appear to reflect the proceeds of the sale.

Fort Mansions in Zabbar. Source: Google Maps

Questioned about this by journalist Jacob Borg, Cardona claimed the proceeds went to Sapmac Ltd: “Normally, in ‘our legal world’ the company would represent the immovable property which has been sold” and that the proceeds went to the bank.

While declaring immovable property held by companies (as opposed to only declaring the shares) would make Cardona the exception among his colleagues in their asset declarations, the Economy Minister is not necessarily coming clean.

Cardona owns a quarter of the shares in Sapmac, yet he declared 100% of the property owned by the company as his. Cardona also appears not to be declaring bank balances and other assets of Sapmac.

Cardona declares €375,000 in personal borrowings (down from €490,760 in 2013) which he claims to sustain repayments on with €62,500 gross income per year plus €10,000 from his office rental, despite his lavish lifestyle.

Yet, he seems to rely on taxpayers to foot the bill. The Economy Minister has been rapped by the Auditor General for spending €756 on “alcoholic beverages” during a trip to Dubai. Of that sum, €318 was spent on alcohol from his hotel room minibar.

The Minister claimed the sum as “travel expenditure”, according to the National Audit Office report that was critical of a three-day jaunt to Monaco where €8,000 were spent at the hotel.

He was the one to freeze the assets of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia before she was killed, for exposing his visit to a brothel in Germany while on State business.

This article is part of a series focusing on the individual declarations of Cabinet members over the years – the players, the cards and the bluff. Read: The games MPs play to hide their assets.

And we’ve made it easy for you to look through the Economy Minister’s declarations over the years here.

Petra Caruana Dingli at The Shift News

Raising the heat on the road

‘Maltese journalists need to know the government can and will protect them’