The man former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi chose to manage a multi-million euro budget as the Head of Events at the Malta Tourism Authority had a record of various criminal offences including embezzlement of funds and falsification of official documents.
Lionel Gerada was found guilty in four different cases that occurred before his appointment at the MTA, including the embezzlement of funds.
The Shift revealed last week that in his first year at the helm, the MTA’s events budget shot from €2 million to €6 million – more than one third of the budget went to the same individuals operating under different company names.
Despite his chequered past, Mizzi picked his canvasser for the MTA job, giving him millions with which to play around. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that budgets spiralled out of control while taxpayers footed the bill.
Gerada, from Zabbar – one of Mizzi’s main political districts – had admitted in court illegally using funds entrusted to him by I.V. Portelli & Sons Ltd, through embezzlement and the use of false names. Gerada had admitted guilt and was handed a conditional discharge by then Magistrate Giovanni Grixti.
A few years later, in 2007, Gerada had his driving licence suspended for a year and was found guilty of falsifying official documents, among other criminal offences, when he was caught driving a motorcycle without a licence and insurance and with false number plates.
Judge Joseph Galea Debono confirmed the sentence on appeal, which included a fine of some €3,000.
Shortly after Labour was back in power in 2013, Gerada was employed by Mizzi as his ‘person of trust’. Still, he continued to face cash-related problems.
In 2015, the Small Claims Tribunal ordered Gerada to pay Gordon’s Moto Auto Dealer of B’kara, €2,795 after failing to pay his dues related to the purchase of a motorcycle. The owner of the dealership told the Court that Gerada failed to pay him despite an official letter and reminders.
The same happened to architect Karl Ebejer who claimed that Gerada had failed to honour payments of more than €3,300 for services Mizzi’s canvasser had ordered from him in 2017. The Court, once again, found against Gerada and ordered him to pay.
Gerada, known more as a DJ who used to organise small private parties, made a name during Labour’s electoral campaigns as he used to entertain PL supporters before then leader Joseph Muscat addressed mass meetings.
His own commercial interests in the sector where other event organisers depended on his approval for sponsorships presented a clear conflict of interest, sources have told The Shift.
During a recent grilling in front of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is currently examining controversial contracts awarded by the MTA in recent years, Gerada said he was given a job by Mizzi and was responsible for coordinating events with the MTA on behalf of the Minister’s private secretariat.
He said that he was ‘selected’ for the post of Events Director of the MTA in 2019, following a ‘call’. Yet, he was acting as decision maker before then, introducing himself as “Head of events at the Malta Tourism Authority” in interviews with industry media in 2018.
The Shift also revealed that under Gerada’s watch, the MTA started funnelling millions of funds to the same group of organisers to hold massive parties in the peak summer months.
Pressed to state how certain event organisers were selected and what processes were used, Gerada did not offer much detail. Instead, he pointed to MTA Chairman Gavin Gulia and CEO Paul Bugeja.
Budgets show the MTA spent hundreds of thousands of euro in public funds to procure services from companies associated with Labour’s electoral campaigns through direct orders.
At the end of last year, when Malta was in political turmoil with almost daily street protests after officials at the Head of government were linked to the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Gerada was vocal in his defence of the government where Mizzi was one of the three forced to resign.
Despite having a public position and against the provisions of the code of ethics, Gerada publicly derided then Education Minister Evarist Bartolo for calling for Mizzi’s resignation.
On Facebook, Gerada called Minister Bartolo a traitor. No action is known to have been taken by the MTA against Gerada.
Gerada was also identified by the Head of Secretariat of the Tourism Ministry, Reuben Sciberras, as one of the thugs present at Castille when journalists were locked in after a late-night Cabinet meeting that preceded former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s resignation.
Sciberras told the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry that he did not know what Gerada was doing at the Office of the Prime Minister that night.