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MTA never evaluated VistaJet services because of an ‘environment of trust’

Vistajet founder and chairman Thomas Floh.

The Malta Tourism Authority never carried out any form of verification on whether VistaJet provided any tangible service after receiving €1.5 million in marketing because there was an “environment of trust,” according to deputy CEO Leslie Vella.

The Shift had revealed the confidential contract signed by the private aviation company and Malta Tourism Authority chairman Gavin Gulia, on the instructions of then Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis whereby Vistajet were paid €1.5 million of public funds per year between 2016 and 2018, totalling €4.5 million, as ‘compensation’ for “communication and marketing” services.

In his testimony before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is scrutinising the Authority’s expenditure, Vella admitted that the Authority had never requested any proof or verification from the private aviation company.

“When you feel that the figures are correct, you create an environment of trust and therefore there’s no need to ask for verification,” he said.

Vella’s statement confirms an article by The Shift, which revealed that the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) does not have any tangible proof of the actual services acquired from Vistajet following a €4.5 million contract paid for out of taxpayers’ money.

In fact, he admitted to the PAC that there was no way that tourism authority could verify that the promotional material on Malta that they had provided was even used. All he did was provide a screenshot of an article that had been published.

“There is nothing on record to show verification with regards to the company’s (VistaJet) work. We never requested any,” Vella said.

When asked whether he was able to verify the number of clicks on the articles provided, Vella said no. However, the MTA was satisfied with the “realistic figures based on experience” provided by VistaJet.

He was also grilled on the lack of a proper marketing plan that was supposed to be provided by VistaJet for the second and third year. Once again, Vella reiterated that he was satisfied with the feedback MTA had been provided with.

“They submitted their reports year after year and we know, from research that they are a serious company which can be trusted. Verifying one item after another is not necessary,” Vella said.

The committee also asked about the number of passengers brought to Malta by VistaJet but Vella replied that the agreement with the airline was never about increasing the number of passengers but a brand promotion exercise in the international aviation sector.

The secret contract between MTA and VistaJet showed that the marketing strategy mostly concerned the uploading of marketing material about Malta on Ipads placed on VistaJet flights.

For these services, Gulia signed an agreement that MTA pays €1.5 million of public funds every year for ‘marketing and communications’.

The airline first hit the headlines in Malta back in 2017 at a time when the Pilatus Bank scandal was unfolding. Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, the bank’s chairman, had left the building in the middle of the night with a loaded bag after slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia reported the Panama company Egrant belonged to Michelle Muscat, the wife of the former prime minister. That same night, VistaJet had operated a mysterious flight to Azerbaijan.

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