It’s literally all in the family at the Malta Tourism Authority, following the payments of hundreds of thousands of euro in leases of properties by the agency, as The Shift discovered a second property being leased by the State’s tourism agency that is owned by the Chairman’s family.
After revealing that the MTA is leasing, for €50,000 per year, the villa belonging to Gavin Gulia’s father-in-law to use as offices, The Shift has now discovered that another property – a warehouse in Mriehel leased by the MTA – is owned by a company in which the chairman’s brother-in-law and his family, renowned furniture manufacturers Fino, are the shareholders.
A contract signed in 2018 between Multiple Estate Ltd and the MTA shows that taxpayers will be paying nearly €250,000 for the leasing of the warehouse at the Fino complex in Mrieħel, over a six-year period ending in 2022.
The contract was signed by Paul Bugeja, at the time CEO of the MTA, and Jean Carlo Fino who is the chairman’s brother-in-law.
The contract was submitted to the Public Accounts Committee which had requested all the MTA lease contracts at the start of its scrutiny of the Authority’s expenditure. Yet, it was never raised in discussions, even when Gulia testified before the committee as it seems the family connection went unnoticed.
The Shift has learned that Fino is very close to Gulia, and the two often travel abroad together with their families, as their wives are sisters.
Research conducted by The Shift shows a similar pattern to the leasing of the villa in Msida, in the way the warehouse was leased by the Tourism Authority.
Originally, the warehouse was leased by the MTA in 2012 through a direct order, one year before Labour was returned to power in 2013 and the lease started while Gulia was still Labour’s shadow Minister for Tourism, responsible for the MTA, among other agencies.
When the original lease contract came to an end in 2016, Gulia was chairman of the MTA and no new call for tenders was issued. Instead, a new contract was negotiated and signed.
Through the second contract, the annual lease of the Fino property, which originally was costing the MTA some €26,000 per year, was increased significantly, to €38,000 per year.
Gulia refused to reply to questions by The Shift on family connections related to the lease and instead directed this newsroom to the Parliamentary Committee.
“Kindly be advised that information requested by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was submitted to the PAC, where questions have been made by the PAC and answered by the undersigned, to the satisfaction of the PAC,” Gulia said.
He also refused to state whether it was ‘just a coincidence’ that two of the MTA’s leased properties were owned by members of his family, or whether he declared his conflict of interest when the two contracts came up for renewal.
The PAC is currently scrutinising the MTA’s multi-million euro budget for various years and has already discovered a series of financial irregularities under Gulia’s stewardship.
Contrary to Gulia’s assertions, the PAC has not yet concluded its review, and it is not true that Gulia’s replies were deemed “satisfactory” by the committee.
Apart from the scandals connected to the lease of properties connected to Gulia, who was made chairman after failing to retain his seat in Parliament, the PAC also revealed the tripling of the Authority’s sponsorships budget for parties and events organised by a closely-knit group of businessmen, including the Zammit Tabona family, who are Labour Party donors.
Under disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi, who appointed his political canvasser Lionel Gerada to head events, Gulia’s Board approved hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ money to be used for parties held during the peak of the summer season when Malta is normally already packed to the brim with tourists.
So far, no one at the Authority has been held accountable for financial and administrative irregularities. The MTA even gave the former Minister a €90,000 consultancy following his forced resignation but, once again, no documents were found.
Last week, Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia reappointed Gulia to head the MTA for another year.