They say it takes a thief to catch a thief. I guess it also takes a con to scam one.
The Shift reported earlier this year how an Indian fraudster and his lawyer friends incorporated a Delaware company online and showed up in Malta with a “plan” to invest €75 million in the country — as long as Enemalta built them a data centre.
No one ever adequately explained how a paper company called Streamcast Technologies Inc intended to transform ether into gold.
But it turns out they didn’t even need a website to fool the people of Kickbackistan, or a track record, funds, or infrastructure. They just had to promise generous backhanders to the right people.
Harshawardhan ‘Harsh’ Sabale and his friends didn’t know much, but they certainly understood the Maltese.
Sure, he showed up with impressive credentials, and a trail of associations with well-known organisations in multiple countries. But scratch below the surface and you find the equivalent of a high school kid with an inkjet printer.
Sabale’s CV was an exercise in creative writing. The business cards with American addresses and mobile numbers were presumably printed by the man himself. And his LinkedIn profile was an act of invention by a self-described equity investor and technologist.
If your eyebrows aren’t halfway up your forehead by now, they should be reaching for your scalp.
Minister Joe Mizzi told parliament in late 2019, “The normal due diligence that takes place by Malta Enterprise also took place in this case”.
And it’s true, a report was compiled. It’s just that they chose to ignore it.
The Shift has revealed that the report commissioned by Malta Enterprise warned them to be vigilant when dealing with the man who came from nowhere with a promise to revolutionise streaming services in the EU’s smallest Member State.
Sabale had a chequered past of failed business dealings and had been “associated with any number of short-lived companies”.
“There are other warning signs to suggest an associate should be cautious in its dealings with him,” it said, “not least the 2009 arrest of an individual who fits his exact profile.”
But this had to be weighed against the insatiable greed of those on the Maltese side, and Instagram photos of Harsh Sabale cuddling a cat.
What could possibly go wrong?
Their warnings were overruled, and the whole thing went charging ahead anyway, with predictable results. Score another win for The Usual Suspects, and another expensive loss for Maltese taxpayers.
Of course, I realise it’s difficult to accept anything Joe Mizzi said about due diligence. He thinks he went to India — presumably by magic carpet — to visit a nonexistent data centre.
Mizzi told parliament in May 2018 that he visited “Streamcast’s data centres in India” a full two months before the first foundation stone was laid. We don’t know what happened to this celebrated edifice of technology afterwards. No one in India seems to have heard of it. Perhaps he should ask his associates The Forty Thieves?
I suggest he start with everyone’s favourite fixers. Shiny Brian and the Dancing Queen were in it from day one.
The deal to build a data centre with taxpayer money required a guarantee. This was taken care of by Konrad Mizzi’s Malta Enterprise, using taxpayer money.
Frederick Azzopardi, Enemalta’s Executive Chairman, described it as “marking a new era of growth for [Enemalta] and [Streamcast]”.
In the meantime, a series of holding companies were incorporated in Ireland, the UK, Malta and India.
Nexia BT set up a Maltese company called Capital Knight Limited, and then quietly broadened its ownership to include Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and Manuel Castagna, in addition to its original owner-on-paper Oliver Said.
Enemalta built and paid for the data centre using your money, and opened the thing in April 2018.
Streamcast launched a fancy new website, and the PR campaign shifted into high gear. What happened next was a blizzard of smoke and mirrors.
Your State Broadcaster, TVM, told you Streamcast was “among the major international companies which provide high level video streaming services to millions of clients in different continents” — I guess because their website said they had offices in the US, UK and the Middle East. Now we know how accommodating PBS can be.
Chalk it up to a language barrier — in this case, ‘offices’ meant ‘mailboxes’.
The Labour Party’s propaganda station ran interviews with the people who built the data centre, magically transforming subcontractors into “investors” and “directors” drawn to Malta by the irresistible magnet of its self-described “economic success”.
Other news outlets parroted the story, too, as news outlets in Malta so often do. And the PR firm iced the cake by paying for a Bloomberg advertorial.
This flurry of bullshit managed to convince gullible foreigners to part with their hard earned savings, including four trucking company owners from Kent, all conned with the deliberate connivance of Maltese government officials.
Not content to stop there, Konrad Mizzi went on a whirlwind marketing tour to Mumbai, where he officiated at the made-up Malta India Film Awards, attended by First Lady of Kickbackistan Michelle Muscat, with speeches by Karl Cini and Oliver Said.
What a gala that must have been.
They managed to convince an Indian company to buy the Streamcast Media Group — a media empire that only seemed to exist online, and that hadn’t actually delivered any services.
And then Nexia BT’s Capital Knight Ltd quietly cashed out its shares and walked away with a pile of money conjured up through smoke and mirrors backed by taxpayer funds.
The whole thing fell apart not long after, and the Streamcast website hasn’t been updated since.
Shell companies were struck off the register. The Indian investor who bought the sham entity declared bankruptcy. Facebook pages and photos of Ministers were quietly deleted.
The entire Streamcast project did nothing but stream money out of your pocket and into those of others. But, of course, we should have expected this, given the Malta Enterprise stamp of approval.
You’d think these guys would be satisfied with lucrative kickbacks from the Electrogas project, and ‘commissions’ raked off the sale of EU passports. But no, Malta gets involved in dodgy shell games, too.
They crawl over each other to put the kick in Kickbackistan, and the banana in republic.
Malta reminds me of one of those spin-off editions of Monopoly. The Maltese version is played under the table. The best properties automatically go to friends of friends. The Inner Circle holds ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ cards. And the rest of you keep landing on the penalty square over and over again.
“Oh no! You’ve been Konnie Conned!”
The game’s not over until they’ve taken you for every last cent. And when they slip away to Dubai with their winnings, you’ll realise they bled your future dry, too.