Some countries specialise in technology, others specialise in services. Malta specialises in exporting fraud.
If you want to understand what Yorgen Fenech was up to in Bangladesh, you’ll need to revisit the Roadmap to Their Riches (and Your Ruin).
The wheels started turning in March 2013, just 72 hours after Labour’s election victory.
Of course, it was planned out in detail beforehand. But that’s when Karl Cini of Nexia BT contacted his associates at Mossack Fonseca Panama with a request to open three companies: Tillgate (Keith Schembri), Hearnville (Konrad Mizzi), and Egrant (who do you think?).
The Panama entities were set up as holding companies. They would simply own shares of other companies in the same way you might own investments like stocks or bonds. This way the revenue incurred by those shares would be ‘earned’ by the Panama company rather than the individual who owned it.
Now, when you set up an offshore company — or any company, for that matter — the incorporation documents must list the types of business your new entity will be involved in.
Anti-money laundering laws are very strict about this, even in jurisdictions with lax regulation and enforcement.
Cini told Mossack Fonseca that the secret Panama companies owned by Schembri and Mizzi would hold shares in companies that were active “in the sectors of recycling [and] remote gaming”. Remote gaming refers to online casinos. The recycling business would take place in India, Dubai and other Gulf countries.
You’ll remember Enemalta issued a call for expressions of interest for the power station project one month after those companies were opened.
Electrogas isn’t our focus here. I just want to remind you that they didn’t waste any time starting the main get rich quick scheme — the power station Daphne Caruana Galizia was investigating when she was killed.
Back to Crummy Keith and Konny Kon.
Two months after the government signed the Electrogas agreement, Nexia BT opened New Zealand Trusts for the Toxic Two.
Adding trusts to the equation builds in another layer of secrecy. You no longer legally own assets placed in a family Trust — the Trust does. It’s controlled by a legal ‘trustee’ tasked with looking after those assets on your behalf.
It’s difficult to find out who the real owner of a Trust is if his or her name isn’t on the public record. When Mizzi set up his New Zealand Trust, he ticked boxes on the application marked ‘no audit’ and ‘total secrecy and confidentiality’.
The New Zealand Trusts owned Schembri and Mizzi’s Panama companies, and that kept them at arm’s length from their ultimate beneficial owners.
Okay, those are things you already know. Pause for a second and take a sip of water. Here’s where Fenech’s trip to Dhaka fits in.
Yorgen and his brother Franco flew to Bangladesh in October 2015 — three months after the New Zealand Trusts went live — plastering a trail of photos all over Franco’s Instagram page.
Franco said the visit “exceeded his expectations”. I don’t imagine he was talking about tourist sites in one of the world’s most overcrowded countries.
Two months later, in December, Karl Cini amended Schembri and Mizzi’s Panama company documents to add three more items to the list of business they would be involved in, this time in the Indian subcontinent: infrastructure projects, maritime and fisheries, and tourism.
Quite a broad mix for two guys who were supposed to be very busy running the country. I guess that’s what they call diversifying one’s portfolio.
Cini wasn’t sure if the Toxic Two would be paid through shareholder dividends or straight-up fees. But he knew the main source of incoming funds would be Fenech’s 17 Black and another Dubai company called Macbridge (the owner is so far unknown).
Where would 17 Black get the money to pay the two Maltese government officials?
Fenech’s secret Dubai company was funded by hefty payments from other offshore companies linked to Azerbaijan. We’ve been able to track three of them.
The one we’re interested in for this story is Cifidex, owned by Turab Musayev.
You’ll remember Cifidex was involved in that dodgy wind farm deal in Montenegro. You know, the one inaugurated by Joseph Muscat on his last official trip as prime minister at a time when thousands of people were protesting on the streets for his removal.
It seems Musayev was just a small player before Labour’s 2013 election victory. Back then, he ran a Switzerland-based oil-trading company called SOCAR Trading (STSA) that dealt in Azerbaijani crude. Neither he nor Azerbaijan knew anything about Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) — but they got into the LNG business when Malta chose Electrogas for the new power station.
Under the security of supply contracts that Mizzi signed on behalf of Malta, Musayev’s STSA buys LNG from Shell, who buys it from Trinidad & Tobago and Nigeria. STSA then turns around and sells that same LNG to Electrogas at a $40 million per year markup — and you’re stuck with the deal for years.
Not too shabby for buying LNG with your left hand and reselling it with your right. Most people would be content to stop there.
But that’s the thing about easy money, isn’t it? They get possessed by some sort of gold fever and just end up wanting more.
What if they could replicate the Electrogas scam in a few more countries, as Vitals Global Healthcare did with the hospital takeover?
It turns out this is exactly what Fenech was up to.
Musayev’s company STSA used the ‘successful’ Electrogas project in Malta — a European Union country — to pitch the same scheme to delegations from Qatar, Kenya, Namibia, Ivory Coast and… you guessed it… Bangladesh.
As a successful businessman, Fenech knew that even the best-laid plans would fail without a greedy collaborator inside the government who was willing to put his own interests above those of the nation.
Cue Salman Rahman, a senior advisor to Bangladesh’s prime minister, and co-owner of the Beximco Group, a conglomerate with interests in pharmaceuticals, aquaculture, textiles, ceramics, energy, media and financial services.
It is unclear how these guys hooked up, but what matters is that Bangladesh was conducting a revision of its Energy Master Plan at the time and Rahman was in a position to know the intimate details.
Fenech had found his Bangladeshi Schembri.
By February 2016, Moneybags Fenech was paying a Dutch energy consulting firm to design an “Energy Hub” for Bangladesh that featured a Liquified Petroleum Gas facility and an LNG plant.
The details read like a carbon copy of Electrogas, right down to the “storm mooring” system and the 600-1000 MWh generating capacity. The Dutch company was even promised the project designs from Malta to make copying easier.
By late 2016, the Tumas Group and Rahman’s Beximco were talking joint venture.
Fenech sent Electrogas Director Catherine Halpin an email from Bangladesh asking for photos of Malta’s power station for him and his buddy Musayev to use in their presentation.
And just as sure as Mizzi’s insider-packed Evaluation Committee recommended Electrogas, Bangladesh decided it needed to import LNG to generate power, too.
The Tumas Group and Beximco signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Bangladeshi Ministry for Energy and Petrobangla in February 2017.
It’s not clear what Fenech was supposed to bring to this project beyond the carbon copy plan, or who else would cash in. 17 Black’s links to Azerbaijani money and Schembri’s “draft business plans” suggest he was backed by those in power.
Unfortunately, even copy-and-paste plans can go wrong.
Bangladesh eventually ditched the floating tanker idea, and Rahman cut his Maltese ‘friend’ out of the loop. Even the MOU disappeared.
Rahman tried to go it alone again as recently as July 2019, without any help from the Tumas Group.
I suppose that’s just as well. The accused mastermind of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder can’t do much for those guys as long as he’s in the slammer.
If justice prevails, his political associates will join him there, too.