The Shift can exclusively reveal that it was lawyer Alex Sciberras, a member of the close ‘coterie’ of disgraced Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and a close collaborator of Konrad Mizzi, who was the OPM advisor on the scandalous ITS deal.
The identity of the OPM advisor in the negotiation committee has been a closely guarded secret with both the government and Projects Malta refusing to name the individual.
After months of investigations, The Shift can now confirm that the man behind the deal who, according to an investigation by the National Audit Office (NAO) “assumed a prominent role”, was Alex Sciberras, the son of retired Judge and Labour MP Philip Sciberras.
The NAO failed to mention his name.
Replying to questions by The Shift, Sciberras confirmed that the NAO was referring to him but downplayed his role in the multi-million deal.
In its investigative report released earlier this year, the NAO cast doubt on the legality of this deal. Still, Prime Minister Robert Abela did not order its revision as demanded by various NGOs.
In its report the NAO zeroed-in on Sciberras’s role, which apparently took over the negotiation committee overshadowing the two other members, including its chairman.
The NAO concluded that it was Sciberras who was tasked by the OPM to draft the requirements of the original Request for Proposals, established the evaluation criteria, took a prime role in negotiations, and drafted the terms of the final deed including favourable terms which saw businessman Silvio Debono walk away with public land worth a market value of €400 million for just a premium of €15 million.
Apart from Sciberras, who according to the NAO, played a “disproportionally prominent role”, the negotiations team had George Gregory, an RSM partner, as its Chair and architect Peter Paul Zammit as a member.
The NAO report makes it clear that despite Gregory, who resigned over a still undisclosed “supervening conflict” and replaced by James Camenzuli – a Konrad Mizzi man – it was still Sciberras who led the show.
According to the NAO, the presence and input of Architect Peter Paul Zammit, who was supposedly appointed for his expertise on the valuation of the site, “was largely inexistent”.
“Notwithstanding the fact that the architect did not contribute to the process of negotiation in any manner, he ultimately endorsed the report drawn up by the negotiation committee,” the NAO said.
While no minutes of the negotiations were kept, the NAO said “the Chair of the negotiations committee was conspicuously absent in the workings of the negotiations committee”, with Deloitte – the auditing firm tasked to make a valuation of the land – ignoring the chairman and dealing exclusively with Sciberras.
“The balance and oversight that ought to have been provided by a properly functioning committee was entirely lacking in the process, with the Advisor OPM (Alex Sciberras) assuming a disproportionately prominent role in view of the gaps left by the other members of the committee,” the NAO concluded.
The NAO investigation also noted that both former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and former Minister Konrad Mizzi took part in meetings with the Seabank Group in the final negotiations on this deal.
Asked by The Shift to state whether he was receiving instructions directly from Muscat and Mizzi during these negotiations, Sciberras did not reply.
Yet he played down his role in this deal stating that he “did not establish policy, nor gave approval for negotiated terms and neither was part of the administrative process”.
On his “disproportionately prominent role” as described by the NAO, Sciberras insisted that he cannot answer for the work and input or lack of it by fellow members of the negotiations committee. He insisted that he had “fulfilled his responsibility to the full and to the best of his abilities”.
Sciberras, currently a senior partner at LRS, a firm specialising in the selling of Maltese citizenship and residency, has drastically reduced his involvement in the Labour Party following Muscat’s political demise.
At the time of his crucial role in the ITS deal, Sciberras was a member of the Executive of the Labour Party and received several public appointments, mostly through Mizzi, as soon as Labour took power in 2013.
He was appointed to crucial and well-remunerated roles at various government entities, including on the board of directors of Air Malta, Enemed, Petromal and Malta Air Traffic Services and served the board of Labour’s TV company, One Productions.
His family’s legal firm, Sciberras Associates, where he was also a Senior Partner, was also given various contracts by the government.
Sciberras, who still describes himself on his Facebook page as “Kburi li Laburist” (proud to be Labour), endorsed Health Minister Chris Fearne during the last Labour Party leadership race.
Through the ITS deal, the government gave the Seabank Group some 24,000 square metres of prime land in St George’s Bay to build a five-star hotel and a residential tower of over 200 luxury apartments to be sold on the market.
It is estimated that the residences alone will bring in over €250 million for Silvio Debono, who admitted in his testimony before the public inquiry to being a donor of several thousand a year to both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party, was asked to pay just €15 million for the deal, staggered over seven years.
The government also spared Debono from paying interest and ground rent of some €1.5 million a year until the project is completed.
According to the deal, signed in 2017, the project had to be completed last summer. However, the permit needed by the Planning Authority was struck down by the Court, due to irregularities.
It is not known whether the Seabank Group is still making payments to the government according to the provisions of the contract.