Despite the circumstances brought about by the pandemic, The Shift pushed forward important investigations in 2020. Often through cross-border investigative work, our journalists spent months following trails and digging into dodgy deals, questionable projects and hidden agreements, sometimes resulting in SLAPP threats in attempts to silence stories.
While we (gladly) bid farewell to a testing 2020, we recall 10 of our investigations that your support made possible.
1. The 17 Black trail to Bangladesh
In November, The Shift exposed how Yorgen Fenech, the suspected mastermind in the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination case, was planning to replicate the Electrogas deal in Bangladesh. In collaboration with international journalists, we followed 17 Black all the way to Bangladesh and revealed details of the trip to Dhaka by Fenech and his brother Franco and how they teamed with the country’s version of Keith Schembri. It did eventually lead to a ‘business plan’ and altered Bangladesh’s energy master plan, even if not as the Fenech brothers expected.
2. Digging deeper into Electrogas
We dug further into the Electrogas deal throughout the whole of 2020, bringing to the surface new facts related to the scandal associated with journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
In February, for the first time, we revealed the list of people in the Fenech, Apap Bologna and Gasan families who benefit from the deal. We also revealed that disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi had gifted Electrogas over €40 million in excise tax refunds, and that €16 million taken by the shareholders was hidden from European Commission. In November, we exclusively revealed how the government used a €100,000 show around Electrogas and sold a lie to boost Joseph Muscat’s ratings before the 2017 election, a time when Muscat was hit by a storm of criticism.
3. The murky Montenegro energy project
In March, The Shift started publishing a series of stories on our investigations on the murky Mozura wind farm energy deal in Montenegro which was haunted by allegations of corruption from day one. In collaboration with Montenegrin journalists, we found a complex set up of offshore companies and interests and discovered that Enemalta had served to pave the way for China to take over the project. It was another deal that mimicked the Electrogas set up in Montenegro, and again involved Azerbaijani interests. The European Commission said that it wants an investigation into the deal.
4. Streamcast and its trail of debt
An investigation by The Shift in February stripped the Streamcast deal of the hype surrounding it and discovered a company that came from nowhere, without a data centre, infrastructure, funds, a track record or even a proper website. Initially, the government had announced an investment of €5 million that would increase to €75 million, but all Malta got was a trail of debt. Streamcast got a sweetheart deal in Malta, and Nexia BT and others appear to have made money from the deal before its predictable collapse – The Shift also exclusively revealed that Malta Enterprise had been warned about a past of dodgy deals by the man behind the Streamcast idea, but the project moved forward regardless.
5. The secret advisor
The Shift revealed that the unnamed OPM advisor on the scandalous ITS deal was lawyer Alex Sciberras, son of retired Judge and Labour MP Philip Sciberras, as well as a close collaborator of Konrad Mizzi. Prior to The Shift’s revelation, the identity of Sciberras was kept secret, with both the government and Projects Malta refusing to divulge the advisor’s name. According to an investigation by the National Audit Office (NAO), Sciberrad had “assumed a prominent role”.
6. The mysterious funds
In December, The Shift revealed how Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis had declared that in 2018 he earned almost €67,000 from parliament when MPs are paid just over €21,000, while other income from a number of direct orders and other government contracts was not listed in the tax declaration for the year. Despite calling the report “fake” on social media, Zammit Lewis could not clarify the inconsistencies. An investigation by the Public Standards Commissioner was requested by Arnold Cassola.
7. Trouble at the MFSA
Malta’s financial regulator was at the centre of numerous investigations by The Shift throughout the year. In January, we revealed that Keith Mintoff, the man involved in a massive data breach at the Lands Authority got a new position handling data and information security at the MFSA. Fast forward 10 months and the regulator is thrown in the spotlight again after it was revealed that he went to Las Vegas with murder suspect Yorgen Fenech. The Shift then revealed that Cuschieri was drawing an extra pay for attending meetings of the MFSA’s Board of Governors, which was part of his duties, and that he had intervened to recruit Edwina Licari, who was also included in the Vegas trip, on a €100,000 financial package. They travelled together on 38 trips, costing taxpayers €0.5 million.
8. Action finally taken
In February, the MFSA stepped in to block alleged fuel smuggler Gordon Debono’s attempt to transfer another €1 million in frozen funds to his wife’s company in Dubai after The Shift had revealed the scam being used by the family to access assets frozen by US sanctions. Later on in the year, Gordon and Yvette Debono were charged with the laundering of millions of euro.
9. The case of the missing MOU
After two years of the government playing hide and seek with the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the Vitals Global Healthcare deal, and the National Audit Office saying it had been denied a copy when preparing its report, The Shift managed to gather information on what the MOU contained and highlight its importance. The ‘lost’ MOU was eventually discovered at the offices of Malta Enterprise, discrediting the declarations of CEO Kurt Farrugia.
10. Workers exploited by their union
In September, The Shift revealed how the General Workers’ Union (GWU) was meant to run the government scheme funded by taxpayers as a nonprofit foundation but instead created a company and subcontracted the project to itself for a profit. The company created has a minority shareholding by another company, owned by Konrad Mizzi’s choice lawyer Aron Mifsud Bonnici, and GWU accountant Robert Borg.
These investigations were only possible thanks to the support of our readers. You can support our investigative journalism by making a donation here.