Vince Buhagiar, who is facing a list of charges on money laundering and kickbacks, only resigned from the number of roles he held at the helm of Allied Group a month after Adrian Hillman – a period of time in which he could have access to the findings on the company’s internal probe into Hillman.
Like Hillman, Buhagiar is facing accusations of financial crimes related to the purchase of three printing machines for Progress Press, part of Allied Group, when he was chairman.
When the machines were purchased, Hillman was a director of Allied Newspapers while Buhagiar was chairman of Progress Press. Police investigations detailed in the compilation of evidence against the accused show Keith Schembri paid $5.5 million in kickbacks and that Allied Group paid a staggering $6.5 million more than it should have.
A spreadsheet discovered by the police shows how Schembri detailed how he, together with his business partner Malcolm Scerri, Hillman and Buhagiar would all receive payments as part of the deal.
This new information sheds light on Buhagiar’s time at Allied Group. The internal probe by the company, initiated soon after slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia made her graft allegations against Hillman and Schembri in March 2016, was concluded months later.
Buhagiar resigned in June 2016, in which time he could have had access to the internal probe focusing on Hillman. Did people know then that Buhagiar was involved too? Was the company investigating him too?
Allied Newspapers Managing Director Michel Rizzo has told The Shift the company does not wish to comment on such a sensitive case at the present time.
The path to riches
In March 2016, when the allegations first surfaced, Hillman remained on the company’s books and continued to receive his full salary.
Buhagiar also continued to serve as a director of Progress Press and remained privy to all that was going on in the company, including on the same probe.
Hillman only tendered his voluntary resignation at the end of May 2016, claiming constructive dismissal, in order to launch legal proceedings against Allied. The litigation never reached court – Allied soon reached an out of court settlement with Hillman tied to a confidentiality agreement.
A month later, Buhagiar also sent in his resignation to the Allied board claiming that he wanted to “protect the best interests of the Allied Group of Companies”, without giving any further explanation.
At the end of June, Buhagiar informed current Managing Director Michel Rizzo that he was resigning from the posts he held as director in a number of Allied Group’s companies: Progress Press, Media Maker, Arco Ltd and Allied Insurance Services Ltd.
Apart from Progress Press, which is at the centre of controversy over the printing machines bought from KASCO, the other companies have all been wound down, or are dormant, after registering heavy losses.
In his resignation letter, Buhagiar told the board that it was always “a priority” for him to give his all to the company and its employees.
Buhagiar, who spent over 40 years at Allied Group, told the court that it was Hillman who had introduced him to Kasco in 2000 and the company had then started buying paper from it – over €20 million between 2010 and 2016. The police have made it clear in court that these transactions also need to be investigated.
Buhagiar resigned from his post of Managing Director of Allied Newspapers in 2013, to retire, and make way for Hillman to take over the topmost position in the group.
The millions that Allied Group invested in printing machinery occurred with the purchase of premises in Mriehel and the sale of a number of properties in Valletta, including The Times of Malta’s iconic building opposite the prime minister’s office, over a period of time.
It is not yet known whether the company’s internal probe also looked into these deals, all struck at the time when the Buhagiar-Hillman duo was at the helm.
Statement by Progress Press
Following the publication of the article, Progress Press said in a ‘right of reply’ sent to The Shift:
“While confirming that Mr Buhagiar resigned from the board of directors of Progress Press Co. Limited on 23 June 2016, the company categorically denies that he had, at any stage, access to the findings of the company’s internal inquiry.”