The Office of the Prime Minister said it cannot find the letter of appointment it issued for Adrian Hillman, the former Managing Director of Allied Newspapers, to be appointed as the government’s representative on the board of trustees of the American University of Malta (AUM), The Shift can reveal following a Freedom of Information request.
At the same time, the beleaguered university, which did not get off the ground despite promises to have 4,000 students by its fourth year, is refusing to state whether Hillman is still on its board.
Hillman has absconded, despite his claims of innocence in the face of a list of financial crimes he is being accused of in conjunction with the former prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri.
Hillman has not returned to Malta and extradition proceedings since the UK’s exit from the EU are complex.
A Freedom of Information request filed by The Shift for a copy of Hillman’s appointment letter in 2017 has been turned down by the OPM, which said the document cannot be found.
Following a formal complaint lodged by The Shift, the Prime Minister’s Office insisted on its stand: “This Public Authority (OPM) is not in possession of the requested document”.
This is not the first time the OPM ‘lost’ important documents.
Last year, during an inquiry into the public hospitals deal with Vitals Global Healthcare, which the National Audit Office concluded showed collusion, the OPM had said that it could not find the Memorandum of Understanding it had signed with the company.
Muscat’s former spokesman Kurt Farrugia, appointed Malta Enterprise CEO just before the former prime minister’s forced resignation, had even declared that the memo did not exist, only for it to be ‘found’ following an order by Prime Minister Robert Abela.
Adrian Hillman was appointed to the AUM’s board of trustees in 2017, less than a year after he reached a secret out of court settlement with his employer Allied Newspapers over claims of graft and bribes – charges he is now facing and avoiding.
At the same time, on the recommendation of the OPM, Hillman was also given a lucrative €4,000 a month consultancy with the Malta Gaming Authority.
Hillman’s 2017 appointment as the OPM’s man at the AUM was kept secret and was only uncovered by chance in 2019, when during a ceremony at the Bormla Campus the AUM’s President Jean de Nassau let it slip that Hillman was the government’s representative.
Pressed by journalists following the ceremony to declare whether it was true that Hillman, at the time already under criminal investigation, was his representative, Joseph Muscat had defended the appointment.
Insisting that he had no problem with Hillman, Muscat had even asked journalists to make an apology to Hillman once the results of the magisterial inquiry were known. That did not age well.
Later, following various parliamentary questions, Muscat had said that Hillman was not being given any remuneration to represent the OPM at the AUM. The OPM losing the document prevents confirmation of whether this is true or false.
A few weeks ago, The Shift revealed that while Hillman was on the board of Trustees, the AUM had also recruited his wife, Velislava, as a director of its only institute dedicated to Data and Media studies.
The AUM will not say whether Hillman’s wife is still serving on its academic staff. Both are in the UK, while Hillman has suddenly decided to pursue a PhD and conveniently avoiding extradition to Malta to face charges.
According to police evidence, the former Allied Newspapers Managing Director was paid some €650,000 in kickbacks from Schembri from proceeds over the acquisition of a new printing press for Allied Group.
The court was told that the publishers of Times of Malta had paid some $6.5 million more than they should and some $5.5 million were paid in kickbacks.
Vince Buhagiar, Allied Newspapers Managing Director before Hillman and chairman of Progress Press when the deal was negotiated is also facing charges.
Hillman’s right-hand man and successor Michel Rizzo has also been arraigned. Allied Newspapers is defending him in a statement yesterday saying it was “surprised” at the charges against Rizzo.