Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg is refusing to explain how her office has supported the appointment of accountant Stephen Paris as an administrator of Progress Press despite questions on conflict of interest.
The Shift is informed that until May 2019 Paris was a long-serving partner of audit firm Deloitte, the same firm lead by Paul Mercieca for decades. Mercieca is currently the chairman of Allied Group and a member of the board of directors of Progress Press, publishers of The Times of Malta.
The administrator was appointed after the Allied Group’s assets were frozen as a result of the charges the company faces related to financial crimes involving former managing directors Adrian Hillman and Vince Buhagiar.
Both Mercieca and Paris are old acquaintances and used to sit together on the same board at Deloitte and other subsidiaries for many years.
Together, they had even ended up in hot water in 2013 following the scandal and court case regarding the Price Club supermarket chain. Both Paris and Mercieca, and Deloitte partners, were found liable for civil damages arising out of negligence as auditors of the defunct supermarket chain.
Asked by The Shift to explain how Paris, in his role as administrator of Progress Press, is supposed to act (and be seen to act) as an independent administrator of the funds of the company despite his close relationship with Allied Group’s chairman, the Attorney General remained silent.
Mercieca formed part of the board of directors of Progress Press even in the period when, according to the charges, the company allegedly defrauded hundreds of thousands of public funds through a scheme administered by Malta Enterprise.
According to the accusations filed in court, the fraud and money laundering took place between 2013 and March 2019.
During a recent court hearing before his appointment as administrator, Paris declared in court that in 2016 he formed part of Deloitte that was appointed as internal auditor of both Progress Press and Allied Newspapers. Yet the court proceeded with the appointment.
The administrator is obliged by law to act as a supervisor of the company, tending to its day-to-day business and approving each transaction made.
Lawyers consulted by The Shift could not explain why the court decided to freeze the assets of Progress Press but not its mother company, Allied Group.