Updated to add Adrian Delia’s comments.
Shortly after stepping down as Opposition leader last year, former PN leader and current MP Adrian Delia started providing legal services to James Caterers, the company involved in one of the biggest public procurement scandals in recent history, The Shift can reveal.
Legal documents seen by this news portal show that Delia is the main legal representative in an ongoing appeal filed by James Caterers over another public tender – this time for the provision of meals on wheels by the government.
James Caterers, together with DB Group, are the recipients of the controversial multi-million St. Vincent de Paul contract which came under harsh criticism from the PN in 2017 under the leadership of Simon Busuttil.
Adrian Delia – now vying to keep his seat on the PN ticket – is, however, concurrently providing legal services to the scandal-hit company.
In comments to The Shift, Delia confirmed he had taken on the case, “which is my right as a legal advisor now back in private practice. In the light of day, above board, and with nothing to hide”.
The case was one “where the client James Caterers Ltd was abusively excluded from a public procurement process, which is one of areas of specialisation,” Delia said. “The counter party was the government,” he said, and he had ” exposed an illegality in the process which would have led to tax payers’ money being badly administered.”
In May this year, James Caterers objected to the granting of a tender for the provision of meals on wheels to Neriku Caterers, complaining that the government-appointed evaluation committee made the wrong decision. The company engaged Adrian Delia to represent them in that appeal.`
Adrian Delia’s advocacy on behalf of James Caterers led to the Public Contracts Review Board annulling the award decision and ordering a new evaluation.
Delia said “I won the case after a declaration that the process was faulty and that the evaluation board should not sit again to deliberate on this tender.”
He added, “through my good service justice prevailed and an abusive decision was revoked and address afforded.”
Legal sources told The Shift that although Delia, as a lawyer, is free to provide his services to anyone he accepts, on a political level, his actions appear out of order, given the ongoing battle against corruption, supported by the PN.
“It was the PN, through its former leader which harshly criticised the €274 million irregular direct order given by Labour in 2017 to James Caterers and the DB Group with regards to St Vincent De Paul,” the sources said.
“While James Caterers continue to be the beneficiary of such as scandalous deal, as confirmed by the NAO, it doesn’t make sense for a PN MP to be associated with such a company even though on a different job. His fees are still paid from the same scandal-hit company,” the sources said.
Lawyers can freely refuse to take on board any clients, if they feel uncomfortable with the relationship, association, or have any kind of conflict of interest.
In 2018, after the media revealed the unprecedented €274 million contract given by the Labour government to James Caterers and the DB Group to run a new wing at St Vincent De Paul, the PN immediately called the deal corrupt and asked the NAO for a full investigation.
While the NAO took over four years to deliver its conclusions, last April it issued its report clearly slamming the deal as being peppered with serious irregularities and stating that the validity of the public contract was highly dubious and could be reversed.
The current leadership of the PN has so far issued only a mild reaction to the NAO’s findings, stopping short of calling for the whole deal to be scrapped by the government.
Observers have noted that instead of reiterating its original demand that the government should annul the massive contract and begin the process afresh – as it continues to insist about other contracts such as the Electrogas power plant and the deal around the three public hospitals – in this case its only statement was a vague statement that Labour politicians should carry responsibility.
Prime Minister Robert Abela failed to take any action on the NAO’s conclusions, despite his insistence that the government respects the institutions.
In the meantime, both James Caterers and the DB Group continue to earn some €60,000 a day from this contract, considered irregular by the NAO.
One of the biggest scandals under Joseph Muscat
Originally planned to be a ten-year contract for the provision of meals at SVDP, with a total value of less than €60 million, the deal was transformed by the government into a direct order contract worth over €300 million. The deal was expanded to include the building of a new 504 bed residential facility, which was not envisaged or even mentioned in the original tender.
James Barbara’s James Caterers and Silvio Debono’s DB Group devised a plan to provide the government with the new facilities – costing some €30 million – at their own expense, for which they received in exchange a €274 million direct order to run the facility for 15 years.
The agreement breached all public procurement rules, as the NAO report highlighted. However, it has not been cancelled or re-evaluated by the government and has continued to stand.
Both James Caterers and the DB Group are known in political circles to be donors to both the PL and the PN. Both also ‘help out’ various candidates and MPs from both sides of the political divide when organising activities for their constituents, particularly during electoral campaigns.
In 2017, following the PN’s outrage over another scandalous deal signed between the Labour Government and the DB Group – this time the award of the ITS site on public land, awarded to Debono for a price far below market rates – Silvio Debono had asked the PN to return the financial donations he had given them.
This had led to a public spat with the PN ordering its then Deputy Leader Mario Demarco – outed also as providing services during the scandalous deal – to end his relationship with the DB Group.