Entertainment companies linked to disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi’s person of trust to head events at the Malta Tourism Authority, Lionel Gerada, continue to headline events sponsored through taxpayer funds, according to the latest line-up of events promoted by the tourism agency.
At least six events, some of which were either already held or ongoing, as well as others scheduled for next year, were organised through Malta Shows and sponsored by Visit Malta. Malta Shows is a brand that fronts 356 Entertainment Group’s events, which is owned by Gerald Debono, Trevor Camilleri, Nicholas Spiteri and Edward Zammit Tabona.
The Shift had revealed how former DJ Lionel Gerada was entrusted by Konrad Mizzi to handle millions of euros under the auspices of the MTA despite having a criminal record that involved the embezzlement of funds and falsification of documents. Gerada then dished out millions of euros in taxpayers’ money to a close group of party organisers as director of events at the MTA. No action was taken against Gerada, and the same people continue to enjoy the benefits.
‘It’s a kind of magic – the Queen story’, an event held on 24 September shortly after COVID restrictions were relaxed towards the end of the summer, was followed up by the same organisers on 28 September with an event featuring British DJ Pete Tong and the Malta Heritage Orchestra. The same event organisers are scheduled to host other events, including Cirque du Soleil, which is again sponsored by the MTA.
Industry sources, having faced a difficult period as a result of COVID restrictions, already spoke about concerns related to an unfair playing field. While they showed The Shift they had received sponsorship for major festivals amounting to a few thousand euros, 356 Entertainment Group had reportedly received at least €2 million in sponsorship money in the summer of 2018 alone.
It is not known how much was dished out to sponsor the most recent events, given that the revelations about expenditure in 2018 had come about as a result of scrutiny through the Public Accounts Committee, which has since then not picked up the investigation into MTA’s sponsorship agreements again.
Meanwhile, industry sources have consistently complained about the unfair advantage enjoyed by 356 Entertainment, even during the COVID period, in terms of sponsorships received. Multiple sources had also flagged their concern about MTA sponsorship agreements that automatically impose data-sharing obligations with the Authority, as a result of the preferred ticketing system also owned by the 356 Entertainment shareholders.
One of the key identifying markers which determined the link between 356 Entertainment Group, Malta Shows and the Visit Malta website was through the ticketing system being used for every event. The website corresponding to the ticketing system on the Visit Malta website is registered on the same domain as 356 Entertainment Group’s website. This means event organisers have to share data with their competitor.
As for next year, the group’s lineup of summer festivals has already dominated the market with at least three well-known festivals, Summer Daze, Lost and Found and ABODE on the Rock, all being linked to 356 Entertainment Group.