Almost half of the invoices listed in Finance Minister Clyde Caruana’s campaign expenditure report, which refers to a total spend of €21,666, were made out to a company named Antilia Ltd, a deviation from the standard practice of addressing the invoices directly to the candidate.
Antilia Ltd, which is owned by 25-year-old Ayrton Bonnici, is a media agency that offers services related to the organisation of events, videography and marketing.
According to Caruana’s expenditure report, Antilia Ltd was listed as the entity which paid for advertising on Union Print Company Ltd’s It-Torċa, envelopes bought from Printex Ltd, flyers, leaflets from Pixartprinting SpA and rolling sponsored posts on Facebook. The expenses paid for through Antilia Ltd amount to €9,605, or 44% of the total spent on Caruana’s campaign.
Questions have been sent to both Caruana’s official spokesperson and the Electoral Commission to determine why the company was listed as the entity which paid for these services when there seems to be no direct relationship between the minister and the company.
In its brief response, the finance ministry only that “all expenses related to the campaign were in the end paid out by the campaign fund through donations and personal payments as per electoral commission submissions”. This did not answer The Shift’s questions.
According to the expenditure report, Caruana raised €21,666 in donations, €6,666 of which were his own funds, and did not spend one cent more than that. Four other donors donated significant sums – Robert Aquilina (€2,500), Ian Camilleri (€2,500), Raymond Caruana (€5,000) and Joseph Camilleri (€5,000).
The Electoral Commission failed to reply to questions about this particular arrangement and whether it has conducted any further investigations. The lack of response to The Shift’s queries about Caruana’s expenditure report mirrors parallel questions related to how it could have audited these reports without comprehensive fiscal documentation to back them up.
One plausible explanation for the unorthodox arrangement between Caruana and Antilia Ltd could be that they were hired to manage the campaign on his behalf. One other MP, Jo Etienne Abela, paid €5,259 to CR8 Consultancy Ltd to hire a campaign manager, with accompanying invoices documenting this transaction.
However, the finance minister failed to refer to any similar arrangement with Antilia Ltd, listing only €250 spent on hiring costs “in kind” without any direct references or receipts related to Bonnici or his company.
Background research on Antilia Ltd shows that in the past two years, the company has received two direct orders from the government for filming services, amounting to a total of €52,000, both of which were issued through the foreign ministry. The ministry was headed by Evarist Bartolo at the time.
A closer look at Bonnici’s social media profile reveals that he was an active member of the Labour Party’s youth wing, including participating in the Party’s electoral campaign in 2017.
Antilia Ltd is just one of the companies known to be close to the Labour Party that has benefited from its association with it.
On 25 May, The Shift reported that 10 companies made at least €135,654 from sales and the provision of services to Labour MPs during their campaigns.
A major event held on Schembri’s campaign trail, a political rally held at MFCC featuring entertainment, free food and drinks and an elaborate stage set-up, was not accounted for in the minister’s expenses, raising doubts about the provenance of the funding behind the extravagant event.