“How do you react to what we’ve found out about the Marsa flyover?”, Prime minister Robert Abela was asked following revelations that the European Public Prosecutors’ Office (EPPO) was investigating Yorgen Fenech’s €2 million “success fee”.
“What I can say is that I never received any report of this sort. If it is true that there is an investigation by EPPO, one must wait for the conclusions of that investigation”, Abela replied. “All I know is what was reported in the media”.
Here is the prime minister at his most disturbing worst. The allegations about the Marsa flyover are deeply disconcerting. The biggest infrastructural project ever should have cost €38.8 million – mostly funded by the European Union’s Cohesion fund and the Connecting Europe facility.
But €2 million of those funds – over 5% – would land in Yorgen Fenech’s pocket, The Times of Malta reported. Of course, Fenech wasn’t going to keep all of it himself. Some were headed for New Energy Supply Ltd, Fenech’s private company which held his shares.
The rest of the €2 million was earmarked for Wings Investment, the sister company of 17 Black, listed by Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi as their ‘main client’ and ‘possible payer’.
The police knew about Yorgen Fenech’s suspicious involvement in this project at least since November 2019. Data on his mobile phone revealed that Fenech was allegedly the middleman who used political contacts to secure the contract for an unknown Turkish company, Ayhanlar.
Ayhanlar’s submitted bid was not only worryingly cheap but just €500,000 cheaper than the nearest bid submitted by the Maltese consortium Trinita JV. This raised suspicions that Ayhanlar had inside information about competing bids.
That Maltese consortium consisted of a group of contractors well connected to Labour. When the tender for the Marsa flyover was awarded to Ayhanlar, they were up in arms.
“Senior politicians” had given them “the impression “ before the 2017 election that the project was theirs. They knew immediately there was something fishy when Ayhanlar got it. “Somebody must have an interest in all this”, one angry contractor said.
They vented their frustration at the OPM. They even forked out €50,000 to challenge the decision.
They had a strong case. Ayhanlar’s finances were severely strained. The company had never undertaken any venture outside Turkey. Crucially, Ayhanlar lacked concrete batching and asphalt plants in Malta and would not be able to complete the project, the Maltese consortium had argued.
But the Public Contracts Review Board was on Ayhanlar’s side. They defended the Turkish company stating that access to concrete batching and asphalt plants was not necessary as Ayhanlar would be using on-site batching plants. The Maltese consortium pointed out that such plants needed a Planning Authority permit.
No problem. The Review Board brought in Joseph Muscat’s bosom friend, Johann Buttigieg, the Planning Authority chairman at the time. Buttigieg bizarrely insisted that Ayhanlar did not need a permit to install and operate concrete and asphalt plants.
He torpedoed the Maltese consortium’s challenge against Ayhanlar, whose middleman was none other than Yorgen Fenech. Buttigieg was later exposed as having told Fenech, “we can do business whenever you want”. Buttigieg even gave Fenech recommendations about which development to take from Joseph Portelli. “Take the one in Qormi, opposite the post office”, he advised.
Labour betrayed its own contractors. Yorgen Fenech confirmed this – “The government fought and argued with all major contractors for us”. For Ayhanlar, that is.
The Maltese consortium was right. Weeks after winning the contract, Ayhanlar filed for debt restructuring in Turkey. Work on the Marsa project ground to a halt. Labour flew into a panic.
The project was a disaster, and Fenecg wasn’t getting his €2 million. Behind the nation’s back, they roped in Robert Yuksel Yildirim, a Turkish billionaire, who, without the consent of Ayhanlar’s owner, Murat Ayhan, took over the project.
Ayhanlar hadn’t even noticed his contract was reassigned to Yildirim. In his own words, his sole focus “was saving his company from financial troubles in Turkey”. The Marsa flyover was hardly his priority.
Of course, Robert Abela knew all this. He personally met Yildirim on 5 August 2020 at the airport VIP lounge. And what was Yildirim doing in the VIP lounge?
We were having a very constructive and friendly meeting with the Prime Minister of Malta, Robert Abela in Malta today. We discussed our current Marsa Project and other projects. We will be active in shaping of Malta's future. pic.twitter.com/LLM96Lfnba
— Robert Yuksel Yildirim (@R_Y_Yildirim) August 5, 2020
Abela’s claims that he knew nothing except what was reported in the media are not credible. His first reaction to the revelations is to discredit the information. He implied the revelations were untrue. But the Times of Malta has seen Yorgen Fenech’s success fee agreement indicating that Fenech would introduce Ayhanlar to “key stakeholders” and see the bid through the tendering process.
Abela insists on letting the EPPO investigation conclude. He knows that the investigation won’t get anywhere. Abela’s police force has refused to comply with requests from the EU prosecutors to hand over key evidence – Yorgen Fenech’s phone data.
What interest does the police have in withholding key evidence from the EU prosecutor? Maybe the same interest that let Iosif Galea travel with Joseph Muscat or let Pilatus Bank’s officials escape.
EPPO were livid. “Let me remind you – our competence is mandatory, we must follow up on any lead. And be assured that we do so diligently,” their spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the prime minister was desperately whitewashing the scandal: “What is certain is that the Marsa flyover was essential for the infrastructure of our country’s roads, and we are seeing the benefits”.
“What I can say is that the project was completed within budget and in reasonable time”. For Abela, the end justifies the means. Because the project was completed, Abela thinks his government’s suspicious dealings should be forgotten. He thinks the EU prosecutor will simply close her eyes because the project is of benefit.
Which prime minister presented with such damning evidence tries to rubbish the claims? Which prime minister shows no concern? Which prime minister wouldn’t worry about his country being investigated by the EU prosecutor?
Which prime minister refuses to call an inquiry into how a bankrupt company was awarded the biggest infrastructural project in the country? Which prime minister tries so desperately to keep the scandal hidden?
Only a prime minister who’s part of it.