Payments for public road works issued by direct order to companies co-owned by the brother of one of Infrastructure Malta’s most senior officials have mushroomed, almost doubling, over just a year.
The Shift has confirmed that direct orders for companies co-owned by Jonathan Vella, which were originally valued at under €1 million, have ended up costing taxpayers €1.8 million through additional work and variations approved by key officials at Infrastructure Malta including Noel Vella, the agency’s Head of Implementation.
Noel Vella, described as the most senior official at the agency after CEO Ivan Falzon, is instrumental in approving direct orders, and happens to be the brother of Jonathan Vella, the 32-year-old co-owner of the beneficiary companies.
Information sought by The Shift shows that Darna Properties and JV Infrastructure Ltd, in which Jonathan Vella is a shareholder with his partner Amanda Muscat and other businessmen, were given direct orders by IM originally that were worth just under €1 million.
Asked for the value of direct order payments made to the two companies, Infrastructure Malta has confirmed they have received a total of €1,771,000 in under two years.
This new figure confirms information given to The Shift by sources within the agency, who insist the information IM publishes in the Government Gazette as per its legal obligation did not reflect the true value of the payments being made to Noel Vella’s brother.
The informants insisted that since Noel Vella joined IM as Head of Implementation, the two companies co-owned by his brother had suddenly been included in the agency’s so-called ‘framework contract’ in order to start benefitting from direct orders.
They also insisted that IM officials, including those in Noel Vella’s office, had become lax with the companies in question and were consequently awarded additional works and variations, which dramatically increased the direct orders’ price tags.
Asked for a copy of the invoices and/or receipts related to the direct orders in question, the agency refused to provide any documentation.
It has also declined a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the contracts it had with Darna Properties and JV Infrastructure Ltd.
The agency instead provided “a list of payments for works carried out”, which could not be independently verified by The Shift as it does not tally with the list of direct orders published in the Government Gazette for the same work.
The Shift revealed last September how there were alarm bells at IM over a series of direct orders issued to the two companies owned by Noel Vella’s younger brother. Registered in 2019, Darna Properties is co-owned by Jonathan Vella and another businessman from Luqa, Jeffrey Vella.
The latter is also a shareholder in the newly established JV Infrastructure Limited, together with Mario Vella from Naxxar. A third of the company’s shareholding is registered in the name of Amanda Muscat, the partner of Jonathan Vella, the IM official’s brother.
Both companies started winning direct orders as soon as Noel Vella left his job at Ic-Caqnu’s Polidano Group and was recruited as a top official at IM by then-CEO Frederick Azzopardi.
So far, the minister responsible, Aaron Farrugia, has refrained from commenting on The Shift’s revelations and has stopped short of ordering a probe into the possible abuse of public funds.