Tista’ taqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti
One of the bidders set to win a government concession to convert the iconic Evans building in lower Valletta into an upmarket luxury hotel has amended its published accounts for the past years just a day after the government unexpectedly extended the closing date of the tender.
Calls for the tender were supposed to end on 19 April, but the government decided at the last minute to extend the deadline until 21 April and then, through another extension, until 28 April. Meanwhile, one of the bidders, Katari Hospitality, amended its accounts, placing it in a better position to win the deal.
The Shift found that out of the seven bidders vying for the 65-year concession, only Katari Hospitality took advantage of the extension by filing corrections to its 2019 and 2020 accounts on 20 April, one day after the government decided to extend the closing date of the tender call.
According to the tender’s rules, bidders should meet several economic, financial and technical capabilities to qualify. Audited accounts filed, as required from companies every year, are crucial in the evaluation process to determine whether the bidder can carry out the tender.
Although Katari Hospitality submitted the highest financial bid, at €40.7 million, the changes made after the extension suggest that, if it was not for these eleventh-hour amendments, the consortium could not have met the strict financial criteria listed in the tender.
Asked to explain why the financial data of the 2019 and 2020 accounts were changed just a day after the extension of the bidding process, Paul Attard, the secretary general of the MDA at the helm of GAP holdings and the sole shareholder of Katari Hospitality, declined to comment.
Attard also declined to say whether the changes to his company’s accounts followed acceptable accounting practices.
Last month, Attard also changed the name of his company involved in the bid.
Instead of Katari Holdings, the company’s name was changed to Plan Property Holdings Ltd, with Attard as the main shareholder.
Changes were also introduced to the company’s memorandum and articles, and a share transfer was made, involving further investments from Attard.
The Shift has ascertained that none of the other bidders vying for this concession have made changes to their accounts and other data directly before or after the extension was announced.
Asked to state whether the Office of the Prime Minister, which is responsible for the evaluation process, is aware of the ‘corrections’ made by Katari Holdings, a spokesman for the prime minister declined to comment.
He also refused to state whether Katari or Attard had requested the extension.
No end in sight for Evans
Raising suspicions of political interference during the ongoing selection process, Prime Minister Robert Abela chose Associate University Professor Saviour Formosa, specialising in criminology, as chairman of the crucial evaluation committee.
Also picked were government permanent secretaries Matthew Vella (education ministry), Sharlo Camilleri (agriculture ministry) and Godwin Mifsud (transport ministry).
None of the members of the evaluation committee are known to have any expertise in the subject of public procurement processes. At the same time, the finance, tourism and economy ministries have been left out.
One of the main bones of contention concerns a low bid submitted by Valletta Luxury consortium, which includes the Decesare Eden Leisure Group and Iniala’s Mark Weingard, and which, which according to other bidders should be disqualified as it does not meet the minimum financial requirements of the tender.
While the highest financial bids were submitted by Katari Hospitality (€40.7 million) and Iconic Hotels Malta/ Nobu (€39.3 million), with Julian and Veronica Zammit Tabona of Arrigo Group among investors, most of the selection is based on the technical aspect of the bid, opening it up to subjective interpretations by the evaluation committee.
Lobbying at the OPM by Silvio Debono’s Seabank Group (€20.9 million) and AX Group of Angelo Xeureb (€22.6 million) is exerting pressure on the prime minister as the two argue that despite their lower financial offer, they are still superior on the technical side.
Attard, financial data and other episodes
These unusual accounting practices are the second example of such in a few months by companies connected to Paul Attard.
Just a few months ago, the Court of Appeal reversed a decision taken by the government to award a €12 million contract to Attard for the management of Zammit Clapp Hospital – a public residential institution for the elderly.
Despite strict financial criteria, based on past accounts and on which Attard’s company Golden Care was awarded the tender, rival company Care Malta – part of the Vassallo Group – said Attard’s company did not meet the financial requirements of the tender.
Challenging the award of the tender in Court, Vassallo Group’s appeal was upheld, with the Court striking down Attard’s deal, stating that the government wrongly interpreted the tender’s requisites in favour of Golden Care.
Earlier this year, Attard was also involved in another public land scandal when a large parcel of green land in Mellieha was suddenly issued for sale by tender by the Lands Authority, with a clause favouring the MDA’s secretary general.
Despite objections, the Lands Authority awarded the land to Attard on much lower terms when compared to current real estate market rates.
Attard and his partner in the Mellieha land grab, Paul Vella, known as tal-Ballut, are now expected to turn land into blocks of flats.