The walls are closing in on the controversial ElectroGas deal and how mounting allegations point to it being the main motive behind the brutal assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
At the time, Caruana Galizia was sitting on a treasure trove of up to 200,000 leaked documents that if and when released were set to shake the country to its core, both financially and politically.
Yorgen Fenech, the main suspect in the murder, was an instrumental figure in bringing ElectroGas, the country’s energy supplier, to Malta’s shores.
Since his arrest, details surrounding the murky agreement have flooded out of the court with questionable email exchanges shedding light on the murky manoeuvring taking place behind closed doors..
It’s been over five years since the deal was initially announced. Here’s how it’s linked to corruption at the highest government level and why it could have fuelled the assassination plot.
1. What is ElectroGas?
The ElectroGas consortium was selected to build and operate the LNG power station in Delimara back in October 2013, with a deal eventually signed in April 2015.
ElectroGas is equally owned by three companies – German conglomerate Siemens, Azeri state energy company Socar and GEM Holdings, a Maltese business venture.
GEM Holdings is split between four companies. Tumas Energy and Gasan Enterprises each own roughly 35% of the company. CP Holdings, a company owned by the Apap Bologna family, owns about 20%, while a separate company owned solely by Fenech owns about 8%.
Until his arrest, Fenech was personally listed as one of three ElectroGas directors.
Socar purchases gas from standard suppliers like Shell and resells the stock at a benchmarked value to ElectroGas, who transports the gas in liquid form and holds it in a tanker nestled in Delimara Bay. It is then converted to energy and distributed among homes in Malta.
The 18-year deal has always raised eyebrows and questions as to why Malta using Socar as a middleman, with the country often paying a higher rate than most European counterparts, all while analysis indicates that Socar made close to €32 million in 2017 alone.
Meanwhile, Daphne also honed in on the fact that the Maltese government had guaranteed a €360 million loan taken out by ElectroGas Malta.
2. Who are the people who have a stake in GEM Holdings?
GASAN ENTERPRISES LTD.
Directors: Stefan Deguara, Joe Gasan, Mark Gasan
Shareholders: Joe Gasan, Sylvia Trapani Galea Feriol, Veronica Soler, Michael Soler, Mark Gasan, Sarah Carbonaro, David Gasan, Bettina Azzopardi, Greta Apap Bologna, Paul Trapani Galea Feriol, Michael Trapani Galea Feriol, Nicholas Trapani Galea Feriol, John Soler, Stephanie Soler, and Louisa Borg Soler.
TUMAS ENERGY LTD.
Directors: Emmanuel Fenech, Ray Sladden (Replaced Yorgen Fenech), Ray Fenech
Shareholders: Yorgen Fenech, Franco Fenech, Josephine Fenech, Raymond Fenech, Carmen Fenech, Moira Fenech, Emmanuel Fenech, Anna Fenech, Patricia Fenech
CP HOLDINGS LTD.
Directors: Paul Apap Bologna, Christina Meli Bugeja
Shareholders: Paul Apap Bologna, Christina Meli Bugeja
3. A pre-ordained deal?
Radical change to Malta’s energy grid was the cornerstone in former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s crusade to get the Labour Party back in government.
Soon after becoming Labour Party leader in 2008, Muscat appointed his right-hand-man Keith Schembri as the chairman of the party’s working group of energy.
By September 2012, disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi was chosen to be the Labour Party’s spokesperson for energy.
An ambitious energy project was a vital part of the 2013 campaign, and barely a month after winning a landslide election against the PN government, Enemalta issued a call for expression of interests for the power station project.
On 13th October, ElectroGas was selected as the preferred bidders beating out significant players like Shell, Gazprom and Edison.
The next day, Caruana Galizia published an article pointing towards a pre-ordained deal, pointing to a quote Yorgen Fenech made in a Times of Malta article.
“The devil is in the detail, and the government isn’t bothering to pretend anymore. That’s how far things have slipped already in seven months,” Daphne wrote.
The deal was agreed in April 2015.
Key ElectroGas players had been flogging the project to separate governments for years. In 2009, shareholder Paul Apap Bologna had presented the then-PN government a proposal for the building of a new power station.
4. A bank loan guarantee, financial issues, and Mizzi’s help on a €40 million tax bill
A €360 million state guarantee was granted on the €450 million loan to finance the project. Defaulting on the loan, whether because of corruption allegations or financial mismanagement, would have been devastating for the country and triggered a collapse in the government.
Financial issues seemed to be imploding at ElectroGas by February 2017, with Matthew Caruana Galizia revealing that the company’s bank balance plummeted from €450 million to €100,000 by that date.
The Shift News has also detailed how a €40 million excise tax bill was weighing heavily on the company’s mind, battling with Enemalta and Customs as to who would foot the bill.
“Excise tax is a €40 million issue that if we resolve [with the Minister] will heavily impact [our profitability],” Mark Gasan wrote in January 2017.
A lot was on the line. Beyond dealing with a struggling operation in Malta, ElectroGas was also working to implement a similar project in Bangladesh.
Luckily for ElectroGas, Mizzi stepped in on July 2017 and by October, days after the assassination of Caruana Galizia, Enemalta had “absorbed” the bill, at the detriment of taxpayers.
By December, the €360 million state guarantee was extended yet again.
Email exchanges and other documents published by Matthew Caruana Galizia have revealed that key players in former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s administration did all they could to ensure ElectroGas do not default on their loan, which would have been disastrous for the government.
Malta’s Minister of Finance, newly appointed Attorney General, and disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi all played a key role.
A lavish €28,000 party at Level 22, the club on the top floor of Yorgen Fenech’s Portomaso Tower, was thrown to celebrate the extension.
The 138-person guest list was filled with illustrious figures, including Muscat, his wife Michelle, Charlene Farrugia Bianco and Neville Gafa.
4. 17 Black, Tillgate, Hearnville and Macbridge
Just days after Muscat’s landslide victory in 2013, Nexia BT began its attempts to open three offshore companies in Panama, Schembri’s Tillgate, Mizzi’s Hearneville, and the mysterious Egrant.
Yorgen Fenech opened a Dubai account for the infamous company 17 Black in June 2015. The local agent for the LNG tanker, Mario Pullicino, transferred $200,000 just a month later, while in November an Azeri national wired $1.4 million.
A report by the FIAU found that 17 Black had received at least three payments – one of €161,000 from Maltese local agent for the tanker supplying gas to the LNG power station and two separate payments amounting to €1.1 million from Baratzada through ABLV Bank by an unnamed Azeri national.
17 Black and Macbridge, who’s owner is still unknown, were listed as the target clients for Tillgate and Hearnville by December 2015. Leaked emails uncovered that Mizzi and Schembri’s companies would receive €150,000 a month (€2 million a year).
Caruana Galizia publicly named 17 Black in February 2017, linking the company to Mizzi, Schembri, and an FIAU money laundering report.
Fenech would be identified as its owner months after her death.
5. The Montenegro wind farm
More recently, 17 Black was found to be at the centre of a dubious deal involving the purchase of a Montenegro wind farm by Malta’s state-owned Enemalta plc.
Recent reports by Reuters and Times of Malta uncovered that the Maltese government had agreed to pay out €10.3 million for a Montenegro wind farm that had just been bought for €2.9 million two weeks prior.
According to Reuters and the Daphne Caruana Galizia foundation, the other company linked to deal, Cifidex, is connected to Turab Musayev, a former ElectroGas director.
Musayev has denied any wrongdoing and has said he had no reason to suspect Fenech’s involvement in Caruana Galizia’s murder. He said Cifidex had its own independent management and that his business with Fenech involved due diligence from reputable and established bankers, accountants and lawyers.
6. The possible motive?
Evidence of corruption or unethical conduct would have been devastating for ElectroGas, who could have defaulted on their loan, bringing with it financial ruin for the stakeholders and the government.
It would have been disastrous for the government’s credit rating and would have triggered an economic collapse. Shareholders would have felt a major pinch and would struggle to recover.
In the months leading up to her murder, Caruana Galizia had come into possession of a significant ElectroGas leak consisting of over 200,000 documents. Fenech was yet to be revealed as the owner of 17 Black, but Caruana Galizia and her son, Matthew, were hot on his trail.
State witness Melvin Theuma has even claimed that Fenech once said that Caruana Galizia’s murder was the last thing he needed to do to close the ElectroGas chapter.
Fenech’s links to the top officials have been laid bare ever since his arrest last November. He has named Schembri as the real mastermind of the assassination and claimed former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was one of three people who knew of the murder plot after the fact.
Fenech says Muscat, Schembri, and himself were like “best friends”, while he also kept good company with the former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta.
Do you think issues surrounding the ElectroGas deal could be the motive behind the assassination? Comment below