The Malta Independent 19 September 2019, Thursday

Revolving doors: John Dalli denies conflict of interest in Lowenbrau deal

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 22 January 2017, 11:00 Last update: about 4 years ago

Former PN Minister John Dalli denied being involved in a case of revolving doors when he went to work for Marsovin some years after he had, as minister, given land to the company in a deal that is now being described as ‘unusual’.

In 1990 Mr Dalli, then Economic Affairs Minister, proposed to Cabinet the transfer of the disputed land in Qormi to Lowenbrau on a perpetual emphyteusis and a non-revisable ground rent of Lm10,000 a year. That proposal was approved by Cabinet, Mr Dalli insisted yesterday.

This allowed Marsovin, in 2009, to redeem the ground rent and become the legal owner of the land by paying only €466,000. This is the subject of an ongoing political saga following the publication of a report into the dealings by the National Audit Office.

In 2004, after he resigned as foreign minister over travel bookings made through companies in which his daughters were involved, Mr Dalli became chairman and managing director of Marsovin, a post he occupied until 2008.

Speaking to The Malta Independent on Sunday yesterday, Mr Dalli insisted this was not a conflict of interest because he took up the post “many years” after the 1990 land deal.

Asked if he had, at any earlier point, served as consultant to Marsovin, the former minister said he could not remember.

Mr Dalli said he had gone to work with Marsovin in 2004 “after (former Prime Minister Lawrence) Gonzi and his friends defrauded me for the first time and tried to throw me in jail. The same thing they are trying to do now with this Giovanni Kessler (of OLAF) business.”

Mr Dalli insisted there was nothing unusual about the deal: “Back then it was common practice for the government to give land to factories at ridiculously low rents. It was also normal for the government to actually construct the factory buildings. In Lowenbrau’s case, they built the brewery themselves.”

He added that the contract included “very strict” conditions which meant that the building on the land could only be used as a brewery, and insisted that h.is decision had led to job creation and “competition in the beer sector”

The former minister and EU Commissioner told this newspaper yesterday that the Lowenbrau land transfer mess (froga) was Jason Azzopardi’s doing, and he said the PN MP was blaming him in an attempt to save his own skin.

The Labour Party has called on Dr Azzopardi to shoulder responsibility for the 2009 deal, claiming that his intervention had led to a prime public site being transferred to a ‘PN-friendly’ businessman obtaining the land for €700,000 when its real value was over €7 million. Dr Azzopardi insists that the Government Property Division had its hands tied by John Dalli’s 1990 agreement. He has argued that since the land was given on perpetual emphyteusis, Marsovin (in 2009 the owner of Lowenbrau) had a legal right to redeem the ground rent and become the legal owner of the land. Because Mr Dalli at the time had proposed a ground rent of Lm10,000 (€23,000), Marsovin was billed €466,000 (€23,000 x 20) when it came to redeem the ground rent in 2009.

The former minister accused Jason Azzopardi of trying to pin the blame on him (Dalli) in an attempt to hide his own mess. “This is exactly what they did to me in the Skanska mess. They tried to pin the blame on me when in fact everything was being led by Castille (the Office of the Prime Minister) without my knowledge.”

While Mr Dalli implied that the Eddie Fenech Adami Cabinet had approved the Lowenbrau deal without question, the son of a former member of that Cabinet said this was not the case.

Speaking to Daphne Caruana Galizia, Georges Bonello Dupuis, the son of George Bonello Dupuis, who was Finance Minister in the 1990 Cabinet, said his father was furious about Dalli’s proposal.

“It’s as clear as yesterday,” he is reported as saying. “He was raging about how Dalli had insisted on transferring a large piece of government land to Marsovin in perpetuity instead of for a fixed period, how completely shocking and absurd it was, and how Dalli had talked Fenech Adami into believing it had to be done that way. My father was furious because he could see what Dalli was up to, and as a notary he knew the meaning and the consequences of a deal like that. But he couldn’t persuade Fenech Adami and Dalli got his way.”

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