The Malta Independent 8 December 2019, Sunday

Dragonara casino operator ‘in breach of contractual obligations’, other operator claims

Neil Camilleri Saturday, 13 July 2019, 13:12 Last update: about 6 months ago

Another industry operator has blasted the Dragonara Casino land extension deal, claiming that the company is in breach of its contractual obligations and that international companies had lost their will to invest in Malta as a result of this “shocking” deal.

Dragonara Gaming Ltd had been given a 10-year extension in 2010 but last week, the extension was extended by another 64 years through a motion put forward by the economy minister and which was approved by both sides of the House. The deal was not presented to the cabinet.

On Thursday, an operator told this newsroom that the Economy Minster had carried out the deal “by stealth” and that the public was being “short-changed.”

Now, another operator has come forward saying that “this is a troubling decision made by the government which we believe to be in breach of EU law.”

He said the company that operates the casino breached its original contractual obligations by leaving the slots palace in a “state of complete neglect.” The 2010 contract stipulated that the company had to invest in the property, the operator said.

“They [Dragonara] also failed to adhere to the original bid requirements as there is no experienced casino operator in the shareholding of the Casino since Novomatic left soon-after the concession was won by the consortium which had its name attached to it.”

The current operator has also not published it accounts as per Gaming Act, which could lead to the revocation of its license, the operator added.

“Of course there is also an issue of the country sending the wrong message,” the operator continued, explaining that a major player in the international casino industry had partnered up with the Maltese company in preparation for what they expected would be a public call for bidders. “These operators were shocked by this decision and have packed up and lost any will to invest in Malta.”

Dragonara Casino director Franco Degabriele told Times of Malta earlier this week that the extension was granted in full compliance with the law, backed up with all the necessary legal advice.

“We are also happy to note that such extension found the approval of both sides of the House of Representatives,” he told the newspaper.

But the operator who spoke to this newsroom yesterday pointed to the “deafening silence” by the Opposition, which it described as “mind boggling.”

“We are also not seeing any public outcry by the usual suspects who so notoriously cry foul and have the rule of law so much at heart,” it added.

The situation was one where the operator was in breach of its contractual obligations and the Gaming Authority was in breach of its own obligations in that it was not enforcing the law, the operator said.

“The government is in breach of EU and local legislation and the Opposition in breach of its function in a modern democracy. This is a joke,” the operator said.

Earlier this week, PN MP Jason Azzopardi asked the Economy Minister why the deal had not been presented to cabinet, with Cardona replying that the extension had been approved by Parliament, the country’s highest institution, which Azzopardi forms part of. Cardona said that he had sought the Attorney General’s advice on the matter but at no point did he reply on why the matter had not been brought up during a cabinet meeting.

Azzopardi told this newspaper that Cardona had not answered that particular question because, had he claimed that he raised the matter in cabinet, he would have been openly contradicted by his fellow MPs. The PN MP questioned why the PM was unable to discipline Cardona when he had bypassed him on such an important matter.

Questions sent to the Office of the Prime Minister and to the Economy Ministry on Thursday have remained unanswered.

The Malta Independent asked why the deal had not been presented to cabinet and whether Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had spoken to Chris Cardona after the deal was voted on in Parliament. We also asked why the concession was granted for 64 years, rather than 10, and why the process was not carried out through a public call, allowing other interested parties to submit their bids.


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