The Malta Independent 17 October 2019, Thursday

Overdue compensation to National Bank of Malta shareholders

Sunday, 8 September 2019, 09:36 Last update: about 2 months ago

The heading ‘National Bank fictions exposed’ (TMIS August 25) of the response by Piero Ugolini and Richard Nun, with input from Alfred Mifsud, to my articles published between April and July says it all. In alleging that my contentions and revelations are mere fiction, they evaded the basic issues at stake by repeating bald statements that in 1973 the National Bank of Malta (NBM) was illiquid and insolvent and thus a failed bank.

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I myself will stick to the same title of my own articles as what is a fact and certainly not fiction, is that what remains to be decided by the Court is the quantum of compensations payable by government. Obviously, that stage would never have been reached, had the Court accepted the contentions of the experts called in by government’s advisers that the NBM was a failed bank.

Moreover, it is significant that there was indeed an admission by the government that compensation should be paid by the government when, even before the Constitutional Court of Appeal (CCA) judgment in October 2014 in favour of NBM shareholders, the then powers-that-be had sought an amicable, out-of-court settlement by way of monetary compensation which was, however, not accepted by the shareholders because the quantum was considered to be grossly inadequate.

The difference between all three experts and myself is that, in 1973, I was already near the pinnacle of my banking career in Malta (I pursued this abroad in 1980 when I resigned from the post of General Manager of Mid-Med Bank after piloting in 1975 the transfer to that bank of Barclays Bank’s business in Malta) and I can claim to have a good idea of the underlying circumstances that led to the NBM’s take-over by government.

All three of the experts proposing zero compensation to the shareholders, notwithstanding the CCA judgment, were nowhere around in 1973 and seemingly relied on whatever documentation was made available to them, more than 40 years later, by sources close to government. In my submission to the Court and articles published in the media going back to 2004 I have stuck to facts and not fiction.

I have no personal pecuniary interest in the eventual outcome of the Court’s decision that will determine the compensation payable to NBM shareholders. I was asked by them for a helping hand not long before the CCA judgment. This was evidently due to the fact that, of my initiative and solely because I felt strongly that NBM shareholders were being denied their just dues, I had written various articles on the subject in this and other newspapers over more than 15 years.

I reiterate that the CCA judgment confirmed an earlier judgment of the lower Court and specifically stated that value had indeed passed, without compensation, from the NBM shareholders for the benefit of government and, later, Bank of Valletta. This, clearly, is what irks the government and its experts who have tried all along to steer away from this court decision by claiming that, in 1973, the NBM was both illiquid and insolvent.

My contestation of such assertions on these and other aspects of a technical nature are recorded in my affidavits to the Court as well as in my verbal submissions, including during more than five hours of cross-examination in Court by the Attorney-General.

All I will add is that, well before my direct involvement in the court cases, other  experts from the local financial field (including accountants and stockbrokers of repute) had already produced solid and ample evidence as to the viability of the NBM and its ability to withstand the orchestrated run on the Bank, had the Central Bank of Malta, duly authorised by the Minister of Finance, exercised its function in terms of law as a ‘lender of last resort’ by providing temporary funding secured by first class marketable securities which formed part of NBM’s assets.

I am now in my mid-eighties and it remains to be seen if I am still around when the amount of compensation payable by government is decreed by the Court. Glory be if my series of articles will have helped remove the cobweb created by those interested in delaying a Court decision that will provide justice for NBM shareholders by finally giving them their rightful and long-awaited compensation.

 

 

Anthony Curmi was an Assistant General Manager of Barclays Bank Malta. In 1975 he was appointed as the first General Manager of Mid-Med Bank, which assumed all Barclays’ banking business in Malta. Subsequently he held senior executive posts with Barclays in London and Milan

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