The Malta Independent 14 April 2021, Wednesday

It is for the courts to decide whether my claims are justified - Robert Hornyold-Strickland

Wednesday, 7 April 2021, 13:33 Last update: about 6 days ago

Robert Hornyold-Strickland has said that it is for the courts to decide whether his claims are justified “and not for the Strickland Foundation to assume that I am pushing my unjustified claims”.

Hornyold-Strickland has penned a right of reply to an article published in this newspaper, which contained a statement he had released following the news relating to the recent court developments involving Keith Schembri’s company and a printing press that was bought by Progress Press years ago, a response by Allied Group Chairman Paul Mercieca and a response by Nationalist MP Mario de Marco. The article was published in the newspaper on 30 March, and the comments were published online the day before.

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Hornyold-Strickland’s family had founded English speaking newspapers Allied Newspapers Ltd – which publish The Times of Malta and The Sunday Times of Malta. He is a 13% shareholder in the company. He has also been involved in court cases, among other things arguing that his aunt had intended him to be the rightful owner of the Foundation’s 78% shareholding in Allied Newspapers. 

Full right of reply:

1. Your article stated that I “claim” to be the sole heir of Mabel Strickland when the fact is I am the sole heir and this has been accepted by the Court and has never been disputed by anybody.

2. Paul Mercieca, Chairman of Allied Newspapers Ltd has stated that this is an issue "strictly between the Strickland Foundation and the minority shareholder" in a disingenuous attempt to distance Allied from the debacle. Our Chairman, unfortunately, wholly ignores the vital point that it was the company secretary of Allied Newspapers Ltd, Clinton Calleja (an employee of Guido de Marco Associates) who registered this disputed 78% shareholding - despite there being no valid instrument of transfer (as confirmed by another Court) and despite the Strickland Foundation being ineligible to be a shareholder of Allied anyway (a private exempt company) because it is a ‘body corporate’. These are facts, and so I am surprised by the Chairman’s comments, especially as the company is involved as a defendant and is a party to my ongoing court case (1136/2015) which is still hearing submissions of evidence and has reached no conclusion thus far and so I cannot comment on the merits of the case at this time. Whilst the timing might not be good for the company, it is important to get these facts out in the open and not to treat our readers like idiots.

3. Mercieca said  “This issue has, for many years now, been subject to court proceedings” and I actually met with him when he was first appointed to try to see if he could help resolve this unfortunate dispute. Sadly nothing has been done by him ever since. Mercieca, unfortunately, also failed to state that I have two very distinct court actions which are ongoing but only the second one involves Allied Newspapers, directly.

4. It is for the Courts to decide whether my claims are justified and not for the Strickland Foundation to assume that I am “pushing my unjustified claims”. Such comments are prejudicial to my second case that is currently before the courts. 

5. Mario de Marco has also confusingly stated that my claims were “disagreed with” by the courts in 2018 but has failed to point out that these claims relate to an entirely different court case (34/2010) where a judgement was given which was found to be very confusing by BOTH parties and was then appealed by BOTH parties.  This first case was filed to challenge the very self-serving interpretation of my Aunt’s will by her two executors Guido de Marco and Prof Joseph Ganado.  We are still awaiting a court date for the appeal. Your readers would also be interested to note that this 2018 judgment actually castigated the Strickland Foundation for human rights abuses against my family.  This is not a “sordid” affair from my part as the Strickland Foundation suggests, but quite the reverse.  All I am trying to do is have your readers understand the true facts and get justice for my Aunt and honour her objectives. The proceedings on both cases would, of course, be helped if the Strickland Foundation and the de Marco family would stop hiding Mabel’s personal legal and administrative files and release them all to me, her heir or even the courts, as has been requested many times. I am the legal owner of these files. What on earth are they so desperate to hide?  And without these files there can never be any equality of arms in my cases.

6. As regards Hillman’s appointment to Managing Director in 2012, the shareholders of Allied had all accepted that Vince Buhagiar needed to be replaced as Managing Director and it was known that he wished to resign.  However there was only one candidate put forward by the board, at the AGM, for a future Managing Director and that was Adrian Hillman. We, as minority shareholders, were also told Hillman’s selection had already been approved by the Strickland Foundation who had 78% of the votes.  There was, thus, NO CHOICE.  For Mario de Marco to suggest that I was trying to mislead the public is therefore false.  Once again the reverse is the case as I deal in facts and not “cheap shots”!

7. De Marco’s comment that he is not a Director of Allied or Progress is irrelevant as I have never – ever - claimed that he is.  He does not need to be as the Strickland Foundation, where he is the key player, effectively ‘controls’ both boards, as is well known. My statement spoke about the composition of the Council of the Strickland Foundation and not about the composition of the board of Allied - if Mario de Marco wants to re-read my facts.

8.  Mario de Marco was co-opted by his father onto the Strickland Foundation Council in 2009 at the same time as Max Ganado was also co-opted onto the Foundation by his father. But both parents also remained on the Council of the Foundation (until their deaths) with only Ronnie Agius (another ex-Managing Director of Allied) and Frank Bonello (the former bank manager for the Foundation) up. Max Ganado has since resigned his seat. In addition to this deliberate move to advance their sons onto the Strickland Foundation in 2009, Guido de Marco and Professor Joseph Ganado suddenly voted themselves onto the board of Allied Newspapers Ltd against the wishes of every other shareholder present at that AGM. If this is not demonstrating control over the company then I don’t know what is. It is true that Hillman was first appointed to the board in 2003, but he was then made Managing Director of Allied in 2012, again with the assurance of the Foundation’s majority shareholding vote, where of course Mario de Marco was now a Council Member.

9. My brother Henry Hornyold-Strickland is indeed a non-executive director, living in the UK, and was put there by Guido de Marco in 1987 because Guido de Marco refused to appoint me instead.  This was surprising at the time, as I was Mabel’s heir. But as Mabel was terminally ill at the time, and Guido held her power of attorney, (as I was forced to live outside Malta), I therefore felt it was more important to have a family member on the board when my Aunt died. These are THE facts.  Moreover, at this time, I was still under the impression, that the majority shareholding of the newspaper group was being left to me, as my aunt had advised me, and I was wholly unaware that she had been ‘persuaded’ to change her will in 1979, because Guido de Marco had failed to come and update me of these significant changes when I was living in London, as Mabel had asked him to do. Had Mabel not been so ill, she would certainly have appointed me to the board of Allied, as she had previously promised, instead of Henry - especially as, unlike me, he had no Board experience whatsoever at that time.

10.  Once again, it is not true as Mario de Marco states, that I have spent years trying to change my aunt's will - that would be futile and wrong.  However, I have been trying to persuade the courts in my first case that the executor’s interpretation was both inaccurate and wholly self-serving. The Court's ruling, in my first case, was very confusing and, as a result, it was appealed by BOTH parties and not just by me.  My second case, as noted above, relates to my challenge to the highly irregular, if not illegal, transfer made in 2010 by the Executors of my late aunt regarding the majority shareholding in Allied Newspapers Ltd from Allied Newspapers to the Strickland Foundation. This transfer was made just two weeks after my first court case was filed in 2010 but 22 years after my aunt had died and 22 years after the Executors should have passed the shares onto their rightful owner. 

Mario de Marco is being wholly disingenuous in trying to confuse these two very different legal cases and, in doing so, I believe it is he that is trying to mislead the public.

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