The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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AUM’s red carpet, Part 3: OPM, university discussed Casino di Venezia, Rialto

Neil Camilleri & Albert Galea Sunday, 17 July 2022, 08:00 Last update: about 3 years ago

• Government promised to create schemes to benefit Jordanian investors • OPM and AUM discussed use of Casino di Venezia, Rialto by AUM • Promises to help university with planning permits, residency visas for students • Castille took care of AUM’s damage control after ‘media attacks’ • Government pledged to intervene to help AUM reach promised student levels • Revolving doors: OPM official involved in deal moved to NCFHE, and later to AUM • AUM ‘not a bona fide institution’, sacked lecturer had told PM Muscat

A number of side agreements which the Muscat administration had signed with the owners of the American University of Malta Sadeen Group shed new light on how the government rolled out the red carpet for the failing institution.

The newly leaked documents, seen by The Malta Independent on Sunday, show how the government pledged to help the struggling university on everything from obtaining planning permits, to sending it students so that it would be able to reach its full capacity.

The documents also show that the government and AUM were discussing the possibility of the use of the Rialto building in Cospicua, which is owned by the Labour Party, and also the Casino di Venezia in Vittoriosa.

Furthermore, Castille was taking care of AUM’s damage control, even writing an ‘open letter’ for Sadeen to use in the face of ‘media attacks.’

Email correspondence show the close ties between Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and other OPM officials, Adrian Hillman, who was appointed by Muscat to sit on AUM’s board of trustees as the government’s representatives, and the Jordanian nationals behind the project.

AUM was in the news recently after the government filed a Parliamentary resolution to take back the land it had given to AUM in Zonqor in 2015. This came after the university failed to reach its student targets and after The Malta Independent on Sunday revealed that it was continuing to make heavy financial losses.

AUM has now been given a similarly sized tract of land at Smart City in Kalkara.


Casino di Venezia, Rialto discussed in emails

OPM official James Grech was also involved in “following up” with other entities, including the Lands Authority and the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage on issues related to the AUM project.

It also emerges the same email that Sadeen was looking into various options where it could acquire property around the Cospicua area.

One such place is the Casino di Venezia.  The Knights-era Palazzo, which is in a prime place on the Vittoriosa waterfront used to host a casino, but has been shuttered since 2013 due to financial difficulties.

The government has been trying to reacquisition the property since 2015, with proceedings still ongoing at the time of this email – and indeed up until the present day.

Little details over Sadeen’s aspirations for the Palazzo are present in the email – the only mention of the building is in a list of deliverables penned by Hillman which merely says “To follow up on this” in an entry next to the Casino di Venezia’s name.

Another well-known building mentioned in this email is the Rialto cinema.  Located in Cospicua, the Rialto is owned by the Labour Party, and it is known that Sadeen had considered buying the building off of the party.

Indeed, court documents in a case where AUM’s former project manager Edoardo Pagani is suing Sadeen over unfair dismissal shows that he knew that the theatre was being considered to the point that he warned the company to steer clear of the property because it would be a political minefield “if we give money to the Partit Laburista.”

The document in question is dated January 2017 – but it is clear that despite these warnings, almost a year and a half later in May 2018 – the date of Hillman’s email – the Rialto building was still being considered.

In Hillman’s table of deliverables, OPM official James Grech is tasked to follow up on the matter.

Another property which was discussed is that of Bowyer House in Tarxien. The company bought that property for a reported sum of 2.7 million with the intention of turning it into a hostel, but soon found that it was bereft with planning irregularities.

The matter was discussed in the meeting and Hillman details in his email that “the property in Tarxien is not covered by a compliance certificate” and the pending issues include “certification from CRPD”, “certification from engineer regarding fire and ventilation”, and “variations from approved plans.”

Soon after this meeting took place – just over two months after in fact – Sadeen filed court proceedings to try and get the purchase of the site declared null and void.

However, Sadeen in February 2020 filed an application with the Planning Authority in order to sanction the irregularities – an application was approved by the PA last year.

Read the full story, published in four parts:

AUM’s red carpet, Part 1: Government pledges students, schemes and ‘other assistance’

AUM’s red carpet, Part 2: OPM helped university fight off ‘media attacks’

AUM’s red carpet, Part 4: A warning to the PM, and an extreme case of revolving doors



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