Lino Spiteri is in no position to know

Published: April 27, 2012 at 1:14pm

Lino Spiteri has written a column for the business section of The Times, saying that it is not true that Mintoff sent “bully boys” to threaten shareholders of the National Bank of Malta, in December 1973, by banging on their doors to get them to sign over their shares to the state.

So it is not true, he concluded with spectacular absence of logic, that shareholders were threatened.

Malta Today has now reported Spiteri’s false claims, without bothering to ask the families concerned, the original shareholders having since died.

This when it was Malta Today itself which ran the most extensive reports on the National Bank saga some years ago, even quoting verbatim Mintoff’s vulgar language to the bank’s directors.

No, Mintoff did not send “bully boys to bang on shareholders’ doors”, Mr Spiteri. That’s the kind of threat a usurer employs against his village housewife victims. It would have been useless in this case.

Of course the shareholders were threatened. Why else would they have signed over their shares for zilch – because they were overcome with sudden love for Mintoff?

Those who were not threatened did not sign their shares over, but we have conveniently forgotten about them.

Mintoff tailormade his threats differently for each shareholder, having worked out their various Achilles’ heels. It’s something street-bullies and gangland criminals are good at, though at prime ministerial level he couldn’t run with ‘I’ll break your legs’ or ‘remember you have children’, and had to be more creative.

To a shareholder who had a major car dealership, he issued the threat that he would ruin him by ensuring that he never got another car importation licence as long as he, Mintoff, was in government. The car importer signed away his shares because, faced with losing either the car dealership or the shares, he worked out that he had better sacrifice the shares.

With my grandfather, who was at the time the bank’s president and so ultimately responsible for the fate of all the employees (and in turn of the families for whom most of them provided the only income), and who was renowned for his gentlemanly consideration for others, he used a different threat.

Sign over your shares, Mintoff said to him, because whether you do or you don’t I’m going to take over the bank anyway but if you don’t sign, I’ll kick them all out u jispiccaw bil-guh.

Of course, that was not the language he used. He said all this while unzipping his fly, saying that he wanted to ‘inbul’ and many references to private parts.

There were no bully-boys at the door, no, but the atmosphere of intimidation was unbelievable. We had our phones tapped, for a start, so that all communication had to be face to face.

Other shareholders received their own threats. I will not speak for them, because many of their families have spoken already, and some simply don’t do so because it’s too painful, even when people like Lino Spiteri, who is hardly in a position to know what happened during meetings between Mintoff, the bank’s directors and the shareholders because he was not always present, try to exorcise their guilt, before they face their Maker, by salving their conscience with self-reassurance that they did the right thing.

Spiteri, a basically decent man forced to confront in his twilight years the misjudgements of his past, is doing what all introspective people do when they find themselves with plenty of time for reflection, a life on which to look back, and the Big Reckoning up ahead. He is telling himself that it’s all right.

But it isn’t. The victims of Malta’s greatest heist in living memory are around him still, and the wrong that was done can never be set right. There are some things that no amount of compensation or verdicts in law suits can ever make up for. The consequences for several families, for many individuals, were dramatic, enduring and non-reversible. And I’m not necessarily talking about money, either.

57 Comments Comment

  1. A. Attard says:


  2. La Redoute says:

    Short memories, eh? Just a couple of the threats Mintoff made:

    Mr. Mintoff secured his demand by two very serious threats that turned out to be highly efficacious to extort the compliance he was asking for The Directors had no choice. He threatened that if they persisted, it would be at the risk of the shareholders because he would extend the limited liability of the shareholders beyond the Bank’s capital to their personal assets. “If tomorrow morning you come and tell me that the Bank has gone bankrupt God help you. The shareholders will be held personally responsible. Remind them that it is in Malta that they have to live.”(8) He couldn’t stop people from coming to their houses to remove their personal belongings’.'(9) to make good for their deposits.

    His second threat was that he would withdraw the four million pounds parastatal funds which were deposited in the Bank so that “all Malta would know that the Bank had gone bankrupt.”(10) Mr. Mintoff added that he’d go on television and tell the people, “Jien se ndabbar rasi; tieghi se nehodhom” and that he would fill ‘Strada Reale’ with the vans of the parastatal companies to make a show of it and alarm all and sundry thereby aggravating the run. It is interesting to ponder upon the fact that the five parastatal companies had previously been depositing money with the National Bank while they were borrowing money from Barclays, thereby always increasing their deposits with the National Bank.

    • RJC says:

      What I read in your link is shocking; I lived through that period but had as yet never read the proceedings leading to the take-over in such detail.

      Moreover, Mr Lino Spiteri is mentioned as having been present at some of those meetings, so he should well remember these threats; short memories? Don’t think so, more like an attempt at re-writing history.

    • etil says:

      You may wish to e-mail Mrs. Yana Mintoff Bland – she was asking for facts regarding her father’s ‘misdeeds’.

  3. La Redoute says:

    Oh, look. Here’s another one:
    WEDNESDAY 12th December, 1973.

    In the very early hours (2a.m.-3.30 a.m.) of Wednesday 12th, the Police informed each individual Director that the Bank was going to be taken over by virtue of Section 18 of the Banking Act(21) that the Bank’s license was suspended arid that Mr. Lino Spiteri had been appointed to take charge of the assets of the NBofM. They were told that the licence would never be restored unless Government received at least two thirds of the shares. The Noble Guido Sant Fournier, being the custodian of the Bank’s keys, was threatened with arrest if he did lot consign them.

  4. La Redoute says:

    Malta Toady (not a mistake) on Mintoff’s threats:

    In the same manner that BICAL owner-shareholders Cecil and Henry Pace were stripped off their business empire through the sheer power of Mintoff’s threats – according to Cecil Pace Mintoff wanted 50 per cent of the BICAL bank transferred to his nominees – so to were the NBM shareholders faced with a similar threat.

    • Question time says:

      A few questions to Lino Spiteri:

      What was his exact position with the Central Bank at the time of the NBM takeover – was he the Head of Research, as reported in MaltaToday on 27 April 2012, or was he Assistant Governor, as reported in MaltaToday on 7 December 2003, or was he both?

      If he was Head of Research, but not Assistant Governor, why would a Head of Research be in a meeting with the PrimeMinister, the Minister of Finance, the CBM Governor and the AG when the shareholders were called in the PM’s office, as reported in MaltaToday on 7 December 2003?

      If he was Assistant Governor, was he not one of those involved in the most important decision making about this case, and especially about the Central Bank’s decisions relating to saving the NBM, or letting it go?

  5. La Redoute says:

    Sloppy researchers, those Malta Toadys. They didn’t even Google their own archive.

    Dom Mintoff had laid down his cards – he wanted the bank by 5.30pm. He demanded that the shares be transferred to government, threatening he would close the bank and declare a ‘Bank Holiday.’

  6. La Redoute says:

    Did Lino Spiteri say there were no knocks on doors, threatening shareholders? Malta Toady doesn’t agree, really:

    Mintoff’s threats prompted a telephone campaign to all the NBM shareholders to collect their signatures for the share transfers, fearing the government would take their personal belongings from their homes. Court marshals started knocking at the doors of the shareholders, right up to the early hours of the morning.
    Since all sources of support from the government had been blocked, the directors had to either face bankruptcy or get the shares transferred to the government. They feared that if they decided to initiate liquidation proceedings, hundreds of thousands of depositors’ funds would remain frozen for a long period of time, as well ending the employment of the 300 bank workers.

    • X. says:

      In at least one case where a shareholder lived overseas, she was telephoned by the then Maltese high commissioner to sign over her shares. What he did not bank on (excuse the pun) was getting the reply he deserved.

      • X. says:

        Ambassador, not high commissioner. I believe it was the one in Rome.

      • Nero says:

        Here’s another instance where Malta’s Ambassador to Italy was directly involved in the National Bank of Malta scandal:

        “Thus, I cannot see how one can categorically state that the police (aided by thugs?) were not involved in threatening NBM shareholders with dire consequences if they did not immediately transfer their shares to government. Indeed, it was no secret that even MALTA’S AMBASSADOR TO ITALY AT THE TIME was involved in seeking the signatures, by personally calling at their Rome addresses, of members of Marquis Scicluna’s family who had substantial equity interests in the NBM.” (My caps.)

  7. La Redoute says:

    And, as usual with Mintoff, the takeover was rooted in a long-standing grudge:

    Back in the forties and fifties, as an upcoming politician armed with debilitating charisma and fine oratory skills, the Rhodes scholar from Bormla often encountered Anthony Cassar Torregiani, the founder of the National Bank of Malta, in Kingsway (now Republic Street, Valletta).
    “One day I will take your bank, Sur Cassar Torregiani,” the young Mintoff would say.

  8. La Redoute says:

    Mintoff’s plan of forced ‘nationalisation,’ the kind which required coercion and threats, was rumbling in action. On 10 December, 1973, he sent the directors of the NBM packing, warning them to have the shareholders ready to hand over their shares.

  9. La Redoute says:

    Ah, this was the time that Dear Dom said of the NBM’s employees “x’nitnejjek x’jigri minnhom. Jidhlu fil-pijunieri.”

    Tension, threats and general panic: on Monday, 10 December at the OPM, Mintoff was busy at work coercing the NBM management – bank president Louis Vella and general manager Henry Micallef – to accede to his requests and hand over the National Bank of Malta to the government.

  10. La Redoute says:

    Malta Toady again, ‘lying’ about Mintoff’s threats:

    The most notorious of threats was that he would abrogate shareholders’ limited liability so that the bank’s liabilities would have to be paid off from the personal wealth of the shareholders, “sa l-ahhar bicca kandelabru jigi konfiskat” (right down to the last piece of candlestick will be confiscated).

  11. La Redoute says:

    And here they go again, ‘lying’ about Mintoff, miskin.

    Dom Mintoff had laid down his cards – he wanted the bank by 5.30pm. He demanded that the shares be transferred to government, threatening he would close the bank and declare a ‘Bank Holiday.’ Mintoff claimed the solution to stop the run on the bank would be to have the government take the bank in its hands to restore depositors’ confidence.

  12. La Redoute says:

    There are 19 mentions of the word ‘threat’ in this article alone. Malta Toady’s knickers are really in a twist.

  13. La Redoute says:

    And what do we make of this Malta Toady report about Lino Spiteri?

    The mysterious run on the NBM started on Thursday 6 December, 1973 and proceeded straight through Monday 10 December. That Monday, at 3.00 pm, as heavy withdrawals continued, Chairman Louis Vella, Major Austin Cassar Torreggiani and Baron Patrick Scicluna, met Prime Minister Dom Mintoff, Finance Minister Guze Abela, RJA Earland, and Attorney General Edgar Mizzi, Central Bank deputy governor Lino Spiteri The latter has always presented the case that he had nothing whatsoever to do with Mintoff’s nationalistion mania.

  14. Angus Black says:

    La ticcappas mal-Lejber darba, tibqa bir-riha ghal ghomrok.

    Lino Spiteri ghandu d-don tal-kelma u l-pinna imma jdawwar kemm idawwar, l-irwejjah ta zmien l-idolu tieghu w ta KMB jibqghu mwahhlin mieghu.

    Kultant jipprova johrog b’xi haga ragonevoli, imma meta wiehed jaqra bejn il-linji (between the lines?) il-fwieha tedjanti tal-Lejber tfigg bla dubju ta xejn. Hemm hafna li ghalihom Lino Spiteri huwa wiehed mill ‘moderati’ w forsi bir-ragun ghax l-estremi huma kollha taht il-mant ta Joseph u l-bqija fl-iskip. Imma Spiteri xorta huwa perikoluz ghax jghamila ta haruf imma minn gewwa ghadu volpi, dejjem lest biex jiggustifika il-passat kiefer li minnu kien jghamel parti.

  15. Joe Micallef says:

    Lino Spiteri is possibly one of acolytes roped in to re-write history, and to be fair on him he is certainly the better of the lot.

    But the task is impossible and his image will end up tarnished even more than before.

    • maryanne says:

      I don’t care about Spiter’s image, tarnished or not. What I know for sure is that the victims and their heirs do not deserve this revision of history for political ends. They have suffered enough and the writings of those like Lino Spiteri simply put salt on the wound.

    • La Redoute says:

      If Lino Spiteri’s ‘better’, that makes his actions worse – then, and now.

  16. Mark M says:

    Labour sympathisers are realisng that power is so imminent now that they might as well be seen as supporting the party again – this time by trying to angelicize Dom.

    Politics stinks. ”Take it, take it’- what rubbish. Besides, as if the bank was the GM’s to give away. This is not what was said in any of the now deceased protaganists’ statements sworn under oath and under cross examination. The GM had in fact proposed various solutions to solve the run on the bank crisis but Mintoff was adamant. Mintoff told the GM to stop talking as he had heard enough from him. He wanted the bank period.

  17. Village says:

    Crime and punishment. It was daylight robbery and the responsibility lies squarely with Mintoff who should be punished for what he did.

    Mintoff should be held personally responsable and liable. His assets should be frozen to compensate the shareholders.

    But this is unlikely to take place and as often happens it will the people of Malta who will have to foot the bill for the evil actions of Mintoff.

  18. Miss O'Brien says:

    Revisionist history – Labour’s favourite subject.

  19. mandango70 says:

    Pity you didn’t inherit your grandfather’s trait mentioned in your piece. Its not like there’s even of hint of you being considerate towards others.

    [Daphne – I have in fact done so, but you wouldn’t know because you have no dealings with me in real life. My public persona is an alter ego, as it is with most entertainers. And in any case, these are not genetic traits we are talking about. But you wouldn’t know anything about that.]

  20. Richard Muscat says:

    …as they say…staqsi lill-imgarrab! well said, Daphne!

  21. Anthony says:

    Spiteri wishes to think that the bank shareholders signed away their shares to Dom Mintoff because they were all madly in love with him.

    They were not Mr Spiteri and you know it. Do not claim blissful ignorance.

    I do not agree with Daphne that he is in no position to know.

    By attempting to hoodwink those thinking Maltese who lived those horrendous times, and who are still alive and kicking, Lino Spiteri is just making a fool of himself.

    He should know better.

  22. Pablo says:

    One recollection of those times is when I received a call from my uncle asking me not to send any more letters to The Times regarding the suspension of the Constitutional Court.

    We had the same name, and he had just been told over the phone personally by the Minister of Finance that he was being blacklisted for further permits from his department.

    My uncle apologised to me for having to explain to the Minister that he was not the author, but that I was the one. He had to dob me in or otherwise face a shut-down.

    The Minister was not Lino Spiteri, but a member of the same cabinet, who has since passed away.

    [Daphne – Perhaps you mean the Trade Minister, then, Patrick Holland.]

    • silvio says:

      I once received a call from Elizabeth Taylor, asking me out for a date.

      Of course I refused.

      I’m afraid she is now dead and can’t confirm this.

  23. silvio says:

    We all have to accept that those were unhappy days for the Directors and shareholders, but as a consolation ,things turned out very positive,as can be seen by to-days reports of a profit of 49 million for six months, by The Bank Of Valletta,the offspring of the late National Bank.

    As it is rightly said “Every cloud has it’s silver lining”

    [Daphne – Positive for who and what, Silvio? It’s the same bank. Only the owners changed. If the state stole your business, carried on running it, then sold the shares on, would you say that it turned out positive and that every cloud has a silver lining? You are unbelievable in your respect and admiration for totalitarian tactics.]

    • silvio says:

      You missunderstood what I said.
      What I intended was that it could have turned out worse.
      You ask POsitive for who?
      How about asking that to the new shareholders?

      Of course I feel for the previous shareholders, what I can’t understand is how the present Govt.has not yet come out with a solution after 25 years in office.

      • RJC says:

        Why should it be this government to find a solution? Why haven’t past Labour leaders ever promised in their electoral manifestos to make amends for the wrongdoings of Is-Salvatur ta’ Malta?

        You break it, you pay. Why should others pay for you?

    • silvio says:

      “Why should it be this government etc.”

      Typical Maltese excuse for doing nothing.

      Why should I do anything if the others did nothing?

      [Daphne – I don’t think people understand that it’s not the government but the state, and the state remains the state whoever is in government – just as, at law, the government remains the government regardless of who is incumbent.]

      “You break you pay”
      Something that does not apply in Maltese politics.

      It’s alway who is in power who has to pay.

      Have we already forgotten who paid for Mintoff’s Dellimara house?

      [Daphne – The taxpayer.]

      Who will be paying for the ruin of Valletta?

      I’m sure it will not be Piano, he was commissioned to do it.

      Maybe Gonzi, he will be paying for it by losing the forthcoming election.

      [Daphne – Exactly how has Valletta been ruined with a Piano building?]

      • silvio says:

        Valletta has been ruined by placing one of Piano’s masterpieces (yes, it is a wonderful building) in the wrong place against the wishes of MOST of us.

        This will be a monument to pigheadedness.

        Sometimes I ask: why is it always persons coming and living in the south ot the island, who are hell bent to ruin the north.

        [Daphne – Valletta is not in ‘the north’. Valletta is across the harbour from Bormla, which you doubtless consider ‘the south’. Lawrence Gonzi is from Valletta, from the parish of St Dominic, as I recall.]

        Could it be some type of inferiority complex?

        I wish someone would make a study of this complex.

        How about you, dear Daphne?


      • A Grech says:

        Daphne, are you saying you like the new Piano buildings that are being constructed? This project is a monstrosity and a decision by Gonzi which will be cursed for many generations to come.

        [Daphne – Not at all. The real monstrosity is across the street. It’s beyond hideous. Did you complain at the time, or since?]

      • A Grech says:

        Across the street? Not sure what you are referring to.

        [Daphne – Strange how you missed it. It’s huge, ugly and has a decrepit shopping mall inside and social housing on top.]

      • A Grech says:

        Oh, that one? I agree but Piano’s project is going to look worse.

        [Daphne – I hear there’s a vacacy on the Miss Malta judging panel.]

      • A Grech says:

        Thanks for informing me. Just sent them the application.

  24. AE says:

    Lino Spiteri seems to have made it his mission to set out the facts as he would like them to be known on the National Bank Story. He wrote about it in his piece entitled “Dear Dom, dear, dear dear!” and now again in the business section of The Times. He implies that he is the absolute authority on what happened.

    I for one did not know much about this horror story until I watched the film. The film itself does not have all the details, that was not the point, but it gives a good sense that Mintoff went out to get the National Bank of Malta by hook or by crook. Enough to make one want to know more.

    The articles which Julian Manduca wrote for Malta Today are good. Malta Today would do well to continue the good work that Julian was doing and dig more into this sordid story.

    With the take-over of this bank, many lives were destroyed and a new order of wealth was created. So much for taking care of the poor. Mintoff wanted to determine who he wanted to be wealthy.

    Lino Spiteri writes elsewhere “all too often [history] is quoted in political argument to suit the subjective bent of the interlocutor”. It is clear that Mr Spiteri is trying to protect his own legacy here. Whatever dastardly part he played in this story, it is simply indefensible.

    Lino Spiteri’s “Dear Dom” piece was written a full three weeks after the film was released. He would have us believe that it was only then that he went to see it – and this when he was the main interviewee.

    Pull the other one, Lino. It is clear that you waited to see how it would be received by the fundamentalist element in the Labour camp first and then you threw your weight in with them to slam the film. Pity you could not overcome the political animal in you.

    Over the years since Mr Spiteri “retired” from politics, he has come across as more moderate than his former counterparts. However have you not noticed how of late his writings have taken a turn?

    Is it perhaps because he senses that the time has come to cuddle up again to the Labour Party? something about a leopard and his spots comes to mind. What a shame. What a disappointment.

    • Dear Dom says:

      Lino Spiteri justified the takeover of the National Bank. That’s the bit that didn’t make the final cut.

  25. Enid Blyton says:

    Can Mintoff be held personally liable?

    • Jules Verne says:

      Would Lino Spiteri be calling on the Justice Minister to make it “his urgent business” to see that justice is done?

  26. FP says:

    Don’t know about you, Mr Spiteri, but I call this a royal bollocking of galactic proportions.

    “Not so.”

    Seriously? Treating your readers as half-wits is not your usual style. Wassup?

  27. verita says:

    Forsi mhux veru li wiehed impjegat l-Auberge D’ Aragon kien ghamel granet shah idur Republic Street u ixerred l-ahbar ma’ kulhadd li in-National Bank kien se jfalli u jghid lin-nies biex imorru jirtiraw il-flus.

  28. Peter Mamo says:

    And would Lino Spiteri please jog our collective memory by reminding us who signed a letter addressed to Central Bank of Malta employees very kindly advising them that the Bank would recall their “house loans” unless they signed a declaration not to go on strike?

    That was not a threat, of course; that was paternal advice to naughty children.

    As the saying goes: chi non possa piu’ ritorna al buon Gesu’.

  29. AE says:

    @ Enid Blyton

    I wish………………………………

    the tax payer always ends up having to pay up – you know that faceless person called the tax payer. But then so many like my builder who refuses to give me a VAT receipt doesn’t give a toss as he doesn’t pay taxes though he earns more than most people I know. Not only that but he probably registers for unemployment benefits, whilst the mother of his child who he lives with gets single mother benefits. Ahhhhh il-haddiem!!!!

    I really wonder if the argument can be made that if someone in public office was not in good faith or goes beyond his remit then he should be personally liable. Not unlike that company director who acts ultra vires is made personally liable.

    In this instance, I think that those people/companies who benefited from the takeover, whose loans got wiped off, should not be exonerated and should make good for the losses of the former shareholders. They are the ones who have had the direct benefit of that action.

  30. Dee says:

    Lino Spiteri jahseb li hadd ma jiftakar minn xiex ghaddejna taht il-madmad ta’ dak is-sahta ta’ Mintoff.

    Isthi Sur Spiteri jekk taf kif, u kompli ikteb kif qed tikteb halli tkompli tfakkarna il-ghala lil siehbek Joseph Muscat ma ahna ha navdawh qatt.

    The National Bank heist was one of a series of national upsets that Mintoff invariably inflicted out of spite on the long-suffering Maltese whenever Christmas time approached.

  31. Matt says:

    This was an evil act by Mintoff. Why did the PN governments after all these years never reverse these evil wrongs?

    Surely, some form of compensation should have been made. Boffa and Alfred Sant were saints compared to Mintoff.

  32. P Shaw says:

    Lino Spiteri has been subtly rewriting his own political history, trying to make us forget that he formed part of the 80s dictatorial and violent regime and was a Central Bank official in the 70s.

    As a governor of the official ‘lender of the last resort’, he should have done all he could to save the National Bank of Malta through emergency liquidity lending or other similar measures. His belated stories on how he opposed certain decisions at the time, are all futile attempts to fool us and are all in vain.

    We will not forget that was a key minister of that regime – if he opposed the decisions at the time, he should have resigned then and not conveniently and because of personal pique in 1997.

  33. Enid Blyton says:

    This is really and truly a mad story. Man takes over (steals?) bank; lock, stock and barrel, to the detriment of thousands. WTF? Where is justice? After all these years.

    This is where I get really mad at politicians in Malta who are constantly fighting to keep their party and themselves in power through appeasement not policies aimed at moving the country forward.

    We could really be a ‘Switzerland in the Med’ but the way this country is run….forget it. The antics of Franco, Jeff et al should have really been in the interest of the nation but they are unfortunately driven by self interest or huge egos.

    • very true Enid, though the past two elections have shown us that the Maltese people today command who is in power and will despose of any leader that does not fullfill his promises before the end of their term.One word gets through everyone with a ‘blink of an eye’ Aviva Facebook and Twitter!! unlike the old days when we all had to see the news on Tv to know whats happening in Malta.

  34. a time of mintoff never to be forgotten whilist his daughter/s now try to paint a beautifull picture of him.

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