BREAKING/Silvio Debono in Panama Papers: company under investigation by Malta’s tax authorities

Published: March 7, 2017 at 1:56am

Silvio Debono, the corrupt operator at the centre of Malta’s latest political controversy, has had a secret company in the British Virgin Islands since July 2001. The company was set up by Mossack Fonseca and the information is among the massive tranche of documents that is now known as the Panama Papers.

The company, Evergreen Travel Ltd, is now the subject of an investigation along with other companies in the Panama Papers documents that are owned by or linked to Maltese citizens.

The identity of the company’s ultimate beneficial owner/s was completely concealed by nominees until January 2014, when a significant part of the shareholding was transferred to the name of Hotel San Antonio plc (now Ltd), one of Debono’s businesses in Malta.

The rest of the shareholding is concealed by FNTC First Nominee Ltd and FNTC Second Nominee Ltd of the Isle of Man. The intermediary which set up the company and made the arrangements is First Names Group of Jersey and the Isle of Man.

Debono uses Evergreen Travel Ltd in the British Virgin Islands to invoice those who buy time-share at the Hotel San Antonio. The Panama Papers documents include a letter from a British man who wrote to Evergreen Travel at its letterbox company address, naively believing it to be an actual business address. The letter was scanned and filed by Mossack Fonseca, which is how it came to be among the documents.

In that letter, the man seeks redress on behalf of his parents, both in their 80s, who he says had their last remaining £3,000 taken off them by surprise fees for timeshare. One of them, he wrote, had dementia, and the other, cancer. They had transferred their money to an account at the Bank of Valletta. There is no record of a reply.

Hotel San Antonio Ltd was incorporated in Malta in 1966, to own and operate a small Qawra hotel. Around 35 years later, the company was bought by Seabank Hotel & Catering Ltd, which is owned by Silvio Debono (the majority shareholder) and his brothers Guido, Natalino and Raymond, and by Tony Zahra’s Alpine Ltd.

The hotel was then rebuilt on a much larger scale with financing through a 10-year bond issue in 2002, and listing on the Malta Stock Exchange as a public limited liability company, meaning that the company was now Hotel San Antonio plc rather than Ltd. In May 2012, the bonds were redeemed in full.

In December 2013, a resolution was taken to change the company’s status from public to private, so now it was Hotel San Antonio Ltd again. At that point, the authorised share capital was €10 million, with an issued share capital of €5.47 million.

Days after the change in status, Tony Zahra stepped down as director and legal and judicial representative of the company, and transferred his entire shareholding to SD Holdings Ltd. Silvio Debono, in his personal capacity, is the sole shareholder of that company.

Three weeks after the company switched status from public to private and Debono acquired all of Tony Zahra’s shareholding, shares in BVI company Evergreen Travel Ltd were transferred to the ownership of Hotel San Antonio Ltd, still inexplicably listed as plc.

Edward Scicluna was a director of the board of Hotel San Antonio plc from 2001/2002 to 31 March 2013, when he resigned two weeks after becoming Minister of Finance. He was replaced by Silvio Debono’s son, Robert, who was then 21. The British Virgin Islands arrangements were made nine months after he stepped down.

Back, left to right: Ivan Portelli, at the time Director of Operations at the VAT Department, Jonathan Attard, ‘person of trust’ in Economy Minister Christian Cardona’s secretariat, Silvio Debono, Natius Farrugia, Labour mayor of Zurrieq, unidentified.
Front: Louis Gauci (right), and Vince Micallef, Labour Party activist, former policeman and criminal lawyer, board secretary to the Malta Council for Science and Technology and company secretary to DB San Gorg Property Ltd, the vehicle which Silvio Debono is using to acquire 14 tumoli of public land at St George’s Bay.

29 Comments Comment

  1. Alfred Zammit says:

    That picture – what a bunch.

  2. herbie says:

    Keep at it, Daphne. I think the public should know who else from Malta features in the Panama papers so all this sleaze will be exposed.

  3. Ramon Garcia says:

    I knew that the Nationalist Party’s faux pas was just a small bleep in an ocean of Labour related scandals. Silvio Debono as well as Edward Scicluna and the whole bloody Labour Party now need to be hounded hard on this. The hares can come later.

  4. He resigned a while ago. But he remains a consultant to the Seabank Debono brothers.

  5. I’m not assuming. All the Maltese names in the Panama Papers and Swiss Leaks are under invetigation.

  6. Godfrey Leone Ganado says:

    I wonder how Edward Scicluna financed his electoral campaign.

    It would be interesting to know what private company directorships current members of the cabinet occupied before the general elections.

    • J Sammut says:

      These letterbox companies were used to syphon the profits from the Hotel San Antonio while Tony Zahra as president of the hoteliers was campaigning in favour of Muscat and against Gonzi while frequently visiting Dubai.

  7. Francis Saliba MD says:

    I suggest Filfla instead of Comino and reinstating Filfla as a target for real navies and airforces.

  8. lest we forget says:

    Xi hmieg ta’pajjiz fil-veru sens tal-kelma. Jekk toqghod tahseb tiggennen. Kulhadd jisraq kemm jiflah u l-povru haddiem ihallas it-taxxi biex jistaghanew erba korrotti. Ir-rivolizzjonijiet ma’jsirux ta’xejn.

  9. Gez says:

    “In that letter, the man seeks redress on behalf of his parents, both in their 80s, who he says had their last remaining £3,000 taken off them by surprise fees for timeshare. One of them, he wrote, had dementia, and the other, cancer. They had transferred their money to an account at the Bank of Valletta. There is no record of a reply.”

    Another one who takes advantage of elderly people, just like John Dalli. Malta, an island dependant on tourism, has one of its stakeholders diverting time-share-generated income into a secret company offshore, avoiding taxes and declarations, and Francis Zammit Dimech, Mario Demarco and Edward Scicluna are still holding on to their posts.

  10. just me says:

    Great work, Daphne. It would be good to investigate whether Sivio Debono’s hotels were involved in the smart meter scandal regarding massive, wholesale theft of electricity. I would not be surprised at all that they were.

  11. Jan Farrugia says:

    Amen to that. This is exactly what everyone needs to understand.

    • Josephine cachia says:

      Everyone needs to understand that both parties got corrupt people. I only pity the few in both parties who are genuine politicians.They get carried away with, if you cannot beat them join them.And corruption continues to grow.

  12. What does that have to do with the price of eggs?

  13. Gladio says:

    Marlene Farrugia says that the political situation needs major transformation. Can she explain what transformation she is expecting?

    Just in case, she has to give some explanation regarding PA 1187/17. She is using the services of Robert Musumeci who is the author of the infamous Rural and Design Guidelines 2014. Can she be taken seriously when she speaks about the need to protect the environment?

  14. Joseph Muscat is not a man let down by his corrupt underlings. He is the leader of the pack and orchestrate of all this corruption, alongside his henchman Keith Schembri. Konrad Mizzi started out as their tool and is now the albatross round their necks, because he has realised that he has more than enough leverage now to throw his weight around or bomb them out of the water.

  15. Doris Psaila says:

    Min jaf jekk kinitx mahduma bejnithom, nistaqsi jien, biex ghal darb’ohra jitfghu it-tajn lejn il-PN.

  16. jcc says:

    Reading Daphne’s interesting story, I have to ask why certain people in the political field join certain businessmen?

  17. R.Cassar says:

    Given the nature of this latest scandal pressure has to be mounted on the Commissioner of Police to act.

    Lawrence Cutajar is proverbially caught between a rock and a hard place. He knows he has his marching orders if the Nationalist Party wins the next election. He also knows he is being used indiscriminately.

    He stands to lose all the respect of those he worked with throughout his life. When he joined the police corps and took an oath to serve and protect. Was there ever a time he believed in that oath?

    He stands idly by and watches a nation being systematically destroyed?

    What happened to his sense of duty towards the people who depend on him to do what is right and bring to justice those who break the law whoever they may be?

    The Prime Minister told everyone that the Commissioner of Police is “free to act”. In other words he threw him to the hounds. Now Cutajar should show some dignity and make him eat his words.

  18. Karmenu Pace says:

    is she one of the kulhadd ghandu ?

  19. Because they don’t, Francis. The man who is Finance Minister now was a director of the Hotel San Antonio for 11/12 years.

    The lawyer who is company secretary to DB San Gorg Property Ltd is Vince Micallef, a Labour Party activist and part of Minister Michael Farrugia’s circle.

    Jose Herrera – now Environment Minister – lives in Silvio Debono’s pocket and so did his sister the magistrate when she was into building development.

    I could go on.

  20. Quo vadis Malta? says:

    Yes. And we shouldn’t forget that less than a year ago Demarco came up with a long-winded explanation for paying the contractor who worked on his house – Redmap, part of the Keith Schembri/Adrian Hillman/British Virgin Islands gang – some five years down the line and only after the Panama Papers came to light.

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