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.