Delia and wife pose with owner of notorious Sliema brothel shut down by police/Delia campaign aide, Sliema councillor was brothel customer caught naked with prostitute in police raid

Published: September 11, 2017 at 2:25am

Nationalist Party leadership contender Adrian Delia and his wife Nickie Vella de Fremeaux posed for photographs (see below) at his Sliema hustings a few days ago with Tony Aquilina, who owned a notorious brothel in that town, and with his wife Nancy and son Arthur.

Aquilina had bought the Berkeley Hotel, formerly known as the Debonaire Hotel, on Sliema’s Howard Street and proceeded to turn it into a brothel where women trafficked from Eastern Europe worked in rooms equipped with warning-bleepers connected to the reception desk. Tarcisio Agius, who ran the brothel for Aquilina, would press a button setting off the bleepers when the police raided.

In November 2003, police raided the brothel after months of repeated complaints from neighbours. Pierre Portelli, now a Sliema councillor elected on the Nationalist Party ticket, who is at the forefront of the campaign to have Delia elected party leader, was caught by police naked with a prostitute in one of the rooms, the bleeper in that room having failed to work.

The police arrested and prosecuted Tarcisio Agius, whose defence counsel was Franco Debono.

The brothel was shut down and never reopened. The building was eventually demolished and a block of flats built there instead.

The trial was concluded more than five years later: in 2009, Agius was jailed for one year for running a brothel. You can read and download the judgement here: JUDGEMENT IN THE MATTER OF THE POLICE VS TARCISIO AGIUS

Despite his having testified under oath that he worked directly for Tony Aquilina, who paid him Lm50 a week to look after the place, and that Aquilina received the money which the girls paid “for their rooms”, and despite the testimony of the prostitutes themselves that they paid their “money for the room” to either Agius “or Tony”, Aquilina was never even investigated or interrogated, let alone arrested, charged or prosecuted.

Aquilina, who used to be on the brothel premises almost every day, and who was recognised instantly by people who lived near the brothel and to whom this website showed the photograph below featuring him with Adrian Delia, got away with it while his employee spent a year in prison, lost his home, his wife and daughter, who became estranged from him because of it. He has since rebuilt his life, found God and helps others as a volunteer.

Tony Aquilina is a former policeman from Mqabba who now lives in a flat valued at more than €1 million on Sliema’s Tower Road. His contacts in the police force may have been instrumental in his evading justice. Neighbours of the brothel at the time suspected that when rare police raids were made, he was tipped off by contacts in the force, giving him plenty of time to clear up beforehand.

Repeated reports to the police made by people who lived near the brothel were ignored for more than a year, with some neighbours having all their car tyres slashed after they phoned the police to report the goings-on.

There was constant disturbance caused by taxis containing strange men parked haphazardly outside the brothel at all hours of the day and night, and convoys of cars from out of town driven by men who did not know their way around the area, stopping people to ask them for the Berkeley Hotel.

Worried neighbours also called the police when they heard a child, who had clearly been locked in one of the rooms alone while her mother had sex with paying customers, sobbing continuously.


Looking through photographs of Adrian Delia’s hustings in Sliema, I recognised one of the people with him as the man who owned and ran the Berkeley Hotel on Sliema’s Howard Street, between cross-streets Amery Street and Stella Maris Street, when it was a brothel (I am from that precise neighbourhood). I couldn’t remember his name. I showed the picture to a few people who would know, and was told: Tony Aquilina.

I remembered that a man had been arrested and jailed for running the place as a brothel, so I ran a search on the newspaper reports. There was Tarcisio Agius, but no Tony Aquilina.

The newspaper reports lacked detail, context and information, so I obtained the judgement in the matter of the Police vs Tarcisio Agius and read it. There he was: Tony Aquilina, named as the man who owned the place and took the money.

I ran a search on the newspapers to see whether there was anything about him being arrested and prosecuted too. There was nothing. Let’s cut to the chase, I said, and rang Franco Debono, who was Agius’s defence counsel. No, he said, he doesn’t think the police ever spoke to Tony Aquilina. Yes, he said, he does know who I mean by Tony Aquilina, because Aquilina is from his former constituency in Mqabba and he knows him.

Meanwhile, I had read in the judgement that the police had caught a couple of men in the rooms with prostitutes, and had hauled them in as witnesses for the prosecution. One of them, who had been naked when they entered because the bleeper hadn’t worked, was called Pierre Paul Portelli.

I don’t know how, but I knew instantly – call it instinct, call it experience, call it character-reading – that this was the Sliema PN councillor and Delia campaigner known only as Pierre Portelli. Court documents give your official name as it appears on your identity card, and not the name you are known by.

I ran an internet search, and sure enough, the Sliema councillor came up as Pierre Paul Portelli on an old blog he used to write. Preparing for a long process of elimination, I called up on the electoral register everyone by the name of Pierre Paul Portelli. I was surprised and thankful to discover there are just two, and the other one is a director at The Malta Independent, known to me personally, who I could strike off immediately.

That left just the Sliema councillor and Delia campaigner, so I rang him at 11am. He said that he couldn’t hear and then the line went dead. This was followed by a text message saying that he was at a wedding on a boat and that telephone reception was poor. There was no offer to ring back. So at 1pm I sent him my questions by SMS and WhatsApp, to have all bases covered for excuses about internet and telephone reception.

In Nov 2003, you were caught naked with a prostitute during a police raid on a notorious brothel in Howard Street, Sliema – the Berkeley Hotel. You were then summoned by the police as a witness in the trial of Tarcisio Agius, who was convicted and jailed for one year for running a brothel.

1. Did you disclose this fact to the Nationalist Party before being accepted as a candidate on its ticket in the Sliema local council elections?

2. Given that the Berkeley Hotel was a most notorious brothel in a residential area, that caused maximum inconvenience to residents of that Sliema neighbourhood, do you not think you should have disclosed to your Sliema constituents the fact that you used the services of that brothel yourself?

3. Tony Aquilina, who owned the brothel but who was never investigated or charged as he is a former police officer himself, was photographed with Adrian Delia and both their wives at a campaign event a few days ago. You are working on Delia’s campaign too. As a former patron of the Sliema brothel and therefore aware of Mr Aquilina’s identity, could you explain the nature of his involvement with Delia and his campaign?

At 6.15pm, presumably when he had left the boat on which he had been trapped all that time for the wedding reception, Portelli sent me a WhatsApp message: “Hi can I call you please?” Here comes the usual sob-story, I thought, because if they aren’t threatening you with libel suits then they’re trying to manipulate you by appealing to your better nature, not in the least bit mindful of the fact that they have been rubbishing you all over social media which means that you have retired your better nature where they are concerned.

I replied: “Yes, of course.” After a considerable while, he rang, and began by telling me that he doesn’t know Tony Aquilina at all, doesn’t know who the man is. He then said that he was at the brothel because he was at a stag party.

Clearly, Portelli was unaware that I had read the court judgement in full and so knew that he was lying because the police had only picked up one other customer who was unknown to him, and also because Portelli’s testimony was reported. He had told the police and the court that when the police entered the brothel, he had just taken off his clothes and the prostitute was in the process of explaining to him that she was only doing it because she had no money and was desperate to go back home to her country. He had also told the court that he had gone to the Berkeley Hotel because he had been told that “you could have sex with Russians there for a going rate of Lm15”.

I think it was actually his use of the words “going rate”, which Judge Padovani Grima quoted in her judgement, that instantly made me certain when I read it that he was the Pierre Paul Portelli in question. It is such a that-kind-of-Sliema-man thing to say, even about an encounter with a prostitute ranked for value for money in transactional terms (I am both naturally and professionally attuned to the use of language). That, and the fact that Portelli lived in Sliema at the time and it would have been just typical to go there on the basis of going rate and walking distance.

I decided I wasn’t going to sit there and listen to a whole bunch of lies as I had done with the man for whom he campaigns. So I just said: “Look, can you put all this in writing and send it to me by WhatsApp so that I can be sure to quote you exactly?”

“In writing? OK,” he said, and then he never did. So then I sent questions to Adrian Delia’s press aide, as follows.

This photograph was taken at Delia’s Sliema meeting. Dr and Mrs Delia are posing with Tony Aquilina, his wife Nancy and son Arthur. Aquilina is an ex policeman who owned a notorious brothel in Howard Street, Sliema, called the Berkeley Hotel. It was shut down by police in Nov 2003. Aquilina’s manager, Tarcisio Agius, went to prison for a year. During the police raid on that brothel, one of the customers caught naked with a prostitute was Pierre Paul Portelli, who is working on Delia’s campaign. He was a witness in the trial.

1. What is the nature of Delia’s association with brothel-owner Tony Aquilina?

2. Why does he think nothing of being photographed for campaign purposes with such deeply unsavoury characters?

3. Given his association with a variety of brothel-owners, how are we expected to take his pronouncements seriously on the commercialisation of prostitutes?

4. Was Delia aware that Pierre Paul Portelli, who works on his campaign, used/uses the services of prostitutes and that he was caught naked by the police during a raid on a brothel?

Those questions have remained unanswered too.

(Left to right) Nancy Aquilina, Adrian Delia, Nickie Vella de Fremeaux, Arthur Aquilina, Tony Aquilina

Pierre Paul Portelli on the campaign trail with Adrian Delia

(Left to right) Sliema councillor John Pillow, Adrian Delia, Sliema councillor Pierre Paul Portelli