Friday, 27 November 2020, 07:32
Last update: about 25 minutes ago
Yorgen Fenech would not have had the authority to sign off on any complementary stays at the Hilton Evian-les-Bains because all freebies have to be approved by the group chairman, Tumas Group’s Ray Fenech has told The Malta Independent.
The current chairman told this newspaper that the company is checking how Joseph Muscat and Edward Zammit Lewis’ 2014 stay at the French hotel was paid for, be it by the company, the politicians themselves or a third person. This process, however, could take some time, especially when considering that the hotel is currently closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was reported on Thursday that Muscat and Zammit Lewis had stayed at the hotel, in Northern France, in Easter 2017. Muscat and Zammit Lewis clarified that the trip actually took place in 2014. While they said that they paid for the flights, they did not explicitly declare that they had personally paid for the accommodation, although the Justice Minister said he had never asked for any freebies.
Muscat and Zammit Lewis criticised Lovin Malta for claiming that they had stayed for “free” at Yorgen Fenech’s hotel, and for citing the wrong date to “give the impression that this was related to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.”
Hilton Evian-les-bains is owned by the Tumas Group, of which Yorgen Fenech was a director until he resigned last year. Fenech is accused of being a mastermind in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Replying to questions by this newspaper, Ray Fenech said that his nephew would not have had authorisation to sign off on freebies. “Any complementary stays are always brought to the attention of the chairman,” he said. George Fenech, Yorgen’s father and Ray’s brother, was chairman of the Tumas Group in 2014.
Fenech said that, since Hilton is a franchise brand, the hotel would have definitely charged for the stay, meaning that the bill would have been settled. He could not say, however, who had paid. “If there were instructions for the bill to be paid for by one of the companies in the group, it would have been taken before the chairman.”
Fenech said the company is currently working to establish how the bill was paid for, including whether it had been absorbed by the company on approval by the chairman, whether the politicians had paid out of pocket or whether it was paid for by third parties.
‘No taxpayer funds used’ – Muscat
Muscat told Times of Malta that, “The stay in France some years back was part of a family holiday, and no local taxpayer or EU funds were used. We travelled from and back to Malta on commercial flights and paid accordingly.”
When pressed to clarify whether he had paid for the accommodation or just the flights, Muscat said, “I replied quite clearly”, and referred the newspaper back to its original source.
Lovin Malta also reported today that Muscat travelled from the resort to an urgent EU summit by private jet. Muscat confirmed that he had used a jet, saying that the costs were borne by the EU. “The same would have happened had I been in Malta,” he added.
He said he had asked Zammit Lewis to join him at the EU meeting because he was a Cabinet colleague, adding that the sources were trying to “mislead” the press.
Zammit Lewis told Lovin Malta: “Unlike others, whose cases have been revealed in the past days, I did not phone anyone from the Fenech family to ask for any favours nor did I ask for suggestions about which hotel to stay in and never gave any gifts to the Fenech family in compensation for any freebies.”
He was referring to the recent revelation that PN MP Jason Azzopardi had had his Hilton hotel stay in 2018 paid for by the Tumas Group.
Earlier this year, France’s National Financial Prosecutor, the PNF, launched an investigation – at the request of the Caruana Galizia family – into whether Yorgen Fenech used his French-based assets to bribe Maltese public officials. It is understood that these assets include the Hilton Hotel at Evian-Les-Bains.
The Malta Independent contacted the PNF earlier this month and asked whether the Easter trip was being investigated. A spokesperson confirmed that the PNF has has opened an investigation which is still ongoing, but said no information can be provided at this stage.
‘Deceitful’ reporting, no clear answers
In a Facebook post uploaded later in the day, Muscat took aim at Lovin Malta over its “deceitful” reporting. The former PM said he had provided clear replies which he claimed had been misreported.
There was no 2017 trip, he said. “We travelled to France with our respective families in 2014. In Easter of 2017, I was abroad with my family in Sicily.”
He said that, in 2014, the two families paid for their scheduled commercial flights. “I have never asked for favours, freebies or free accommodation.”
But when this newsroom asked him for a clarification, the minister said his previous answers “still stand.”
He was asked to clarify whether, ultimately, he paid for his and his family’s accommodation completely or if it was partly paid for by someone else, or given for free.
“I never asked for anything to be free,” he said, then suggesting that this newsroom investigate PN MPs who are renting hotels from the Tumas Group or still doing legal work for them. “Do your job well like I did on introducing radical reforms in our system,” he said.
This newsroom responded by again asking him for a clear answer. “I understand you never asked for anything to be free, however I am asking, concretely, did you pay for the hotel or did someone else pay it for you? If someone else paid for it, who did?”
“Do your job. My last answer is very clear,” Zammit Lewis said.
Pressed for a black on white answer, he said: “I never asked for anything to be free. I answered. Now ask the other questions I told you pls. Do your job”
This newsroom persisted: “Minister did you pay for it yes or no?”
“I answered,” he responded. Once again, he was told that he did not.
“Ask opposition MPs now. Waiting for it.” This newsroom, yet again, asked him: Did you pay for it or not? No response was given.