Rabat flat in centre of corruption allegations can be sold, court says

The Rabat apartment block owned by Edward Caruana.

A magistrate has authorised the sale of a flat in a Rabat apartment block investigated by the police in connection with corruption allegations involving a former official of the Foundation for Tomorrow’s School.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech decreed that a freezing order on the assets of Edward Caruana, including a block of apartments and a penthouse, be lifted so the accused could sell one of the flats.

The court said the apartment “will be released from the effects of the freezing order for the transfer of the property”.

Read: ‘Corruption’ flat on sale in spite of court order freezing transfer of property

However, the magistrate also ordered that “the proceeds from the sale of the property shall be deposited into a bank account indicated by the Registrar of Court, which shall remain affected by the freezing order”.

“People may be shocked that the court seems to be helping somebody accused of corruption and stealing public funds. However, the fact that the proceeds will remain frozen will, at the end of the day, have the same effect [as the original freezing order],” a seasoned lawyer noted.

“In case the accused is found guilty, he will have to return the money and property to the State that has been allegedly stolen,” a top criminal lawyer said.

Edward Caruana, 58, from Rabat, and a former chief canvasser for Education Minister Evarist Bartolo, was charged with embezzlement of hundreds of thousands of euros in public funds.

Read: Invoices were falsified, former FTS boss tells court

He was arraigned more than a year after he was suspended from his post as manager at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools, which falls under Mr Bartolo’s political remit.

The allegations about Mr Caruana first surfaced in the summer of 2016, and the police filed charges against him in December 2017. In that period, Mr Caruana managed to transfer two of his flats to his sons by donation and sell another for €170,000, official documents show. The freezing order on his property and funds was issued in January.

Originally employed at the foundation on Mr Bartolo’s recommendation, Mr Caruana was given a managerial position to oversee school construction works and enjoyed a remuneration package exceeding €50,000.

In 2015, a Gozitan contractor accused Mr Caruana of soliciting a €30,000 bribe to ensure he would be paid for work done at the Gozo Sixth Form. The reports were communicated to the minister, but Mr Caruana remained in office.

A year later, Philip Rizzo resigned as the foundation’s CEO and gave the police a 200-page file of what he said was evidence Mr Caruana had been involved in the embezzlement of hundreds of thousands of euros.

Mr Rizzo accused Mr Bartolo of spending weeks trying to persuade him not to report Mr Caruana. The minister denied the accusation, saying he wanted to wait for “a smoking gun”.