Journalist’s murder unravels complex web of criminality

New questions emerged around Malta’s corruption-tainted Electrogas project after one of the involved parties in the deal, Paul Apap Bologna, refused to respond to questions about his previously-secret offshore company during a grilling by a parliamentary committee. The massive energy scheme has been linked to the October 2017 assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Apap Bologna’s Kittiwake Limited was opened at the same time as 17 Black, another offshore company owned by Yorgen Fenech who is accused of commissioning the journalist’s murder. Around that same time, secret Panama companies were set up for then prime minister Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and former Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi.

The energy deal, a key electoral promise, has been mired in controversy since the Electrogas consortium was selected to build and operate the LNG power station. 

A damning National Audit Office report, published in late 2018, revealed how the selection committee, which included among others representatives of the controversial accounting firm Nexia BT (recently charged with money laundering and other financial crimes), nudged the Electrogas consortium through key stages of the selection process.

The NAO concluded that there was a possible “distortion” of the evaluation process, Electrogas was unduly favoured, and the Maltese public got a raw deal. Partners in the consortium include Siemens of Germany, and Azerbaijan’s state-owned company SOCAR. 

Slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was investigating a leak of thousands of Electrogas emails at the time she was killed with a massive car bomb. The man now accused of commissioning her murder to silence the story, Yorgen Fenech, was one of the consortium’s main shareholders and the Labour Party’s key mover in the deal.

Paul Apap Bologna has attempted to distance himself from Fenech since the latter’s dramatic arrest in November 2019. 

When testifying before the public inquiry into the journalist’s murder last year, Apap Bologna had said he was shocked to learn Fenech owned the mysterious Dubai company 17 Black after finding out about it “through the press”. When asked if he’d confronted his colleague with the accusation, he said, “We asked him about it at a board meeting, but he didn’t answer us.”

“What did you do when he didn’t reply?” Judge Lofaro asked. “Just stare back?”

The visibly uncomfortable witness mumbled, “They were media accusations…”

Unfortunately, the public inquiry board didn’t know about Apap Bologna’s own offshore structure at the time, but the secret was exposed earlier this month.

The press revealed that Kittiwake transferred $200,000 to Yorgen Fenech’s company Wings Investment days before Caruana Galizia first mentioned the name 17 Black and speculated about the identity of its beneficial owner. (The company’s name was changed from 17 Black to Wings Investment to cover the trail when the former became public. Wings Investment was a sister company also owned by Fenech.)

Another company called EN3 Projects sent $300,000 to Wings Investments at around the same time. When his bank in the UAE asked for details, Fenech told them he was doing business with EN3 Projects in Qatar and Bangladesh — with help from Kittiwake owner Apap Bologna. 

It was a contradiction of sworn testimony Apap Bologna had given before the public inquiry last year, where he claimed he had no idea Fenech was planning to replicate the Electrogas model in Bangladesh. He said he only found out about it from the press.

It isn’t the first time his credibility has been cast into doubt. Asked at the public inquiry if he had questioned Fenech about the reason for Fenech’s sudden resignation as director just days before the alleged mastermind’s escape attempt and arrest, he said, “I didn’t speak to Fenech”.  

“Be careful,” lawyer Jason Azzopardi warned him, “mobile data concerning Yorgen Fenech will be coming out”.

“I may have spoken to him…” Apap Bologna replied.

Apap Bologna is the scion of one of Malta’s ‘noble’ families, and one of the key investors in Electrogas, along with the Gasan family and the Fenech family’s Tumas Group. An extra 10% was also owned by Yorgen Fenech.

When asked by the parliamentary committee to explain this arrangement, Apap Bologna said they agreed to let Fenech hold that extra 10% after discussion with the late George Fenech (Yorgen’s father), but he changed his story in time for the next hearing, claiming the 10% stake was Yorgen’s from the beginning because he had taken the lead in the project.

Why Fenech held those shares in his personal capacity rather than folding them into Tumas Energy’s investment, no one seems to know.

Suspicions were raised that the 10% share could be linked to corruption, as the source of the €5,000 per day Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi’s Panama companies were expected to receive from 17 Black. 

The existence of Kittiwake Limited is a clear indication that Apap Bologna was in on the ‘sinister’ Electrogas deal from the beginning, but he has not been questioned by the police.

In the meantime, the accused hitmen who planted the bomb beneath the driver’s seat of the journalist’s car have filed a judicial protest against Prime Minister Robert Abela for breaching their presumption of innocence after he described them as “criminals”. The prime minister said this to discredit them after two of the alleged hitmen named a government minister, Carmelo Abela, as having been involved in a botched bank heist that ended in a shootout with police.

In an unexpected legal twist, Justice Giovanni Grixti put off the bank heist case indefinitely on grounds that the court had to hear a new “witness or witnesses” testify about the crime. 

The same judge blocked an inquiry into the key players involved in the Panama Papers scandal in January 2019, and overturned the decision of a previous magistrate that called for an inquiry into the conduct of three government ministers in relation to the sale of public hospitals to a conglomerate with no previous experience in the healthcare industry.

There seems to be no end to scandal in Malta, where the tangled web of business, politics and crime is becoming increasingly clear. 

Meanwhile, court proceedings remain bogged down in an inefficient justice system which is being exploited by the accused. Key suspects repeatedly attempt to get bail for exposing those in government involved in crimes, or by finding a technicality on which to hook some sort of dismissal.

The man accused of supplying the bomb, Adrian Agius, also attempted to get bail last week for the unrelated murder of a lawyer, but his request was denied by the court.

Will Paul Apap Bologna be called in for questioning in a country where high ranking members of the police leaked details of the Caruana Galizia murder investigation to key suspects, and where judges block inquiries into powerful cabinet members?

The fact that those police officials haven’t been charged does not give cause for optimism. 

The following project is weekly Maltese Roundups prepared by The Shift News (Malta) offering the latest news in Daphne Caruana Galizia case.