Shareholder in Allied Newspapers Ltd speaks out

What follows is the full press release issued by Mabel Strickland’s heir, Robert Hornyold-Strickland, who is also one of the shareholders in Allied Newspapers Ltd

Robert Hornyold-Strickland is sole heir to Mabel Strickland, whose family founded Malta’s leading English speaking newspapers Allied Newspapers Ltd (The Times of Malta and The Sunday Times of Malta).  

After a week of shocking revelations of alleged corruption Mabel’s heir speaks out – damning the alleged money laundering and fraud that involve two former Directors of the newspaper group –  colluding with Keith Schembri, ex-Chief of Staff of Malta’s disgraced Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Strickland stated: “I am disgusted and angry that Allied’s workers and editorial staff have been so betrayed and now having to work under such stress as a result of these allegations.  I am however hopeful that justice will be done and am confident that the Times of Malta will survive this scandal. I, personally, will do everything within my means to help the staff through this difficult period. We will come through this stronger and better.

He added: “For many years I have been concerned about certain members of the management team at Allied Newspapers, and yet few people have actually wanted to listen to my concerns.  Finally, it seems I am being vindicated.  Those close to me, and personal friends, have been very supportive when they understood the real story of Mabel’s stolen legacy”.

He continued: “What people will not know, is that following my Aunt Mabel’s death in 1988, Allied Newspapers Ltd fell under the effective control of her two executors Guido Demarco and Prof Joseph Ganado for 22 years, until their own deaths in 2010 and 2016 respectively.   These two executors self-serving interpretation of my aunt’s will is now well documented in the court case I filed in January 2010 and is currently under appeal.”

“Surprisingly, what people may not know is that two weeks after I filed my court case against the executors, they hurriedly transferred the controlling 78% shareholding in Allied to the Strickland Foundation. Until this time the executors held these shares in their personal names (on behalf of Mabel’s estate) for an astonishing 22 years.  This situation, of course, gave them de facto control of the Strickland Foundation and thus indirectly of the newspaper group because dividends from Allied represented the main source of income to the Strickland Foundation.   Just before making this highly irregular 2010 transfer, the executors elected themselves onto the Board of Allied and saw elected their own two sons onto the Council of the Strickland Foundation.  Yet this 2010 transfer was illegal because the Strickland Foundation (as a registered body corporate) cannot be a shareholder since Allied is a private exempt company which only allows private individuals to be shareholders.  Nevertheless, the shares were supposedly transferred by the Company Secretary (a Demarco employee) even without a valid instrument of transfer as noted by the Court.  This transfer is not valid, and resulted in my second court case challenging this transfer”.

So what the public needs to know are the facts.  “The Strickland Foundation was actually set up by my Aunt Mabel Strickland “for herself and her heirs in perpetuity”.  Yet Guido Demarco and Prof Joseph Ganado persistently refused to allow me (Mabel’s sole heir) to participate in the management of my Aunt’s newspaper group or in the Strickland Foundation ever since she died, despite my being qualified to do so and being (since 2013) a Maltese national. 

“Clearly the irregular 2010 transfer gave the two executors (and now their sons and friends) real control over not just the Strickland Foundation, but also indirectly the newspaper group. There has been no Strickland on the Strickland Foundation since my aunt died in 1988 (33 years ago) let alone me (her carefully chosen heir).  My aunt would be rolling in her grave. “

“The Strickland Foundation still managed to obtain several million euros in dividends from Allied before 2010 even though it was not and never could be a shareholder.  Allied Newspapers also owns 99% of Progress Press Ltd.

I also want to know why a certain clause in Maltese company law came to be amended, by subterfuge, in 2013 over the definition of “body corporate”.  So far no one, not even the last Prime Minister has been able to give me any explanation at all for this change.”

Ever since my Aunt Mabel’s death, the majority of the directors and thus senior editorial staff at Allied Newspapers have been, directly or indirectly, chosen by the late executors and now the Strickland Foundation which is, I believe,  arcane and unaccountable.   Their choices of personnel and decisions have now led to this sorry state of affairs.

As Mabel’s sole heir, and 13% shareholder, it is a fact that every attempt, by me, to be elected onto the Board of Allied or the Council of the Strickland Foundation has been blocked by either her two original executors or, after 2010, by the Strickland Foundation.  People who my aunt placed into positions of trust have competed with me and blatantly disrespected Mabel’s sole heir. This is even more ironic since, before I became a Maltese national in 2013, I was trained as a forensic accountant in the UK.  Perhaps this was main reason why I have been blocked by the Council of the Strickland Foundation whose vote decides all Allied board appointments.”

“It is understood that Adrian Hillman was the erstwhile best friend of Mario Demarco and they were best men at each other’s weddings. Hillman was made a Director of Allied and then Managing Director by the vote of the Strickland Foundation.   Mario Demarco, himself, has been the legal representative of Allied for at least 15 years and would have needed to be present during the negotiation of all major asset purchases and sales of Allied and its subsidiary Progress Press.  Furthermore his employee, at Guido de Marco & Associates, Clinton Calleja is the Company Secretary of Allied who was responsible for registering the highly irregular share transfer in 2010.  Many of Demarco’s school friends work at Allied, Progress or the Strickland Foundation.  Peter Portelli (the secretary to the Strickland Foundation) was a permanent secretary to Demarco when he was in Government. Austin Bencini is a lawyer on Allied’s board. Adrian Hillman was Guido Demaco’s political campaign manager. Ronnie Agius (the Managing Director of Allied before Vince Buhagiar) was a close friend of Guido and was the man who first introduced Guido to Mabel. “

“Seen from outside, as a mere minority shareholder in Allied at the moment, the method by which Directors are chosen and the purchase of the printing machinery are merely two of a number of issues that I had raised questions about.  I have also questioned the financial probity of some past Directors of Allied and members of the seemingly arcane Strickland Foundation that controls the newspaper group.  We, as minority shareholders, have never been allowed to see the internal Adrian Hillman report although we were expected (indirectly) to pay for it. This is a scandal.”

“If these allegations are proven, then I believe that all those who sat on the Boards of Allied and Progress at the time these decisions were taken should be tendering their resignations as should the Council of the Strickland Foundation who elected Mr Hillman in the first place. I will also be seeking legal advice this week as to how we can recoup the alleged sum of £5.5 million that has allegedly been defrauded from the newspaper group”.

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