Manuel Delia confirms the sinister way government business was conducted at the time he was communication coordinator with Austin Gatt.

Even though Manuel Delia states that my blog is read by none, he felt the need to reply to a post, wherein I exposed the sinister way deals were conducted when he was an employee with Austin Gatt. The post in question was published yesterday about a genuine attempt by Keith Schembri to turn the Malta film industry from a bankrupt enterprise into a reliable and profitable industry. According to Manuel Delia, my post was full of lies. I can assure Manuel Delia that it is accurate, and his reply confirms what I have stated.

Unlike Manuel Delia, who refuses to publish the right of replies, as he did in the case of Yorgen Fenech, I have no problem posting his lengthy reply. For Manuel Delia to reply with such a long piece is simply pure panic and guilt!

I want to thank Manuel Delia for confirming that there were dealings with Keith Schembri around fifteen years ago, and he was present at these meetings. He confirmed that these meetings regarded the Mediterranean Film Facilities, which was passing through difficult times at the time. He did not deny a backlog of unpaid electricity and water bills. Moreover, in point 10, he admits he delivered a proposal to Ascent Media. He had to google Ascent Media back then, as he had yet to learn who they were. 

I can add that Keith Schembri had discussions with Minister Tonio Borg, who was responsible for the Lands Department at the time. As the Minister responsible for Lands, it fell under the remit of Borg, who would be the final tenant of the Mediterranean Film Facilities. Therefore, any parliamentary resolution, which Delia mentioned, was only needed if there was a change in conditions on the original lease. At least, Delia did not mention such changes in conditions in his reply. Therefore, his whole discussion about parliamentary resolution is a detraction, or it goes to show that this man does not know the regulations governing the administration of government property. Could Lawyer Borg Cardona, whom Delia communicated before sending this right of reply, not notice such an anomaly in Delia’s response? I can add that Minister Borg gave Keith Schembri the go-ahead. 

Is it possible that Manuel Delia forgets this vital point? Moreover, Keith Schembri had signed an agreement with the tenant of these facilities, who was losing money by the minute. Can Delia confirm this fact? Therefore, Keith Schembri had a legal title over the property. This contradicts the whole argument made by Manuel Delia in his right of reply about the need for a parliamentary resolution to have this property given to Schembri. This would have only been needed if there had been a change in conditions. If this was going to be the case, following the discussions that were held with the Ministry of Austin Gatt, Minister Borg was more than ready to present them to parliament. 

But what I find disturbing is that Manuel Delia admitted that at the time, he was policy coordinator for the Film Commission at the ministry of Austin Gatt. Furthermore, he writes that he only went to the US to give a presentation at the request of the US company. Be that as it may, he does not deny that during discussions, Smart City was mentioned nor that he was accompanied by an Italian businessman, who was not a government official, during these discussions.

I can add that Ascent Media communicated with Ascent Media UK, and the latter shared the received information with Schembri. Does Manuel Delia want to know what they told him? They said they did not want to do business with him. They were not interested in paying millions for “a big hole”. This is how they described Smart City, and they were right. The truth is that after their mission to America, nothing came out, and Ascent Media USA did not invest in Malta because Delia and his team had scuppered the whole project. 

Moreover, Manuel Delia denied communicating with Keith Schembri, telling him the price had increased from 1,2 million to 10 million Maltese liri. Nonetheless, he admitted that a person from his ministry communicated with Keith Schembri, telling him this project was being rescinded. Delia did not deny that this email was sent before he left for the States with Luisa Bonello and Carlo Tagliabue. 

What I can tell Manuel Delia is that copies of this email exist. I will not mention the names of the lawyers involved in the discussion on behalf of Keith Schembri. I am sure that Manuel Delia remembers that they were present, as were other media experts in direct contact with Ascent Media UK. I am stating this so the reader can be guided on who lies in this story.

I admit that the only incorrect statement is that Luisa Bonello is not the niece of Austin Gatt, but Delia admitted that she is a close relative of the Minister. This still confirms how meritocracy worked back then! 

I thank him for mentioning Cinecitta. I confirm these arrangements with Cinecitta. Keith Schembri’s very reputable lawyers had made the necessary contacts. 

Unfortunately, how Manuel Delia and his team conducted the entire negotiations is worth turning into a mafia film. The mafia works and conducts its business just like Delia. They do not need to wait for the revolving doors. They travel with private agents or businessmen, such as Carlo Tagliabue, and hold discussions behind the back of the original stakeholders! In the meantime, they inform the original stakeholders that the bid is no longer 1.2 million Maltese liri but is now one of 10 million Maltese liri!.

Did not Andrew Borg Cardona tell his client that, in his lengthy reply, he was exposing the mafia way business was conducted at the Ministry of Austin Gatt?

Right of Reply

This letter is sent to you pursuant to section 15 of the Media and Defamation Act (Cap. 579) in compliance with which you are requested to publish it in its entirety.

Your post with the title “Manuel Delia sought to strike a deal with Keith Schembri over the Mediterranean Film Facility: it did not go through because of the greed of Manuel Delia and his team.” published today, is wrong on several facts including the ones which I list below.

You are providing wrongful information about events that occurred in 2006 and 2007, 16 years ago, and since I have no access to government correspondence from the time I must rely on my memory.

1.      I sought to strike no deals with Keith Schembri. Keith Schembri and two business associates of his whose names I don’t recall cold-called the ministry where I worked as policy co-ordinator responsible for the Film Commission to ask for a meeting with the minister, Austin Gatt. At the meeting the three individuals made a pitch to be allocated the site of the Mediterranean Film Studios from where they intended to provide services to the film industry.

2.      There were no “business negotiations” with Keith Schembri. There are only two ways that public land can lawfully be allocated to a private interest: following a call for tenders or by Parliamentary resolution. At the first meeting with Keith Schembri and his associates, the ministry informed them that the government would only consider a Parliamentary resolution in exceptional circumstances. A proposal by three local businessmen with zero experience in the film industry was anything but exceptional.

3.      At a second meeting, also at their request, Keith Schembri and his associates produced a letter that said they were backed by Cinecittà, the Rome based film studio. This was sufficiently interesting to give their proposal an initial assessment.

4.      I have no recollection of any mention by Keith Schembri and his associates of anything like Ascent Media UK. I am quite certain no such company was mentioned by them.

5.      I especially have no recollection of any offer from Ascent Media (UK or any other organisation with anything like that name from anywhere else in the world) to purchase anything, the Mediterranean Film Studios or anything else, whether the offer was to pay 1.2 million liri for it as you say, or any other amount. I remember no such offer from anyone for that matter.

6.      I did not ask anyone for 10 million liri to sell them the Mediterranean Film Studios. I did not ask anyone, Ascent Media or anyone else, for any money to purchase the Mediterranean Film Studios.

7.      After initial checks, the government communicated to Keith Schembri and his associates that in the circumstances of the time their idea could not be entertained further. This was not because of “greed” or “arrogance”. The Mediterranean Film Studios had been granted by concession to someone else by a previous administration and there was a contract in place which was binding on the government. There was dissatisfaction with the performance of the tenant who was late with the payment of rent. The tenant showed no interest in renouncing their rights under the contract and it was therefore necessary to start a lawsuit to evict them before any other tenant could be considered for the site. Whether by Parliamentary resolution or through a call for tenders no project for the Mediterranean Film Studios could be considered before the lawsuit to evict the tenants was concluded. When Austin Gatt was no longer minister for film (in 2008) and I therefore was no longer policy co-ordinator for the sector, the case was still ongoing in court.

8.      There was no verbal understanding or any other form of understanding with Keith Schembri to sell to him or to anyone the Mediterranean Film Studios. While Austin Gatt was minister responsible for film and I was on his staff, the government never considered, let alone ever promised anyone, to sell them the site of the Mediterranean Film Studios. Nor was any other understanding of any shape or form reached with Keith Schembri or with anyone else.

9.      There was no expression of interest or public offer during the term Austin Gatt was responsible for the film industry that has anything to do with this subject. There could not have been because there already was a tenant at the Mediterranean Film Studios.

10.     I did not contact Ascent Media in the United States. I delivered a presentation in their office at the invitation of a consortium of Italian film production companies who had set up a studio in Malta and were seeking to persuade Ascent Media to work with them in Malta. The Italian consortium asked me (and the Film Commissioner of the time) to deliver presentations on why Malta was an attractive location for their business activities. It should be clear that at no point did I or Luisa Bonello discuss with Ascent Media the acquisition or possible transfer in any form of the Mediterranean Film Studios. Such a discussion would have been pointless because the Mediterranean Film Studios already had a tenant that only a lawsuit could dislodge and in any case Ascent Media operate in altogether different business.

11.     Luisa Bonello is not the “niece” of Austin Gatt. She is the daughter of Austin Gatt’s wife’s cousin, which by any reasonable definition does not even make her his “relative”. She was appointed Film Commissioner purely on the basis of merit because at the time the position became vacant she was the most senior public sector employee with the most experience in promoting the film industry. In fact, she was employed by the Film Commission from its inception several years before the Film Commission was assigned to Austin Gatt as its minister.

12.     While I have no sight of what emails Luisa Bonello may have sent, the notion that she would send emails to Ascent Media “asking them to employ a close relative as a cameraman” is laughable and shows you have absolutely no idea what Ascent Media do.

13.     Carlo Tagliabue was not part of the Ministry’s or the Film Commission’s delegation in the United States. He worked for the Italian consortium of media companies that had set up a film production business in Malta. To my knowledge that business no longer operates in Malta.

14.     The notion that this incident from 15 years ago in any way influences what I choose to write about Keith Schembri is laughable. Feel free to search Keith Schembri on and see for yourself.

The word “greed” in your title in reference to me misleads your readers into believing that you would eventually allege, and presumably provide evidence, that I have at any point solicited, sought, or obtained some personal reward for my public service in my time as public officer.

You will find nothing to suggest it.

Manuel Delia

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