05 October 2003
Mintoff finally reacts but fails to convince
Prime Minister, messenger and at long last a postman; Dr Karmenu
Mifsud Bonnici, the man who denies having ever been former fiery
PM Dom Mintoffs harbinger, last Thursday delivered a letter
from the octogenarian to this newspaper.
It came after a disclosure by BICAL shareholder Cecil Pace during
Toni Abelas programme Obelisk on Super One, who stated that
Mifsud Bonnici had approached him to accept a Dom Mintoff proposal.
The proposal had been communicated to Cecil Pace in 1972 by then
Justice Minister Anton Buttigieg, who specified that Mintoff wished
him to transfer half the shares of the Pace empire to Doms
In his reply, Dom Mintoff denies this saying: "throughout
this saga there was no occasion on which I instructed someone
to procure me the BICAL shares for nothing. It would have been
madness to me to procure shares which were in such a bad state,
even for nothing."
This suggestion has led Cecil Pace to exclaim that Mintoff does
not know what he was saying. "Dom did not know the state
of the bank, but he did know that we had made no losses over the
years and he very well knew the assets we had as a family."
Dom Mintoffs reaction comes five weeks after the publication
of the first news report that claimed his messengers
had made moves to encourage Cecil Pace, who would later spend
14 years behind bars, to pass on shares of the BICAL bank owned
by Pace and his family.
The decision by Mintoff to react to the MaltaToday stories came
after the airing of Obelisk last Wedneday which carried repeated
comments in the programme that Mintoff had failed to react.
Little is known of the relationship between Dom Mintoff and Cecil
Pace. Dom Mintoff had in fact asked Pace to stand in as deputy
leader of the Labour party before the 1971 election.
This proposal could have been one of Mintoffs most ingenious.
The suggestion was evidently made to take full advantage of Cecil
Paces popularity and success and the fact that he employed
over 3,000 people on the island. After all, Cecil Pace had been
Maltas foremost entrepreneur since the late fifties, accompanying
Dom Mintoff abroad on official visits, who would always introduce
Cecil as a "successful industrialist."
Cecil Pace has very vivid memories of these events, as he recalls:
"On one occasion, I was introduced to Duncan Sandys. As was
typical for Mintoff, he would introduce his entourage with comical
and vulgar Maltese phrases, knowing that Sandys would have no
idea what Mintoff would be saying. In my case it was Dan
jibilghu fsormu, the vulgar exclamation for someone
who takes the mickey."
There were other instances of catering to Mintoffs impromptu
demands. During the fifties, Cecil Pace would accept a request
by Dom Mintoff to take up the Paces temporary residence
at St James Park in London, for his urgent and personal
needs. Said and done, Mintoff was a man whose needs would have
to be entertained.
But Dom Mintoff will certainly be remembered as the man who rendered
his own style of Nasserian politics on Malta by closing the BICAL
Bank and effectively condemning another private bank, the National
Bank of Malta, to a disappearing act by forcing its shareholders
to transfer their shares to government.
In his letter to MaltaToday, Mintoff insists that up until now
his memory has not left him, despite the fact that
whenever contacted and confronted by journalists, Mintoff always
scuppers away lamenting that he is too old to remember.
Now Mintoff claims he does not recall a face-to-face encounter
in the late fifties with Cecil Pace, who at the time was interested
in developing the site which would later host the present Malta
Shipbuilding, for his very own docks and fleet repairs. Mintoff
was ready to give Pace the go-ahead, but he strictly underlined
the following with Pace: "Now look, lets not play games
you know that for the machinery for the docks you can
ask my brother, for he is the agent for Krupp."
("Issa ma noqghodux nilghabu
l-ingenji tad-docks ordnawhom
minghand hija ghax hu l-agent ta Krupp.")
Typically, Mintoff blames the Nationalists for not having taken
any earlier action about BICAL: "I remember it as well as
if it was yesterday when so many people in Malta, the majority
of them workers and others, had lost their jobs because the Nationalist
government had not taken the necessary steps to safeguard their
monies and jobs."
Cecil Pace insists there was nothing to take action about.
In his typical tangential way of looking at things, Mintoff argues:
"There have been three cases of companies who had been given
permission by the government to operate in Malta. One of these
was the case of the Bank of Alderney, whose fate was exactly like
that of the BICAL bank it could not pay back the deposits
of the Maltese. There was the case of the pig-breeding company,
and the famous case of the airline company, Air Melita, which
was backed by the Nationalist government as well as the American
Countering, Cecil Pace argues this is a very unreasonable comment
from Mintoff: "Unlike the Bank of Alderney, BICAL had assets...substantial
assets to back our operations. These assets were later decimated
by the controllers, in the most absurd of ways. Monies that were
supposedly collected from their liquidation in many cases were
never collected by the controllers."
Cecil Pace cites one example Tigullio, in St Julians -
"At the time, we spent over a quarter of a million pounds.
It was sold for the unbelievable sum of 22,000 pounds, at 1,000
pounds a month in repayment. But only 11,000 pounds were collected
and the rest was never paid. And the 11,000 pounds have never
Certainly, Mintoffs most unreasonable utterance is that
in 1972 the BICAL chairman had informed the Labour government
as well as the Central Bank that BICAL was not in a position to
pay back the deposits to their depositors, who had in large quantities
withdrawn all their monies from the bank earlier on: "If
the government and the Central Bank had not intervened, the BICAL
bank, which used to give higher interest rates than other banks
and which dealt in fraudulent activity as was shown in Court later,
would have lost everything, as had happened in previous cases."
Cecil Pace vehemently denies this: "I never told the Central
Bank any such thing. I had no problem in paying depositors and
a day before the closure of the bank, BICAL was still receiving
deposits and effecting withdrawals."
One particular withdrawal was that of Guze Abela, Labour Finance
Minister in 1972, who obviously knew what was to happen to BICAL
and withdrew all his 5,000-pound deposit from the bank twenty
four hours before the closure.
Work sheets indicating withdrawals and deposits in the weeks before
the closure do not support Mintoffs claims that there had
been a run on the bank.
The autocrat who ruled his party with an iron fist, and who would
later bring down Alfred Sants Labour government in 1998
to prop his Nationalist archenemies back into power says that
he and his colleagues "had tried very hard to see what necessary
steps were being taken for the first time in Malta."
But the former BICAL chairman replies that this is untrue: "The
factories I owned were broken up and the employees dispersed.
The whole working force was downsized."
Mintoff obviously praises the three controllers, and needless
to say, has special words for his acolyte and faithful servant
- Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici the man whose appointment as his
successor as Labour leader Mintoff would later admit had been
the only mistake he ever committed in his life.
But Mintoff fails to react to why and how Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici,
described by Cecil Pace as his persecutor on Obelisk,
succeeded in mismanaging in such a regal manner the break-up of
the Pace empire, leaving hundreds of Maltese workers without jobs.
Cecil Pace told MaltaToday that one crucial point must be emphasised:
"There was never any reason to close the bank. There had
always been enough assets to pay for all the depositors there
and then. What is certain is that the liquidation procedures organised
by the controllers were haphazard, abusive, ruthless, irresponsible,
lengthy, against the norm and a great disservice to the depositors
and our family."