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Police trace source of payments for property in FTS investigation’s final stages

Police investigation looking into financing of Rabat property built by Edward Caruana, the former procurement officer alleged to have exercised undue influence over the issuing of direct orders and other forms of procurement.

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan
19 December 2016, 7:01am
Police investigations in the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools scandal is focusing on a link between an extensive property in Rabat (pictured) built by former FTS procurement officer Edward Caruana, and his role in ordering works at schools in Gozo.
Police investigations in the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools scandal is focusing on a link between an extensive property in Rabat (pictured) built by former FTS procurement officer Edward Caruana, and his role in ordering works at schools in Gozo.
Police investigators are establishing the source of money that was used for the construction of an apartment block in Rabat by a former driver and canvasser of the education minister.

Edward Caruana was appointed by Evarist Bartolo to serve as a procurement officer at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools, where he is now alleged to have exercised undue influence over the issuing of direct orders and other forms of procurement.

The accusations were made by the former CEO of the foundation, which is tasked with the construction of schools and supplying their furniture.

The source of the money used to build Caruana’s apartment block is now the final detail remaining to be established in the Economic Crimes Unit’s investigation into the FTS scandal.

MaltaToday has learnt that the investigation could involve more individuals than originally expected. A scrutiny of bank statements is part of the investigations, where once banking transfers are fully analysed, the police are expected to be in a position to make arraignments.

MaltaToday revealed the falling-out of FTS CEO Philip Rizzo with minister Evarist Bartolo in November, after Rizzo pointed his finger at Caruana, whose brother Joseph Caruana happens to be the permanent secretary at the education ministry.

On his part, Bartolo has been under pressure over whether he was slow to respond to early suspicions and complaints over tendering processes at FTS. The minister has published in parliament a limited number of email conversations with Rizzo in a bid to prove he never contradicted Rizzo in his suspicions and that he had asked him to report his allegations to the police.

Police have now investigated Caruana’s links to various tenderers for the FTS contracts.

“There is an enormous amount of paperwork that investigators are poring over, and they are looking into whether the tenders were specifically drawn to favour one particular supplier,” a police source said.

Specifically, the source confirmed that tenders issued by FTS gave the edge to suppliers whose furniture was designed according to a particular specification, last updated ten years ago.

While the FTS tender process was open to any supplier, it was likely that such tenderers had to partner up with the sole importer of the specific furniture requested by FTS.

A look at the offers made for furniture tenders in 2015 shows that the cheapest offers were always made by Sandro Ciliberti’s company Al-Nibras for Science & Techology Ltd and Hangman Ltd, as well as by L&A Camilleri, a company owned by the Camilleri family, headed by Piju Camilleri, a henchman of the late, notorious Labour minister Lorry Sant.

Most of the furniture seems to have originated from the Italian company Camillo Siriani, because of the unique design specifications laid down in the FTS contracts.

In a letter to this newspaper, Angelo Siriani, CEO of Camillo Siriani, stated that Camillo Siriani SAS was a school furniture manufacturing company selling its products in 25 countries. But he said the company had not appointed any exclusive importer for the Maltese market, where it has sold its furniture for over 15 years “to over 20 importers or retailers”. Siriani specified that the company had sold products to six different Maltese companies in 2015.

Siriani also insisted his products were of the highest quality as requested by the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools in its tenders, and added that they were “not of exclusive design”.

€9 million payments

Edward Caruana has been reported to have been involved in personally passing on payment from FTS to its suppliers, which suggests his zeal in forwarding them a quick payment could have led to rewards for his expeditiousness. The public service is well known for being lead-footed in making payments.

When Bartolo decided that Caruana was no longer suitable for the FTS post, he was transferred to the rural development department where he retained a €36,000 salary in his new posting, The Times reported.

But last Sunday, Caruana suspended himself from the post when MaltaToday reported the investigation centred around his
Rabat property.

Ciliberti files protest

Businessman Sandro Ciliberti, 45, whom MaltaToday was told had been proposed as a crucial middleman to an FTS tenderer by Edward Caruana, this week filed a judicial protest against MaltaToday claiming that the news reports about him were unfounded and incorrect.

Investigating police officers will open a line of inquiry into the business activities of Sandro Ciliberti, whose companies Hangman and Al-Nibras won various public tenders in 2015 for the provision of school equipment and furniture.

When in January 2016, Ciliberti’s residence in Gozo was targeted by an explosive device, MaltaToday had then reported that police investigators were looking at the scale of public tenders clinched by Ciliberti’s company Hangman and Al-Nibras over the past year.

Al-Nibras specialises in the procurement of scientific products, chemicals and labware for pharmaceutical and petro-chemical companies, research centres and government institutions.

Both Hangman (now defunct) and Al-Nibras were focused on the supply of lab equipment and school furniture to state schools, clinching some €2 million in public contracts since 2013, 75% of which were won in 2015.

In the first half of 2015, Ciliberti’s companies took 21 procurement contracts won by public tender after submitting cheap and competitive offers: they included the supply of lab refrigerators, furniture and spectrophotometers for the Water Services Corporation, office furniture for the University of Malta, the Gozo Sixth Form, and various state schools. Most of the contracts were won in June and July.

Ciliberti’s two companies were also listed as among the main suppliers in state schools, according to information laid in parliament by education minister Evarist Bartolo.

In all, Al-Nibras and Hangman are together listed 54 times as suppliers for products and services to 36 state schools.

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...