Strickland Foundation’s rightful seat is in Lija

by Ronald Agius, Strickland Foundation acting chairman

Mabel Strickland
Mabel Strickland

I refer to the opinion piece by Robert Hornyold-Strickland entitled “Strickland Foundation must come clean” which appeared in last Sunday’s edition of MaltaToday. Mr Hornyold-Strickland makes a number of unfounded allegations and innuendos and, as usual, is very selective in his account, choosing to omit important information and twisting other points to suit his agenda. Out of respect to your readers, The Strickland Foundation feels compelled to give an account of the facts to enable readers to reach their conclusions.

Mr Hornyold-Strickland makes reference to the election of Mr Adrian Hillman as director of Allied Newspapers, and his eventual appointment as managing director. Mr Hornyold-Strickland failed to say however that the general meeting of shareholders had been unanimous in appointing Mr Hillman as managing director. Mr Hornyold-Strickland, the second largest individual shareholder, not only voted in favour of Mr Hillman’s appointment, but also seconded the motion for the appointment. For reasons best known to him, Mr Hornyold-Strickland felt that this information should not be passed on. Readers may therefore wonder why he is today questioning an appointment which he himself had previously approved of, voted in favour of and seconded.

Mr Hornyold-Strickland then proceeds to give his own skewed interpretation of Ms Mabel Strickland’s will, implying she was somehow manipulated by her legal advisers or that the executors did not follow the letter and spirit of her instructions as laid out in her will. Nothing could be further from the truth.

First of all, let it be said that Ms Strickland was known for her strong, sharp mind. Secondly, Ms Strickland had an excellent command of the English language. Thirdly, when she wrote her will, she was in full mental capacity as certified by her physician. Therefore, there is, and should be, no doubt that the will represents in full Ms Strickland’s wishes. She wrote exactly what she wanted to write and what she wrote represents what she wished to happen following her death. This fact should not be contested, not least by Mr Hornyold-Strickland who has benefited greatly from her will in so far as she appointed him her universal heir, inheriting most of her movable and immovable property, including the Xara Palace, Mdina and numerous other properties.

Indeed, in all these years since the demise of Ms Strickland, Mr Hornyold-Strickland never contested the legal validity of the will despite his appetite for court cases. Mr Hornyold-Strickland has to decide once and for all whether Ms Strickland was in full mental capacity or not when she appointed him as her universal heir in her will. Unfortunately, his innuendos again are selective, implying that she had full mental capacity to the extent her will benefited him but lacked full mental capacity to the extent that she did not leave him everything. Mr Hornyold-Strickland truly wants to have the cake and eat it.

Regrettably, Mr Hornyold-Strickland still cannot come to terms with the fact that, although Ms Strickland appointed him as her heir and left him numerous properties, she bequeathed Villa Parisio and its contents, with some exceptions, not to him but to The Strickland Foundation which she had set up in her lifetime. Villa Parisio belongs to The Strickland Foundation, not to Mr Hornyold-Strickland, to serve as the seat of

The Strickland Foundation as bequeathed and determined by Ms Strickland.

Ms Strickland herself in her will limited Mr Hornyold-Strickland’s use of Villa Parisio to “the right of use and habitation of the guest rooms with bathroom and study at Villa Parisio provided that the enjoyment of such rights shall in no way interfere with the work of the Foundation”. The priority is therefore very clearly stated in the will. The work of the Foundation at the Villa takes absolute precedence over the use and habitation by Mr Hornyold-Strickland and, in exercising his rights, Mr Hornyold-Strickland has to ensure he does not interfere with the work of the Foundation.

Again Mr Hornyold-Strickland omitted to mention this all-important clause contained in Ms Strickland’s will in his lengthy article. He instead quoted another clause taken not from her will but from the statute of the Foundation that says that the Foundation can, if it so wishes, choose to relocate its seat to another place. This is a standard clause contained in any deed of statute of a foundation, partnership or company which reserves the right to change one’s registered office.

What Mr Hornyold-Strickland again fails to say moreover is that, while he was bequeathed various properties, over which he had unhindered and unfettered possession, the Foundation was bequeathed only one property, Villa Parisio. Clearly, Ms Strickland wanted the Foundation to operate from Villa Parisio whereas she left Mr Hornyold-Strickland free to live where he chose. However, if he chose to use Villa Parisio during his visits to Malta, then she wanted him to respect the fact that the Villa was the seat and workplace of The Strickland Foundation.

Mr Hornyold-Strickland should therefore respect Ms Strickland’s will and stop his incessant efforts to have the Foundation relocated from its own seat. Regrettably, Mr Hornyold-Strickland’s constant harassment of Foundation officials, and his stand against the use of Villa Parisio for its events, has forced the Foundation to use third party venues at a considerable additional cost. It is also being forced to hold its regular council meetings away from the designated seat. This is unacceptable. The Foundation has acted prudently all the way, waiting for the courts to pronounce themselves on the matter. Just recently, the court turned down a request by Mr Hornyold-Strickland to authorize him to change the keys to the Villa and bar the Foundation from having free access to it.

Mr Hornyold-Strickland also brought up the Foundation’s shareholding in Allied Group. Ms Strickland, for reasons known to her, chose not to make Mr Hornyold-Strickland the majority shareholder of The Times. She preferred instead to hand over the majority share ownership to The Strickland Foundation. By virtue of Ms Mabel Strickland’s will, The Strickland Foundation owns 581 shares in Allied Group whilst Mr Robert Hornyold-Strickland owns 99 shares.

Mr Hornyold-Strickland refers to the dividend paid by the Allied Group to The Strickland Foundation, terming this dividend payment as scandalous. Since when is it scandalous for a company to pass on dividends to its shareholders? Mr Hornyold-Strickland again conveniently omits the fact that as a shareholder in Allied he himself has received dividend payments. The Strickland Foundation’s income comes from the investments bequeathed to it by Ms Strickland, primarily its shares in Allied Group. This income is used by the Foundation to pursue its goals.

The Foundation organises talks and seminars on various themes related to freedom of the press, the Commonwealth and the European Union. It has also considered positively over 150 requests for sponsorships. One of the most noteworthy recent sponsorships is that towards the restoration, by Din l-Art Helwa, of the Church of Our Lady of Victories in Valletta. Other sponsorship recipients include cultural and philanthropic organisations, including Dar tal-Providenza, St Patrick’s Salesian School, the British Cultural Association, Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, the Malta Heart Foundation, and the Commonwealth Journalists’ Association. In 2012, the Foundation launched a Journalism Internship Sponsorship programme to promote journalism as a career and broader public benefit through partnership and collaboration with media companies.

Hundreds of people have therefore benefitted from the work of The Strickland Foundation over the years. This work is now being hindered by the actions of Mr Hornyold-Strickland as he is trying to oust the Foundation from its rightful seat.

Ronald Agius is Acting Chairman of the Strickland Foundation