Goldcar Operations 'owner' shows little knowledge about company in Christian Borg illegal employment case

Apart from the Rabat kidnapping, Christian Borg is also charged with employing foreign workers without work permits

The registered director of Goldcar Operations has told a court he was also “the owner” of the company, but was unable to answer basic questions about it or his role.

Magistrate Nadine Lia heard testimony against Christian Borg, who is charged with employing foreign workers without work permits, as car-washers for the company.

In separate criminal proceedings, Christian Borg, 28, is one of five men accused of kidnapping and threatening a man in January.

Strong ties between Borg and the Labour administration have emerged in the press since his arraignment in the abduction case. Borg was revealed to have been a client of Prime Minister Robert Abela, in a dubious 2018 property deal which reportedly netted Abela €45,000 and to having recently conceded the directorship of one of his companies, Princess Operations, to Joseph Camenzuli, a former photographer for the Labour Party and ex-prime minister Joseph Muscat.

Among the witnesses summoned to testify before Magistrate Lia today was Antoine Bugeja from St. Paul’s Bay, the registered director of Goldcar Operations. As Bugeja walked up to the witness stand, Borg’s lawyer Charles Mercieca asked the court to caution the witness, as he could be at risk of prosecution, but prosecuting Inspector Darren Buhagiar confirmed that the witness had “never been investigated in connection with this case and that there was no current intention to charge him with any offence.”

Bugeja told the court that he had been the “director and owner of Goldcar Operations” in 2018, at the time the alleged illegal employment took place. “Today I am just the owner,” he said.

“So you’re a shareholder?” asked the court. “No. I’m the owner. I have a director taking care of the business,” said the witness, insisting to the court that he was “the 100% owner of Goldcar.” “I used to be the director too, but after the pandemic started, I engaged a director,” he repeated.

But when probed about his role by the magistrate, the witness said he didn’t know whether he had been an executive or non-executive director at the time. The court asked Bugeja what documents he would sign as part of his duties and what issues he would decide on. “I engaged workers. On the operations side, I would take care of the cars, when they would be washed,”  he said.

The court asked Bugeja how he had become a director. “I always had a strong interest in car rentals. I got into the business that way,” he replied.

Bugeja told the court that he also used to rent cars from Christian Borg and would look for more cars for him to rent.

Inspector Buhagiar asked the witness whether he knew he was listed as the company’s director. Bugeja said he did. “Was this your choice?” asked the inspector. “Yes,” he replied.

The prosecution said it had no further questions.

“I’ll ask more questions,” said Magistrate Lia, however, beginning with how he knew the accused. “I used to rent cars from him. He had a big fleet [of cars]. He had rental cars in his name and I used to rent cars from him as Goldcar,” the witness went on.

“Do you have a contract?”asked the magistrate. “Not on my person right now, but there is a contract showing that I used to rent from Christian Borg at the time, in 2018.”

Asked what it dealt with, Bugeja simply stated that it was a two-year contract which “regulated rentals before the pandemic.” 

“How many employees does Goldcar have?” asked the magistrate. “I don’t know exactly,”  replied the director.

“How many did it have at the time?” she asked, reforming the question for the avoidance of doubt. “10?” the accused replied, leading the court to ask him “is that a question or an answer?”

When asked what nationality these employees were, he said he couldn’t remember their names, but said there were Serbians, a Pakistani and some Maltese employees.

Of these only two were still working with the company, he added, naming one of them and telling the court that he couldn’t recall the name of the other employee. 

“Remember,” urged the court. “You’re the owner of the business. I remind you that you are under oath.”

Asked whether there was a reason as to why he didn’t seem to know much about the business, he replied that he employed a supervisor who took care of operations.

The court’s questioning moved on to his company’s employment practices, asking the company director how it would recruit employees. “They would come to the garage or ask at the airport or through email,” he claimed. “We also had internet systems.”

“Chantelle Borg would interview them,” he said.

Mercieca interrupted the court when it asked what his role was in the employment process, saying that the questions were “straying into territory where the witness could need a caution.” It was up to the inspector to say whether he planned on pressing charges against the witness, the court pointed out. Inspector Buhagiar took up the questioning again, asking Bugeja who would employ the workers, “Chantelle Borg,” Bugeja said.

The witness said he didn’t recognise a number of names read out by the court, including that of Joseph Camenzuli, director of one of Christian Borg’s other companies, Princess Holdings. Camenzuli replaced the accused as director of Princess Holdings. .

Stuttering that the people named “could be some of those who came at that time,” Bugeja insisted that he didn’t recall them as individuals.

Another foreign employee’s name did strike a chord, however, with the witness explaining that the person in question had caused “problems with the Labour Office.”

Mercieca reiterated his objection to the court’s line of questioning, but Inspector Buhagiar repeated that he had no plans to press charges against the witness at the moment.

In the light of the witness’ continued blank replies, the court rebuked him. “We are talking about 10 employees, not thousands.”

Bugeja then said he recognised the name of another worker, describing him as having “a sweet nature”, but could not provide any useful detail.

Inspector Buhagiar took the stand to testify next, telling the court how, in December 2018, Immigration officers had carried out an inspection at the Goldcar car wash in Hal Farrug and had found people who had no work permit working there. Checks with Identity Malta confirmed that they had no permit, he said.

The workers were arrested and processed for deportation on immigration grounds. The inspector testified that he had asked them “who their boss was” and they all told him Christian Borg. 

He had subsequently sent for Borg and questioned him. A statement was issued after Borg renounced his right to legal assistance. Borg had signed the statement, added the inspector.

“In his statement Borg had said he was a director of several companies.” No Deposit Cars and Goldcar Ltd were amongst the six companies he mentioned, explained the prosecutor. Borg told the police that he was the director and was not involved in the operations, which were taken care of by employees.

Borg had told the police that Goldcar employed 33 workers, hailing both from the EU and non-EU countries. “They were paid minimum wage to wash cars,” the inspector went on.

Mercieca cross-examined, pointing out that the accused’s police statement had not been taken using audiovisual means, but had been typed out on a computer. The inspector confirmed that he had typed out the accused’s statement, which Borg had signed.

The lawyer suggested that Goldcar Operations Ltd had been registered in 2017, contrasting this with the fact that in Borg’s statement, the accused had claimed to have spent the “previous 5 years” as a director of the company. “I wrote what he said,” confirmed the inspector.

Asked by the court, the inspector had issued charges on the strength of the accused’s statement and information he had obtained from Jobsplus, confirming that he had discovered the company’s date of incorporation during the case. “How did you decide on who was responsible to answer on behalf of the company, before issuing the charges?” 

Inspector Buhagiar explained that the employees had all told the police that Borg was the director and that Borg had also identified himself to the police as the company’s director.

“I felt I had sufficient evidence in hand to arraign him,” replied the inspector.

The magistrate asked whether Borg had denied being director. “No, he never denied this,” Buhagiar said, adding that “at no time was Antoine Bugeja identified as director by the employees.” “He [Borg] presented himself as the company’s director.”

No other name was mentioned in the investigation, said the inspector. “It was always Borg [described] as director, or boss.”

Mercieca asked how long the car wash workers had spent in Malta before being deported and how many times the police had spoken to them.

The Inspector replied that he had spoken to the employees on one occasion, as had other officers. He had not taken down their statements in writing or on camera, telling the court that he relied on his memory. Buhagiar also exhibited five judgments from the courts of magistrates involving Christian Borg.

At the end of the sitting, the prosecution declared its evidence closed. “Are you sure you don’t want to exhibit a copy of the contract mentioned [by Antoine Bugeja]?” prompted the magistrate. “We’ll close our evidence here,” insisted the inspector.

The case was adjourned to July.