Consumer Department warnings were final nail in the coffin for Fantasy Tours

Fantasy Tours director Karl Azzopardi was always aware of company’s financial losses, court hears.

Fantasy Tours director Karl Azzopardi was “always aware” of the company’s financial problems, but the final nail in the coffin was the Consumer Department’s warning against the travel company, a court heard this morning.

Johann Vella, who worked as an accounts clerk at Fantasy Tours, explained that the company was trying to save itself from going into bankruptcy but in the end, the losses and lack of demand led to the company’s “inevitable” bankruptcy.

Vella was testifying in the compilation of evidence against Fantasy Tours director Karl Azzopardi, 44, of Mellieha, who is currently pleading not guilty to misappropriating €400,000 of holidaymaker's money, and with deceiving and taking advantage of his clients.

In February 2014, Golden Travel Club Limited – the operators of Fantasy Tours – was officially declared bankrupt after an auditor declared that it was beyond recovery.

Vella explained that the company’s financial problems were initially due to the losses it suffered, and told the court that the main source of losses was the Corfu tour. He said that even though there was not enough demand, the company still had to pay around €12,000 for each chartered plane.

“He [Karl Azzopardi] was aware of the losses, but he continued to operate the company with the hope of saving it and paying back his debts,” Vella said.

Vella also argued that the company’s finances and sales worsened when the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority issued a warning against Fantasy Tours, warning consumers not to trust the company.

“Azzopardi sent many emails to the department to withdraw the reports, and the Authority said that it would remove them, but to no avail. At the time, the company had no pending claims, so I do not know why they issued the warning,” Vella said.

Pointing out the “banal” cases filed against the company before the Department, he recounted that a client requested a refund because she saw a rat passing over a wall across from her hotel room – a case which was lost by the company.

Describing the company’s relationship with the Department as “very bad”, he said the company suffered further losses due to the refunds it had to pay out to clients.

Moreover, the accounts clerk explained that even though the financial problems were evident, Karl Azzopardi was not aware that the company had to close its doors and only did this on his lawyer’s advice.

Asked by lawyer Franco Debono, who appeared in parte civile, Vella explained that staff continued to accept bookings because they were not aware that the company had to be shut down.

Lawyers Franco Debono, Angie Muscat, and Marion Camilleri appeared in parte civile, while lawyer Kris Borg was defence counsel. Police Inspector Ian Abdilla is leading the prosecution.

The case has been adjourned until 15 January.