Bonello hits back at Strickland heir, ‘untrue that Mario de Marco controls foundation’

Strickland Foundation chair Giovanni Bonello says Mabel Strickland heir Robert Hornyold-Strickland being selective on legal feuds with Allied's chief shareholder

Strickland Foundation chairman, Judge Emeritus Giovanni Bonello
Strickland Foundation chairman, Judge Emeritus Giovanni Bonello

The Strickland Foundation has kicked back at claims by Mabel Strickland’s heir Robert Hornyold-Strickland, in a spat over Allied Newspaper’s appointment of Adrian Hillman as managing director in 2012.

Hornyold-Strickland, a 13% shareholder on Allied, has accused Nationalist MP Mario de Marco of being the key player in the Strickland Foundation, which controls 78% of Allied, and driving the appointment of close friend Adrian Hillman to become managing director in 2012.

The Strickland Foundation was created by his late aunt, Times founder Mabel Strickland, to run the newspaper group. Hillman is now expected to be charged with graft on the supply of Allied’s printer at Progress Press from Keith Schembri, who is himself charged with corruption.

But foundation chairman Judge Emeritus Giovanni Bonello has insisted that Hornyold-Strickland never raised any objections to Hillman’s appointment as managing director in 2012. “The Foundation finds it puerile for a shareholder to make such statements today about corporate decisions made in good faith years back about an individual who the shareholders and the board of directors trusted, and who had been serving for years as managing director of Progress Press Co Limited.”

Bonello rejected Hornyold-Strickland’s claims that Mario De Marco whose late father Guido was the executor of Strickland’s will to set up the foundation in 1988, ‘controls’ the Strickland Foundation. “He is only one of five members of the Council of the Foundation. The role and voting rights of each member are equal. No member is more equal or more key than others. Each member was appointed for the diverse qualities and experience they bring to the Foundation.

“Furthermore, contrary to Mr Hornyold-Strickland’s assertion, no member of the Council was co-opted by any member. All new Council members, other than the original members appointed by Mabel Strickland, are voted in by unanimity of the existing Council members.”

Bonello also accused Hornyold-Strickland of avoiding naming the cases in which the courts had rejected his claims. These included a 2018 judgement rejecting his claim that the Strickland will entitled him to the right of use of Villa Parisio in Lija beyond his rooms. “Despite this judgement, Mr Hornyold-Strickland to this very day continues to occupy the entire villa with the Foundation continuing to pay for its upkeep and utility bills while being denied any use whatsoever of its rightful seat.”

He said another five of seven claims on Villa Parisio’s land and a request for a detailed account of administration from the Foundation, were also rejected.

Hornyold-Strickland has insisted that the shares in Allied Newspapers late bequeathed to The Strickland Foundation should have been passed on to him, and that Strickland’s  executor Guido De Marco, now deceased, ensured he would not be appointed to the board of Allied. “The truth is that these shares were expressly bequeathed by Mabel Strickland in her will in favour of the Foundation, which she created before her death. There is nothing irregular in the transmission of such shares in favour of the Foundation as they respect her express written will,” Bonello said.

Hornyold-Strickland has spent the last years challenging the legitimacy of the foundation, as well as his aunt’s bequest of the shares to the foundation, and the right of the foundation to operate from Villa Parisio.

“It is regrettable that Mr Hornyold Strickland is picking and choosing as it suits him from his aunt’s will to yet again distort facts and slander people. Instead the Strickland Foundation encourages him to align with and support it so that his aunt’s ideals will continue in a stronger Allied Group as it moves on from these challenging times,” Bonello said.

Giovanni Bonello statement

In separate correspondence to this newspaper, Bonello spoke in his personal capacity saying that he he was appointed chairman of the board of inquiry by Allied Newspapers to investigate the Hillman allegations.

“At the end of our investigation, we forwarded our report, with our findings and recommendations, to the Directors of Allied Newspapers. I am contractually and legally obliged not to disclose the contents of that Report.

“What I can categorically state is that nothing in our Report shames the Allied Newspapers, apart from two rogue high officials of that Company who betrayed the interests of the Company they were meant to be working for.”

Bonello said the report only contains “what is being revealed in evidence in the criminal courts. Any speculation that the contents of the Report are being suppressed to further some cover-up of facts that would embarrass the Company, is wholly baseless and fictional.”

Bonello also said it was useless to call on him to publish the report. “I cannot make public a confidential report commissioned by a private commercial company under an express legal commitment of confidentiality. I do not have a copy of that Report.”

He said that if ordered by a competent judicial authority, he will cooperate fully and answer any question asked, “even if I feel this will be betraying the trust of those witnesses who gave the Board of Inquiry important information in the belief that their evidence would remain confidential.”

Bonello added that both Hornyold-Strickland and Adrian Hillman shared the same legal advisor. “Mr Hornyold-Strickland is rightly indignant because the company of which he is shareholder, has allegedly been robbed by Mr Hillman to the tune of millions of euros. Would he care explaining how he, the victim of that robbery, is taking legal advice from the same lawyer who is also advising his alleged robber?”