‘It was all bluff’: Castaldi Paris bragged about fictitious £16 million London mansion to Yorgen Fenech

Labour MP Ian Castaldi Paris self-reported to the authorities his chats to Yorgen Fenech about owning three London properties and closing in on a £16 million mansion

Only bluff: Ian Castaldi Paris had to self-report claims he made about owning London properties
Only bluff: Ian Castaldi Paris had to self-report claims he made about owning London properties

Bluff and fantasy: a series of text messages between Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech and the Labour MP Ian Castaldi Paris, the latter boasting about owning three London properties and closing on a £16 million Kensington mansion, are just a load of hot air.

The MP yesterday admitted to having dreamed up a lofty claim he made to Fenech of being a high-flying property investor in London, after MaltaToday approached him over chats he had with Fenech in September 2019, just two months before the latter’s arrest in connection with the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

“It was pure bluff from my end. I have no property, neither in London, nor in any part of the world,” Castaldi Paris told this newspaper when asked to explain his claims to Fenech and whether his property acquisitions were now declared in his MP’s asset register. “It was stupid from my end.”

But the seriousness of the matter was such that Castaldi Paris also admitted that he had to inform the authorities about the chats, to assure investigators he was not truly the owner of some swanky London pied-à-terre.

“I spoke to the authorities, and told them that these were bluff SMSes,” he told MaltaToday, without specifying the authority in question but denying this was either the FIAU or the Economic Crimes Unit.

The chats indeed reveal that Castaldi Paris (at the time not an MP) had known about the €3.1 million Mdina villa sold to Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech in September 2019, because he chatted to the businessman just days after signing on the promise-of-sale agreement.

“I knew of the property deal because I know Joe Camilleri,” Castaldi Paris said of the dealer who tried to sell the villa to Fenech.

Indeed it was Fenech who initiated his conversation with Castaldi Paris, telling him his ‘Uncle Ray’ had informed him that he had been a contender for the villa. “I had no idea, otherwise I would have never moved on it,” Fenech told Castaldi Paris on 2 September 2019. “I’m ready to give it up anyway as I bought it for no reason. I got it for €3.1m.”

Castaldi Paris chipped in: “I was going to get it for €4m,” he claimed. “I was going to flip it,” he told Fenech, who said he had bought it on a whim after being charmed by its commanding views.

“I was worried. I don’t even muscle in like that in my business affairs,” Fenech replied. “Let alone on something like this… with you.”

Castaldi Paris replied: “No king, don’t worry. Next deal we do something together. I bought a house in Kensington instead. For more, obviously… I have three houses there and am now looking for a big mansion… saw a nice one, £16 million which I might close on this weekend.”

Fenech agreed with his friend’s property savvy: “London’s number 1. Whatever I have extra, I spend there. Don’t talk to me about Bulgaria… and beware of Paris because it is a fucking nightmare. Bought a house €8m but it cost me another 2. London is transparent. Sterling’s good right now and there will be some four opportunities. Once Boris [Johnson] settles in I believe it will skyrocket.”

After that Fenech again told Castaldi Paris he wanted to be clear that he was not tied to the Mdina property if the notary wanted in on it. Castaldi Paris was magnanimous about the offer: “I appreciate king, but really, don’t worry.”

Yorgen Fenech also mentions Charles Farrugia, the aide to Rosianne Cutajar, as the broker in the Mdina deal.

‘It was all bluff’

Apart from admitting to MaltaToday that the chats were nothing but bluff, Ian Castaldi Paris insisted that his parliamentary declaration of assets was correct. The MP said he owns two residential properties in Lija, two apartments in Santa Venera, and his office in Attard.

“During the few chat exchanges, stupidly and silly enough and  [what was] pure men’s talk bluff, I told [Fenech] I have properties in UK and was going to buy a bigger one. Don’t ask me why I bluffed but I do confirm that men between us sometimes use this talk. Perhaps it made me feel good saying this. I honestly don’t know.”

When asked why he had proffered such claims, Castaldi Paris told MaltaToday that he thought big talk in business could make him out to be a “success in society”.

“Today, or rather after becoming an MP I did realise that this bluff-talking has to stop and therefore I regret that, yes, occasionally, I did bluff or joked  on having properties abroad, which is not true. You learn from your mistakes and I do acknowledge this.”

Castaldi Paris also said that after becoming MP and submitting his declaration of assets, “I took the free initiative to write to an authority and informed them that I did occasionally have some bluff Whatsapps with friends and colleagues on owning property abroad. I informed the authority that I do not own and never did own any property or properties abroad, never had or have any bank accounts abroad and never had and don’t have any companies abroad. Neither me, my wife and none of my family members. I also offered a full power of attorney unlimited, should they want to check or ask anyone anywhere in the world. I also have a receipt and acknowledgment of such letter.”

Mdina  deal

But what has now emerged clearly now is that Ian Castaldi Paris was well aware of the 2019 property deal, and its seller, the broker Joe Camilleri, which would later force the resignation of Rosianne Cutajar, who is suspected of having been paid a brokerage fee on the sale to Yorgen Fenech. Cutajar denies having recieved any money.

Indeed, a year later when he became a Labour MP, Castaldi Paris was assisting Camilleri in drawing up an affidavit on the sale that had fallen just months later when Yorgen Fenech was arrested in November 2019.

Now, in December 2020, Camilleri was attempting to have brokerage fees of €93,000 he paid to Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar and her aide Charles Farrugia ‘it-Tikka’ – nominated by Yorgen Fenech as his brokers – returned. Camilleri also filed a protest in March 2021 to have both Farrugia and Cutajar return the brokerage fee.

Castaldi Paris, an eighth district ‘rival’ to Cutajar, obliged with the affidavit.

When news broke in 2021 of Camilleri’s legal entreaties to Cutajar to return the cash, the former parliamentary secretary for equality had to resign her government post, and submit herself to an investigation by the parliamentary commissioner for standards in public life.

But when testifying before standards czar George Hyzler, Castaldi Paris was ambiguous about his role in the entire affair, refusing to testify on the Camilleri affidavit.

From the evidence collected by Hyzler, Camilleri would have torn up the affidavit; and the Standards Commissioner only got to see a soft copy version from the laptop of Times of Malta journalist Ivan Martin, who had penned the story naming Castaldi Paris.

MaltaToday asked Castaldi Paris whether he ever told Hyzler that he was well aware of Yorgen Fenech’s property deal as early as 2 September, 2019. “I don’t think he asked me that kind of question,” Castaldi Paris replied. “But I knew Camilleri as a property dealer always asking me about potential buyers.”

Ethics investigation

Hyzler concluded that Rosianne Cutajar had pocketed a brokerage fee from the sale and broke ethics when she failed to declare the income in her yearly declaration of assets filed in parliament.

The Standards Commissioner has also suggested that his report be passed on to the tax authorities for further investigation.

The Tax Compliance Unit initiated an investigation into the Mdina property deal, including Cutajar and her associate, soon after the news first appeared in the press.

Cutajar’s aide Charles Farrugia testified that she had nothing to do with the sale, however, Hyzler noted inconsistencies in the testimonies he heard that suggested Cutajar had done more than simply suggest Fenech’s name. She had also been present for the viewing of the property and had contacted Fenech since he was late on that occasion.

Cutajar even told Camilleri she had carefully counted together with her father the commission money received on the deal, according to a sworn statement by Camilleri to Hyzler. Two days after the cash was given to Cutajar at a Valletta restaurant, the politician called him and said she had confirmed the amount after meticulously counting it together with her father. “Cutajar said she had never made that much money before,” the statement reads.

Camilleri claims in the sworn statement that he had repeatedly told Cutajar she would have to return the money if the deal fell through. The deal did eventually collapse when Fenech was arrested over his alleged involvement in the murder.