Emails, chats could show Marsa tender winner crafted ruse to benefit Yildirim

Chats, emails between Yorgen Fenech and former IM boss Fredrick Azzopardi passed on to police by Arnold Cassola suggesting manipulation of Marsa Junction tender for Turkish companies • Fredrick Azzopardi says timeline rubbishes Cassola claim

Updated at 9:15am with Fredrick Azzopardi reaction 

A cache of Whatsapp chats between the Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech and former Infrastructure Malta boss Fredrick Azzopardi have been given to the Commissioner of Police by independent politician Arnold Cassola, suggesting corrupt practices in the tender process for the Marsa Junction.

The chats, as well as emails between Yorgen Fenech and the Turkish companies, were passed on to Cassola by anonymous whistleblowers.

The politician insists that he has presented Commissioner of Police Angelo Gafà with first-hand evidence on grave illegalities in relation to the massive Marsa Junction roads project, namely primary sources “that clearly demonstrate that blatant illegalities went on with regards to the multi-million major project in our country.”

Specifically, there is evidence that the company belonging to Turkish billionaire Robert Yildirim, was already angling to take over the roadworks weeks in advance before the tender was formally awarded to another Turkish company, Ayhanlar Yol Asfaltlama.

Suspected Daphne Caruana Galizia murder mastermind Yorgen Fenech
Suspected Daphne Caruana Galizia murder mastermind Yorgen Fenech

The emails from Yildirim were sent many weeks in advance – from March 2018 – of the tender being awarded to Ayhanlar in July, giving the lie to the claim that Yildirim stepped in at a later stage to take over the Marsa Junction project when Ayhanlar could not deliver on its tender.

Cassola believes the evidence shows divulging of insider information; irregular and opaque behind-the-scenes negotiations; fronts – like Ayhanlar – involved in the tendering process; and the strong suspicion of the creaming off of illegal ‘commissions’ and inexplicable bank payments.

These would include a multi-million bribe for Yorgen Fenech – currently behind bars charged with commissioning the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia – which was discussed with the Turkish interests aiming for the Marsa roadworks contract.

The commissions requested are far higher than the oft-claimed 10%, according to the evidence presented.

“In a country like ours, where it seems that the moral compass has been totally lost, it is imperative that the police conduct serious investigations in a speedy way, not only to ensure that the authors of all misdemeanours are brought to book but also to show that proper ethical behaviour and real justice have not been banished from our country,” Cassola said.

“This case is an extremely serious one which can rock the foundations of the nation. I have informed Commissioner Gafà that if I am not called in to explain the contents of my missive by the end of this month, I will resort to further legal action.”

Former Infrastructure Malta boss Fredrick Azzopardi
Former Infrastructure Malta boss Fredrick Azzopardi

The major infrastructure project is already facing scrutiny by EU prosecutors over suspicions of potential corruption. 

Times of Malta had revealed that Fenech was promised €2 million in success fees by Ayhanlar in exchange for using his contacts to help the company secure the Marsa tender.

The consultancy fee was to be paid for introducing Ayhanlar to “key stakeholders”, and seeing their bid through the tendering process. The fee would be split between two of his companies: New Energy Supply Limited, a Maltese company used to hold his shares in the Electrogas power station; and Wings Investments, a sister company to his offshore company 17 Black, registered in the United Arab Emirates.

Ayhanlar was formally awarded the contract in July 2018, but suddenly financial problems forced the company to file for debt restructuring in Turkey. As a result, works on the government’s flagship infrastructure project ground to a halt.

Then, the contract was quietly “reassigned” from Ayhanlar to a company owned by Robert Yildirim, despite Yildirim not being in the road construction business.

Chats in the hands of police investigators, revealed by the Times, show Yildirim refused to pay the fees expected by Fenech, since his deal was with Ayhanlar, who had failed to deliver the project.

An e-mail sent by Yildirim to Fenech on 22 January, 2019 hints at potential foul play in the way Ayhanlar won the Marsa contract. “We can be in the front pages of newspapers in Malta. Apparently you might like it. What will you tell the court? Bribing someone but no payment. We didn’t say we don’t pay you. We need to renegotiate all the terms and conditions. That’s all! It’s up to you!”, Yildirim said in response to the threat of legal action.

Professor Cassola is either misleading or is being misled – Fredrick Azzopardi

In a reaction to Cassola’s submission, Azzopardi said the contract was awarded in 2018, and the text messages were sent in 2019.

“This timeline rubbishes any claim that my correspondence with Mr Fenech was related to the “negotiations for the project”, “the tendering process” or “insider information”,” he said.

He also insisted the Marsa Junction Project contract was awarded through a public call for tenders by Transport Malta, before he was transferred from Enemalta to fill the role of CEO at Infrastructure Malta.

“I challenge Arnold Cassola to publish the whole conversation so that people can understand the context.  I do hope that you have double checked the said context before publishing defamatory statement in my regards.  Once checked, the context would show that this was an invoicing issue in a normal conversation between contractor and client,” he said. “To be clear, I affirm that the indicated texts have nothing to do with any form of corruption or irregularity.”

The former IM boss also said that as evidenced by emails published in September 2020 by Times of Malta, on 31st October 2017, as the Marsa tendering process was in progress, Fenech and his business partners were complaining that in issues related to a separate contract, Azzopardi was “acting in bad faith” and had to be taken “out of the game”.

“I was duly making sure that the best interests of the Government of Malta and Enemalta were safeguarded at all costs, a persistence which was clearly annoying this contractor,” he said.

“When I joined Infrastructure Malta, and after the Marsa Junction’s contract was already awarded, I communicated with Mr Fenech, as the representative of the project’s contractor, on technical matters related to the same project, including the contract’s applicable pre-financing payments and related bank guarantees, amounting to circa €7 million, as well as logistical issues about the shipment of materials, which needed to be concluded before the main works could proceed.”