PN official had passed on Mistra contract to Labour three days before 2008 election

Contract passed on to middleman in a bid save party leadership as electoral loss became impending.

Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando faces down Alfred Sant during the last weeks of the 2008 campaign over Mistragate. Photo: Gilbert Calleja/Mediatoday.
Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando faces down Alfred Sant during the last weeks of the 2008 campaign over Mistragate. Photo: Gilbert Calleja/Mediatoday.

A contract that proved that Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando had rented his land in Mistra for the development of an open-air disco in 2008, was leaked to the Malta Labour Party during the elections by a Nationalist Party source, MaltaToday has learnt.

Late Tuesday, 4 March 2008 - two days before the end of the electoral campaign - a Labour official received the official confirmation that Pullicino Orlando had rented his land in Mistra, despite the MP's denials that he knew the applicants of the disco to be built on his land.

The MP had been the target of Alfred Sant's accusations that he had used his influence to secure a controversial planning permit for the 'Spin Valley' disco on his land in Mistra.

Sources close to both the PN and Labour parties who were privy to the leak, have claimed that the move was orchestrated by an official with direct connections to the Office of the Prime Minister, when the Nationalist party was staring in the eye of defeat.

MaltaToday has identified the messengers from both parties who were part of the contract exchange.

A former Nationalist minister, who demanded anonymity, confirmed the reasoning behind the leak: "In the last days of the 2008 election, we really thought we were about to lose so the party needed a scapegoat. The party were looking at a scenario where Lawrence Gonzi could remain leader, while Pullicino Orlando could be blamed for the electoral defeat."

Other sources have claimed rivals MPs were locked in a constituency struggle to gain votes at the expense of other competitors.

MaltaToday has established that the first leak that indicated Pullicino Orlando had rented out his pristine Mistra land for the siting of an open-air disco, on land that was considered to be ecologically sensitive, came from a PN source, albeit without official documentation. The full details of the planning permit were also available from the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

Another leak, this time from an OPM connection to a middleman, passed on the Mistra contract to a Labour contact.

The contract, detailing the €1.9 million the MP would receive over 15 years for renting out the land, was key for Labour to win the general election. But an entire day wasted in checking whether the contract was indeed authentic changed the course of events: on Thursday, 6 March 2008, the last day of the campaign, Sant broadcast the contents of the Mistra contract in the final debate of the two party leaders. It was the eve of the day of reflection: the next day, no newspaper reported the previous day's proceedings.

Pullicino Orlando ended up garnering 5,000 first-count votes from voters who were completely unaware of the existence of a contract, or the background to the case. This was probably crucial in seeing the PN win the general elections.

On its part, the Nationalist Party has insisted it was then-MEP Joseph Muscat who had publicly hinted that Labour leader Alfred Sant would strike out on Pullicino Orlando, and even spoke confidentially to somebody about the case.

"Muscat bragged about Labour's 'secret weapon', allowing the PN to be prepared for Sant's attack," the PN claimed, referring to a public broadcast in which Muscat hints at the party's tarnished environmental credentials.

"The information passed on from Labour, to the PN, thanks to Muscat... the party denies having passed on information to Labour, and this has been confirmed by former Labour leader Alfred Sant himself."

Also, Alfred Sant is quoted in yesterday's KullHadd claiming that the PN was unaware of the existence of the contract: "The PN did not expect the [Mistra] contract would end up in our hands... even though they did not about the contract then."

MaltaToday's findings confirms the Labour leader was possibly unaware that his alleged whistleblower was acting on behalf of the Nationalist party.

Senior officials of the PN like Richard Cachia Caruana, and the Prime Minister's spokesperson Gordon Pisani, have claimed that Pullicino Orlando never revealed the existence of his €1.9 million contract during the electoral campaign. "Sant is clearly showing the PN could have never known of the contract, or was not in a position to pass on any information. He said this was passed on by a whistleblower," the PN said in a statement on Sunday.

"Sant lost the surprise element when Muscat hinted at his strategy, and this was confirmed by Joe Saliba who later revealed in an interview in the Sunday Times that it was Muscat who alerted the party to Sant's tactics."

In 2009, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando claimed that former PN secretary-general Joe Saliba did not just 'guess' he was going to be attacked, but that he knew exactly what he was going to be attacked about. "He sent me chasing after Sant prepared to rebut any allegation he might make about the Mistra 'scandal'.

"Hence he got me to write that famous article which appeared in the Times on 1/3/08 entitled 'Street Corner Gossip' which anticipated Sant's attack and neutralised it somewhat. One asks: why did Joe lie about how they were forewarned?"

The MP said this in a comment posted on columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia's blog, who today is credited as having ghost-written 'Street Corner Gossip'.

Pullicino Orlando had then claimed the details of the Mistra story were leaked to Labour from his own party, and that he was instantly sidelined by the PN after the election, despite setting up a veritable defence against Sant's accusations.

Jason Micallef, the former Labour secretary-general who was the first to get the details on the Mistra permit, had told this newspaper that the Labour Party's source was not a PN official.

The Mistra scandal also led to police charges against two MEPA officials charged with trading in influence for issuing the Mistra permit, but who were later acquitted Pullicino Orlando claimed it was "certain elements" from his political spectrum that fed "misinformation" to the media and whipped up a public outcry.

Pullicino Orlando also claimed "a high-ranking Cabinet minister" told him the two planning authority members were charged in court to satisfy the outrage generated by Mistra-gate.

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@franco - dr sant was right but he was betrayed by dr muscat when passing information to the pn. the pn officials in front of an election had done everything to prove the corruption wrong and they succeeded cause dr sant was left alone defending his case. that is why jpo is hypocrite cause after he was freed from corruption by the pn officials he turns against. siehbi fil politika trid tkun giddiebu korrott. GHALKEMM JIEN MHUX LABURIST PERO NISTQARR LI DR SANT HUWAL L-UNIKU POLITIKU LI MHUX GIDDIEB U KORROTT U MINHABBA F'HEKK SPICCA WAHDU.
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@jborg01 you got it all wrong the important thing is that Dr Sant was right, there was scandal and corruption and gonzipn covered it up with the shallowest of manouvers. Whatever is said the crucial point that lost labour the election was the extra hour to keep polling stations opened.
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I would love to know whwt Peppi of xarabank knows since he was the one to coach JPO on what to say and how to actagainst Dr Sant. Maybe a xarabank programm about the Mistra and Peppi's part as JPO's coach would be a good idea.
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@jborg01 - you are right. the reporter is trying to up side down the facts. dr sant himself said that the pn did not know of the contract. the pl and you are trying to invent facts which did not happen and are misleading the public. hope that this comment will not be censured as were other mine comments.
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All this pre election chess play has resulted in our country spending 5 more years under this totally incompetent government. If they needed a scapegoat they could have leaked something from all of the MP's of that time since everybody has something which if comes out will be a big bang.
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Imbaghad qalu li fil-PN hadd u hadd ma kien jaf b'dan il-kuntratt qabel ma semmieh Sant. JPO jaf li GonziPN riedu juzawh bhala scapegoat. Dak mhux xi cuc. Allura dan Gordon Pisani kien jirriukordja t-telefonati kollha li kien jaghmel, jew b'kumbinazzjoni????????!!!!! irrikordja dik li aghmel lil JPO dwar il-kuntratt. Tghid kien jaf b'xi haga Gordon? Insomma, li hu zgur huwa, li Gordon spicca fit-tgawdija u JPO spicca fit-tbatija.
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What we are interested in, is not who leaked the information to the MLP, but who leaked the information to the PN? That is what you should be concentrating on and not playing the MLP game of creating an imaginary smoke screen to hide the allegation, (or is it a fact?), that Joseph Muscat did actually pass on the information to the PN in time for the latter to take corrective measures and contain the potential damage.