Updated | Emails show Farrugia met Grech to discuss LPG privatisation

Claudio Grech met oil trader George Farrugia as early as 2006, contradicting his sworn statement in Public Accounts Committee • Grech insists that he does not recall any such meetings

A collection of emails reveal that Nationalist MP Claudio Grech had met oil trader George Farrugia, who turned State’s evidence in the Enemalta oil scandal, on more than one occasion before 2012.

Earlier this week on Wednesday Grech, who before 2013 served in transport and infrastructure minister Austin Gatt’s personal secretariat, told the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee scrutinizing the Auditor General’s audit into the procurement of fuel at Enemalta, that he had first met Farrugia in 2012, when he decided to run for the 2013 general election.

“If I met him [Farrugia] before 2012 then it definitely would have been something not worth recalling,” Grech told the PAC, adding that the meeting “was requested by Farrugia himself and that he wanted to talk about the situation with his brothers.”

The discussion, Grech added, was “on general terms”. 

In a statement released on Sunday, Grech said he had "no recollection whatsoever of meetings/emails with Mr George Farrugia before the 2012 encounter that I referred to. That is the only direct interaction I remember having with Mr Farrugia. I do not recall the email and meeting that was referred to in MaltaToday and that took place nine years ago."

Thread of emails showing meeting set up for 24 October, 2006 with George Farrugia
Thread of emails showing meeting set up for 24 October, 2006 with George Farrugia

But emails seen by MaltaToday clearly show that Grech had met Farrugia, a member of the family business John’s Group, back in 2006.

An email published today shows Farrugia in communication with his brother Ray saying: ‘Need to C him (Claudio Grech) this week as I have some people coming re the LPG privatisation on the 9, October.”

An email sent to Claudio Grech by George Farrugia in August, 2006
An email sent to Claudio Grech by George Farrugia in August, 2006

This meeting, another email shows, was scheduled by Grech’s secretary for the 24 October, 2006. Grech at the time served as head of secretariat to Austin Gatt.

George Farrugia’s familiarity with Claudio Grech is evidenced by yet another email dated 24 August 2006. “Hope you are doing fine in your new life as a married man. Welcome to the club!!! Tried to call you today. If possible call me as I need to see you possibly before Monday lunchtime. Thanks for your consideration.  Look forward to hearing from you soon.”

The emails appear to belie Grech’s statement under oath to the PAC of having met Farrugia – who has admitted having paid bribes to Enemalta officials now facing criminal charges – only once in 2012.

Grech also told PAC he once met George Farrugia’s brother Ray, and nephew Christian, but gave no details of the meeting.

In comments to this newspaper, Chris Farrugia – the CEO of John’s Group – recalled that his 2013 meeting with Grech was on the same evening that the PN had organised a press conference in which the party hit out at the John’s Group in relation to the Enemalta oil scandal, which MaltaToday broke in late January.

“My uncle Ray Farrugia had contacted Bernard Pace, who worked with Austin Gatt, asking him why they had hit out at the company. Pace suggested they meet up, and Ray asked me to go to the Hamrun office. I went there and I found Pace, who suggested to me that we issue a press statement clearing our company’s name, and stating that we had had no business whatsoever with Austin Gatt.”

Gatt was then fighting suggestions that he had met with George Farrugia to discuss matters related to the procurement of Enemalta’s oil requirements. 

Farrugia had by then been sacked from the John’s Group after his brothers accused him of siphoning off profits on the importation of oil from their subsidiary Powerplan, to his personal company Aikon. In court, the John’s Group produced emails showing that Farrugia was on familiar terms with senior Enemalta officials, to facilitate the sale of Totsa and Trafigura supplies of oil. 

“Pace told me that Claudio Grech was waiting in the car, and asked me whether it was fine for him to join us. When Grech arrived he demanded the same thing Pace had asked for, and that we should go to the Commissioner of Police.

“I told him we had nothing to clarify. It wasn’t us who had divulged the information and we had nothing to do with all the kickbacks.  I also told him that [former MOBC director] Frank Sammut, who admitted to taking bribes, was not our employee.”

Claudio Grech replies

On his part Nationalist MP Claudio Grech said he had “no idea” which emails MaltaToday was referring to, when it was suggested to him that the communications show he had held previous meetings with Farrugia.

“I have no recollection whatsoever of meetings/emails with George Farrugia before the 2012 encounter that I referred to.”

Grech insisted that he stood by what he stated in Parliament.

“That is the only direct interaction I remember having with [George Farrugia]. If there was any other encounter or exchange, I don’t recall that. If I had stated otherwise I would have been purely speculating.”

“One also needs to keep in mind that I used to attend tens of meetings a day and I received huge number of emails, running into thousands a month. Over a legislature I must have sent and received over a 100,000 emails. In any case, if any exchange took place they must have been uneventful hence why I wouldn’t recall them after such a long time.”

MaltaToday also asked the MP why in 2013, at the time MaltaToday broke the news of the Enemalta kickbacks, he suggested to Chris and Ray Farrugia to issue a press release to clear John’s Group name and disassociate the company from minister Austin Gatt.

“The meeting was specifically requested by Chris and Ray Farrugia who had contacted Bernard Pace and asked to meet me. They asked me to intervene with the PN so that the PN does not mention John’s Garage in the whole matter. They stated that ‘someone’ was concocting to mount an attack on Austin Gatt (I quote them verbatim: “jivvendika ruhu minn Austin”) and also that Manuel Mallia and David Farrugia Sacco had nothing to do with the leakages.”

Mallia and Farrugia Sacco, at the time having been Labour candidates for the March 2013 elections, had represented the John’s Group in their legal feud with George Farrugia.

“My advice to Chris Farrugia was that he goes to the Commissioner of Police to report all the facts that he has,” Grech told MaltaToday.

Claudio Grech did however remember verbatim what he told Ray and Chris Farrugia.

“I told them: ‘I am not advising you to hold a press conference. You should, in private go to the Commissioner of Police and give him all the facts, you should tell him I am not making allegations on anyone, these are the facts as I know them’.” (“Jien mhux qed intik parir taghmel press conference. Li trid taghmel huwa semplici – fil-privatezza kollha, tmur ghand il-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija u tghidlu isma: dawn huma l-fatti; jien qed initk kollox; m’qed nallega xejn fuq hadd; dawn huma l-fatti li naf jien.”)

‘Wrongfully accused’

On his part, Chris Farrugia has insisted that his father Anthony Farrugia and his uncles of the John’s Group have been wrongly accused in the entire affair.

In fact it was the John’s Group that presented in court a cache of incriminating documents against George Farrugia, showing that he had devised a bribery system for top Enemalta officials.

The charges against Farrugia brothers Salvu, Anthony, Gaetano and Raymond  were issued by acting police commissioner Ray Zammit shortly before he resigned in the aftermath of the Sheehan shooting incident, in December 2014.

They were charged with having admitted knowing that their brother was paying bribes to officials to secure oil contracts from Enemalta for Powerplan Ltd, the family business he once managed.

The brothers were first arrested in March 2013, shortly before the general election, but never arraigned.

They originally started legal proceedings against George Farrugia for siphoning some €6 million in profits from Powerplan into his own personal company Aikon and an offshore bank account. Many of the company invoices Aikon issued for the supply of oil to Enemalta had been deposited in court.

“Based on what George Farrugia himself stated in evidence to the police, his court evidence was thrown out and led to Ray Ferris being declared innocent,” Chris Farrugia said referring to charges filed against the former Enemalta chief financial officer.

“The police have no evidence that the Farrugia brothers ever received any monies from the kickbacks, or were aware of the Swiss account that George Farrugia had in Geneva. They did not even know about this account. Even George Farrugia admitted this during his PAC sitting. As far as I know the police have never even looked into George Farrugia’s Swiss account.”  

More in National