Arton Capital drops court case against government over choice of concessionaire for citizenship sale

Justice Minister categorically denies Henley & Partners ever financed Labour’s electoral campaign

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici

A financial advisory firm that was beaten by global citizenship advisory firm Henley & Partners in the tender for the Individual Investor Programme has dropped its court case against the government, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said.

Appearing before the parliamentary public accounts committee as a witness, Bonnici told chair Tonio Fenech that Arton Capital – a financial advisory firm – had dropped the case “effectively confirming that things had been carried out correctly”.

Arton Capital had appealed a decision by the ministry for home affairs and national security to take on global citizenship advisory firm Henley. The decision was confirmed by a board of appeal.

Arton had claimed that Henley had already been associated with the former administration, in giving consultation to the government on a similar scheme or a permanent residence programme. Arton's chief executive officer Armand Arton also claimed that Henley's CEO Eric Major was aware of Arton's participation in the call for expressions, alleging a "special relationship between Major and the government of Malta."

Arton Capital was represented in the tender by counsel Tanya Camilleri, of FZD Advocates, whose senior partner is Nationalist MP Francis Zammit Dimech. Their judicial protest was signed by Therese Commodini Cachia – then still a candidate for the MEP elections.

The news emerged as Bonnici was being pressed by Fenech on the process adopted in the issuance of the request for proposals and a subsequent expression of interest.

“By dropping the case, the firm has confirmed that the government acted legally in the award of the concession. Any doubts that may have existed on the process have been cleared,” the minister said.

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi asked Bonnici whether he excluded that Henley & Partners may have reached “some sort of arrangement” with Arton Capital to drop the case. The minister however replied that the Attorney General had simply informed him that the firm had “dropped the case”. He then invited Azzopardi to provide further information on the matter if this was the case. The MP did not reply.

Pressed by Azzopardi, Bonnici denied that Henley & Partners had ever financed the Labour Party’s electoral campaign. He also said that the first time he heard of the Prime Minister’s plan to launch an individual investor programme was after the general elections.

Playing with words, the minister denied “ever hearing of a sale-of-citizenship programme” because the IIP was “citizenship by investment”.

Bonnici told Azzopardi that it was his idea that a private company is awarded a contract as a concessionaire, rather than leaving the promotion and marketing of the programme in government’s hands.

“I believe in the successes of a public-private partnership. The civil service sometimes lacks the drive of the private sectors, who is willing to do all it takes to break down walls,” Bonnici said, reminding the PAC that the IIP enjoyed the blessing of the European Commission.

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