After Hillman resigned, De Marco paid Sladden bill for 2011 works

MaltaToday is informed that De Marco asked Sladden for an invoice on the works Redmap carried out, after the Allied group in March launched an inquiry into alleged bribes

PN deputy leader Mario de Marco (Photo: Ray Attard)
PN deputy leader Mario de Marco (Photo: Ray Attard)

One of the businessmen caught in the eye of the storm unleashed by the Panama Papers, had his company Redmap Constructions carry out €34,000 in works on properties owned by Nationalist Party deputy leader Mario de Marco back in 2011, as well as for some Allied Newspapers officials.

But the former junior minister never paid for the works. Until last month – when Redmap was thrust into the news after its owner, Pierre Sladden, was revealed to have used offshore firms in the British Virgin Islands for a €900,000 transaction.

Sladden’s Redmap had been subcontracted by construction company Blokrete to carry out works on the new Progress Press premises in Mriehel, acquired in 2009 by the Allied group, publishers of The Times and The Sunday Times.

De Marco is a member of the Strickland Foundation, which owns 78% of Allied Newspapers.

But MaltaToday is informed that De Marco asked Sladden for an invoice on the works Redmap carried out, after the Allied group in March launched an inquiry into alleged bribes paid to its former managing director, Adrian Hillman.

The invoice was issued last month for works started in 2011, and payments were effected in three separate installments over March and April.

De Marco has told MaltaToday that Redmap was engaged for minor works on his Naxxar property which are still ongoing. “Works have been carried out interruptedly and sporadically over a period of time with some work carried out also last year as I am in no rush for completion. Works are still not complete. My wife and I have regularly asked for an invoice in respect of works carried out but the contractor insisted that the invoice be made once the works are complete.”

The invoice was requested as news broke of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands held by Adrian Hillman, and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri – weeks before the International Consortium for International Journalists broke the Panama Papers story.

Redmap provided works gratis for Allied group officials

Schembri opened his BVI firm in January 2011, while Hillman opened his in May 2011. Both men used the same agent in Spain to open the companies. With that came unsubstantiated allegations from blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia, accusing Schembri – whose business group Kasco supplies Progress Press with newsprint – of having given kickbacks to Adrian Hillman.

Allied’s directors set up a board of inquiry and Hillman tendered his resignation. Both Schembri and Hillman have denied the allegations, and the inquiry has yet to call in Hillman.

Since the ICIJ leak this month, Redmap became the focus of two reports in The Times: first over Sladden’s link with Schembri as shareholders in a film servicing company that lies dormant, and this week over a tax probe into Sladden’s business.

But a senior official at Allied Newspapers who has spoken to MaltaToday said that Sladden has also carried out construction work for no compensation for Adrian Hillman himself, acting managing director Michel Rizzo, Allied’s board secretary Clinton Calleja, as well as Mario de Marco.

Additionally, in a denial Sladden gave to The Times last week over reports of offshore transactions from Redmap to an offshore company he owns, Sladden made it a point to remind the newspaper of his relationship with the Allied board and its owners.

“My company PS & Sons is 50% of Castille Investments, which acquired Canberra House,” he said of the building facing Allied Newspapers’ offices on St Paul Street, Valletta, which he acquired from Allied.

De Marco told MaltaToday that the Guido de Marco & Associates firm acted for Allied as the vendor. “At no stage did Guido de Marco & Associates or myself give any legal advice to any third parties, in respect of such sale, other than to Allied Newspapers. The decision to sell the property was taken by the Allied board of which I do not form part. The promise of sale was entered into with Neville Agius and a partner of his, on behalf of their company as purchaser.”

De Marco also said that Redmap had approached his firm on some five occasions for legal assistance on court-related issues. “At no stage was any legal assistance provided by Guido de Marco & Associates to Redmap on matters related to the sale of Canberra House.”

Redmap and BVI company

In the Panama Papers revelations reported in the Australian Financial Review – which published email conversations from the Mossack Fonseca agent in Malta – Sladden has featured as having used Redmap to constitute a €900,000 debt for a Cyprus nominee company A2Z Consulta for the payment of “quality checks and negotiations with suppliers” which it sub-contracted to a BVI company Blue Sea Portfolio, whose 50,000 shares Sladden himself owns.

Sladden denied the impression given by the Australian Financial Review, telling The Times that Redmap does not owe and has not paid or otherwise transferred any funds to A2Z Consulta.