Allied inquiry yet to finalise Hillman report

Two months since allegations of impropriety were raised, Adrian Hillman had not yet been summoned by Bonello to the board of inquiry.

Adrian Hillman
Adrian Hillman

A report by an internal board of inquiry set up by Allied Newspapers into allegations of kickbacks to its former managing director, is to be finalised soon according to inquiry head Giovanni Bonello, judge emeritus.

Bonello was tasked by the Allied group to head the inquiry into allegations of kickbacks from Keith Schembri, the prime minister’s chief of staff and owner of the Kasco business group, for the provision of printing machinery and the supply of newsprint to Progress Press, which is owned by Allied.

Managing director Adrian Hillman has since resigned his position, but the allegations concern documented evidence that Schembri and Hillman separately created two offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands some five months apart in 2012. Another Progress Press contractor, Pierre Sladden of Redmap, also opened his own offshore BVI company shortly after.

But two months since the allegations of impropriety were made by Malta Independent columnist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia, Hillman had not yet been summoned by Bonello to the board of inquiry.

Caruana Galizia alleged that Hillman used his influence with the editorial staff of The Times, which is published by Allied Newspapers, to favour the Labour Party during the 2013 election, because Keith Schembri – who by then had become Joseph Muscat’s campaign manager – supplied Progress Press with newsprint.

Schembri later was appointed chief of staff to the prime minister in March 2013.

The editors at The Times and The Sunday Times denied any pressure. But Hillman’s BVI company, set up just months after Schembri set up his own, fuelled suspicions of kickbacks. 

Hillman had willingly stepped down from his post as managing director within days of the allegations being made, denying having taken any bribes from Schembri. 

Hillman has denied taking any kickbacks from Schembri. Hillman was very close with the de Marco family and was also a close friend of Mario de Marco, a member of the Strickland Foundation which owns a majority stake in the group.

On his part, Giovanni Bonello skirted questions on whether the investigation extends to other senior management and directors, or past directors. And he did not say whether Hillman, still a company director at Allied, would be reinstated if allegations are not proven.

Other members of the board of inquiry include Kevin Valenzia, senior partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, auditors of Allied; Paul Mercieca, and lawyer Kevin F. Dingli, whose name is associated with the directorships of at least 16 offshore companies in Panama such as Jade Development SA, Emerald Connection SA, Sapphire Assets SA, and Pearl Shipholding SA, amongst others.