FTS suppliers gave Bartolo aide ‘compensation’ for timely payments

HSBC cheques were delivered by hand by the former procurement officer of FTS, Edward Caruana

The PN unfurled a banner over the Rabat property at the centre of police investigations into the FTS scandal
The PN unfurled a banner over the Rabat property at the centre of police investigations into the FTS scandal

Police investigators are sifting through some 50 pages of printed cheque transactions that involve payments from the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools payments amounting to over €8 million.

The reason for this particular interest is because many of these HSBC cheques were delivered by hand by the former procurement officer of FTS, Edward Caruana, to contractors and suppliers of the agency responsible for the construction and refurbishment of state schools.

Caruana was a long-time canvasser and personal driver of education minister Evarist Bartolo, before being appointed as FTS procurement officer on a person-of-trust basis, where he is now suspected of having allegedly exercised undue influence over the issuing of direct orders and other forms of procurement.

FTS chief executive Philip Rizzo was the one to have accused Caruana of exercising undue influence over the FTS procurement system, even telling Evarist Bartolo in an email that it was highly suspicious that Caruana was building an expansive apartment block in Rabat while accusations of incorrect procurement procedures were flying. 

On Sunday, MaltaToday revealed that the source of the money used by Caruana to build an apartment block in Rabat was the final detail remaining to be established in the Economic Crimes Unit’s investigation into the FTS scandal.

Caruana is believed to have bypassed protocol by securing the FTS accounts unit’s permission or compliance to issue payments of large amounts of money to the FTS suppliers, broken down in smaller cheques.

Caruana happens to be the brother of the education ministry’s permanent secretary Joseph Caruana.

In delivering timely payment to the FTS suppliers – given that the government tends to be lead-footed when it comes to such payments – some of these contractors would allegedly sign the back of any one cheque, so that Caruana himself would be able to cash the cheque.

These are being taken as having been ‘thank you’ payments for Caruana’s timely payments, which he would deliver personally. The payments often ran in the thousands.

Evarist Bartolo is claiming he took action upon being informed of the accusations, publishing emails in Parliament showing that he advised appointees to take their accusations to the police.

But as evidence is being gathered the excuse that no one in the education ministry knew what was happening, is turning out to be difficult to believe.

HSBC Malta is actively involved in providing the police with details of the individual cheques, which is the evidence giving confirmation of the real facts.

In another twist, police are also investigating the role played by Cornela Tabone, an architect who signed off works in Gozo which are alleged not to have taken place. Tabone works from the office of Carmelo Borg a former Labour MP.

Police investigators have also interrogated one of the FTS tenderers, Sandro Ciliberti, in connection to tenders awarded to him, and about his association with Edward Caruana and L & A Camilleri, a firm owned by Piju Camilleri, well known former henchman of the late Lorry Sant, a notorious Labour minister from the eighties.

Yesterday the Nationalist Party unveiled a banner over the extensive Rabat property owned by Caruana. 

The PN’s banner reads “Mit-taxxi taghna lkoll – Awguri Varist” – in a sardonic claim that the house was a Christmas present from Bartolo out of the public purse. It is also a cheeky dig at the Labour Party’s 2013 electoral slogan ‘Malta Taghna Lkoll’.  

In a statement, the PN said that the banner was pulled down only a few minutes after it was erected.  

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said on Facebook that people were asking whether Caruana had built the block of apartments from their taxes.  In response, the Labour Party said that Bartolo had reported the allegations against Caruana to three different institutions, including to the police. 

It said that this contrasted with Opposition leader Simon Busuttil’s attempt to hush up the works-for-votes scandal involving the husband of former Gozo minister Giovanna Debono.