Mario De Marco negotiated ITS concession for Seabank group with government

PN deputy leader Mario de Marco now says he has renounced legal brief after San Gorg developers were granted €60 million concession for ITS land

PN deputy leader Mario de Marco • Photo: Ray Attard
PN deputy leader Mario de Marco • Photo: Ray Attard

The legal firm Guido de Marco & Associates has renounced its brief as advisors to DB Group on its St George’s bay project, 24 hours after Nationalist Party deputy leader Mario de Marco denied having been involved in negotiations with the government on the concession of the site of the Institute for Tourism Studies.

Replying to questions put to him by this newspaper on Saturday, De Marco confirmed that he had attended several meetings dealing with the concession of the St George’s land, which the DB Group will develop into a Hard Rock Hotel and luxury property believed to encompass a €300 million investment.

De Marco, whose party has in parliament raised questions over the €60 million price tag for the land, said his firm acted as legal advisor to the DB Group for a number of years on different issues and transactions.

Last Sunday, MaltaToday revealed that De Marco’s firm was engaged by SD Finance plc – a newly created public limited company owned by the developers of the DB San Gorg – which is expected to serve as the vehicle to raise public funds for the hotel and luxury home venture.

“On the ITS site project awarded to DB Group, the firm, including myself, as legal advisors to DB Group communicated with Dr Alex Sciberras, the lawyer engaged by the government, on legal aspects of the proposed concession,” De Marco said, confirming his role in parts of the negotiation with Projects Malta, a department falling under the purview of minister Konrad Mizzi.

He acknowledged that he had attended a minimum of two meetings held by Sciberras at Castille, within the offices of Mizzi, to discuss pending legal matters.

But MaltaToday is informed that he attended at least four meetings in 2016, going back as far as March last year, and at least one other meeting this year.

During a press conference on Friday, De Marco had denied being involved in negotiations between the developers of the DB San Gorg and the government, arguing that the firm provided legal services to many companies and individuals.

“De Marco and Associates is a legal firm providing services to different people, including SD Group. This has been going on for years and has nothing to do with [the ITS deal],” he said on Friday.

But yesterday, De Marco insisted that he had not been involved in negotiations about the commercial aspect of the project.

“At no stage in time was any member of the firm or myself involved in any meetings that may have been held by DB Group and the government when negotiating the consideration or other commercial aspects of the proposed concession,” he said.

De Marco pointed out that PN leader Simon Busuttil had been aware that Guido de Marco & Associates was acting as legal advisor to DB Group.

“When the call for expressions of interest was made by the government for the ITS site, it being a major project, I had informed Dr Busuttil again,” he said.

But Busuttil has questioned the fairness of the cash payment that DB San Gorg Property will be paying for the ITS land: a €5 million down payment, and then a €10 million payment interest-free, payable over seven annual instalments.

Of the total €65 million valuation for the land, €23.4 million will be paid in ground rents by purchasers of the property that DB San Gorg will develop on site.

De Marco was not present at a parliamentary sitting last month, in which the Nationalist Party criticised the ITS sale and minister Konrad Mizzi – boycotting the sitting while Mizzi gave a ministerial statement.

 Even Nationalist MP Marthese Portelli complained that the sale of the land, namely the €15 million cash payment from the total €65 million valuation, had created a “non-level playing field”.

Asked to comment if he felt being the legal adviser to a group bidding for a major public concession conflicted with his duties as PN deputy leader, de Marco said the party had not hesitated to criticise the project.

“The fact that Guido de Marco & Associates has acted as legal advisor to DB Group on the ITS site project has not hindered, impeded or stopped the Nationalist Party from levelling its criticism and raising questions on the consideration negotiated by the government in the grant of the ITS site,” he said.

That not withstanding, however, he went on to reveal to MaltaToday that his firm was giving up on the brief.

“In the light of the sensitivity of the matter however, Guido de Marco & Associates has decided to renounce the brief,” De Marco said.

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