De Marco says he gave up ITS brief before Busuttil asked him to choose

Mario de Marco had flagged potential conflict of interest to Simon Busuttil two years ago, absented himself from PN meetings on ITS project

De Marco renounced his brief hours after being contacted by MaltaToday to confirm that he had personally attended meetings with the government’s legal representative
De Marco renounced his brief hours after being contacted by MaltaToday to confirm that he had personally attended meetings with the government’s legal representative

PN deputy leader Mario de Marco has contradicted Simon Busuttil’s claim that he had been given a choice to resign his post or withdraw his brief as legal advisor to hotelier Silvio Debono for his contentious St George’s Bay project. 

Busuttil told the press on Monday that he had presented his deputy with an ultimatum last weekend – to choose between his political position and his private job as lawyer to Debono’s DB Group, after deciding he would take the contract for an audit by the Auditor General.

However, in response to questions by MaltaToday, De Marco’s version of events contradicts the impression of a stark choice whether to resign or not.

“I can confirm that there was no such meeting or such a request,” he said. “It was in fact I who had informed Simon [sic] earlier that my firm was willing to renounce its brief if this was creating a conflict problem to him or the party.”

Debono, owner of the Seabank and San Antonio hotels and the Hard Rock franchise, will be developing a €300 million Hard Rock Hotel on the site of the Institute of Tourism Studies. Until last Saturday, his legal advisor for the project was Guido de Marco & Associates – of which Mario de Marco is a partner. 

De Marco renounced his brief hours after being contacted by MaltaToday to confirm that he had personally attended meetings with the government’s legal representative, Alex Sciberras, within the Castille offices of minister without portfolio Konrad Mizzi. 

Busuttil said that he had long been aware of de Marco’s role as Debono’s lawyer, but that a conflict of interest only arose last weekend after the PN decided to ask the National Audit Office to investigate the hotelier’s project.

This is despite the fact that the PN had long been critical of the ITS deal, which will see Debono forking out only €15 million for public land that has been valued at €200 million. The deal was debated in a parliamentary sitting last month for which de Marco absented himself. 

However, de Marco told MaltaToday that he had seen a potential conflict of interest from years before – and that he had indeed informed Busuttil that his firm was legal advisor to the DB Group both before and after a call for expressions of interest was issued in late 2015 for the Pembroke ITS site.  

Moreover, de Marco confirmed that he had excused himself from shadow cabinet discussions on Debono’s projects because he felt he could have a conflict of interest. 

“Having declared that GDMA were legal advisors to the DB Group, I felt that I should not be present for the discussion on the subject or participate in any decision on the matter,” he said. “That way, the party organs could hold their discussions and take their decisions in the freest way possible.

“I was also absent from the parliamentary group discussion on the matter last Wednesday, although that was because I was in the UK doing MRIs. Were I in Malta, I would have also excused myself for the same reason.” 

MaltaToday is also informed that de Marco had not attended a meeting between Silvio Debono and Busuttil a few weeks ago, during which the hotelier showed the Opposition leader a presentation of his plans for the ITS project. 

The PN last weekend was engulfed in controversy after Debono claimed that he has been paying the salaries of PN secretary general Rosette Thake and CEO Brian St John. Busuttil has denied this and claimed that Debono is attempting to threaten and silence him after the PN referred the land deal to the Auditor General. 

Yesterday evening, Labour’s media claimed that despite saying that he wants to change the system he inherited it was Busuttil himself who in 2013 met and personally asked Silvio Debono to fork out the money to cover the wages of the party’s secretary-general, a post then occupied by Chris Said.

Labour claimed that it has evidence that it was Busuttil who personally requested the meeting with Debono a few weeks after becoming leader in May 2013 when the party’s finances were in a dire situation. 

A year later, Labour alleged, Busuttil requested another meeting with Debono, this time to ask the entrepreneur to pay for the wages of Brian St John who in October 2014 was appointed as CEO of the party’s commercial entity, Media.link Communications.  

The PN leader yesterday also announced that he would set up an independent commission spearheaded by former judge Giovanni Bonello to come up with “radical” proposals to change the way in which political parties and politicians are financed. 

He pledged that he would include all of the commission’s proposals in the PN’s upcoming electoral manifesto, no matter what they are. 

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