Second ‘publicity-shy’ company was invoiced by PN media company

Since 2014, the PN has received approximately €560,000 from Sky Gourmet and a similarly publicity-shy company, Malta Healthcare Caterers Ltd

The PN is being accused of breaching party financing rules
The PN is being accused of breaching party financing rules

A second catering firm which does not advertise on local media was invoiced by the Nationalist Party’s commercial arm for tens of thousands of euros in return for an alleged donation to pay off party executives’ salaries.

MaltaToday was told by sources who have seen the commercial documentation, that the PN’s media company Media.Link has received approximately €560,000 since 2013 from two catering companies part-owned by the hotelier Silvio Debono – the airline catering company Sky Gourmet and Malta Healthcare Caterers, which provide catering to homes for the elderly and hospitals.

A confirmation of the total sum of donations that could have been ‘paid’ to the PN’s company comes after this newspaper last week said Media.Link had invoiced airline catering firm Sky Gourmet for €70,800 for “programming” on its media. The PN did not deny the reports, insisting it would not disclose the identity of companies which entered into “commercial agreements” with its media company Media.Link.

Sky Gourmet Malta exclusively provides catering services to airlines and does not normally take out advertising.

Now MaltaToday is in a position to confirm that, since 2014, the PN has received almost €560,000 from Sky Gourmet and a similarly publicity-shy company, Malta Healthcare Caterers.

The db Group CEO Arthur Gauci said in a statement that the story is false, because the “recurrent amount” donated is the €70,800 disclosed in previous press releases on the matter. Gauci did not deny that Malta Healthcare Caterers had also been invoiced by Media.Link.

But a source privy to the company’s financial affairs, who spoke to MaltaToday, insisted that the information is correct: “The recurrent amount is indeed of some €70,000 for two salaries, annually, over the past four years – an amount of approximately €560,000.”

The second company Malta Healthcare Caterers – like Sky Gourmet owned by Silvio Debono’s Seabank Hotel and Catering Limited and catering giant James Caterers – specialises in hospital catering and supplies in-patient meals to a number of healthcare institutions including Mater Dei Hospital, Karin Grech Hospital and Sir Paul Boffa Hospital.

The PN on its part, described the story as a “leak from Castille” which had been proven false. “The amounts are invented… the PN leader has disproved the amounts of donations to the PN, and despite the categorical denial, MaltaToday has repeated this lie. The PN was not asked about this story and could not deny the report.”

MaltaToday editor Matthew Vella said the newspaper stands by its story. “The story is no ‘Castille leak’ as the Opposition leader likes to fashion every single piece of news that is not favourable to party agenda. Our information on the two companies involved in the invoicing and the figures are reliable.” 

The PN is being accused of breaching party financing rules, after Debono’s db Group alleged that it had been asked to pay salaries of top PN executives, through the donations would have been “paid” to the PN’s media company Media.Link, but which were not backed up by actual commercial services rendered.

This has led to the PN being investigated by the Electoral Commission, with the PN insisting that it will not publish copies of these invoices, citing the privacy of the commercial arrangements between Media.Link and its clients.

While the PN has denied the allegation that commercial services were not rendered, db Group has insisted that it has invoices to prove the donations were paid via the PN’s media company. Labour leader Joseph Muscat has gone as far as describing the affair as fraudulent given that no service was rendered.

Responding to questions by MaltaToday on whether Media.Link had accepted payments similar to the one it received from Sky Gourmet from other companies, PN leader Simon Busuttil insisted that the commercial sensitivity of the company’s dealings must be respected.

“With that argument, one can then argue that anyone who advertises on Net or Super One [sic] is breaking the law. We must be very careful how we put our words,” he said on Friday. “Unlike the Labour Party, the PN has registered with the Electoral Commission and published its donations.”

Busuttil added that the PN has copies of the invoices Media.Link had issued to the db Group worth €70,800, including VAT.

“The Electoral Commission is investigating this case, as well as Labour’s failure to register itself as a party with the Electoral Commission,” he said. “We’ll keep defending our position as we have nothing to hide. Labour hasn’t even registered itself, and is therefore in no position to give any lessons about the party financing law.”