Updated | Strickland Foundation insists legal files 'covered by professional secrecy'

The sole heir of the late Mabel Strickland is demanding that Mario de Marco and Max Ganado release key documents pertaining to his aunt's will • Strickland Foundation replies

Robert Hornyold-Strickland will be back in court this week
Robert Hornyold-Strickland will be back in court this week

Updated to add right of reply by the Strickland Foundation

The sole heir of the late Allied Newspapers founder Mabel Strickland will be back in court this week, as he continues his quest for what he claims to be his rightful inheritance to his late-great aunt’s estate.

Robert Hornyold-Strickland, the second largest shareholder in Allied, which publishes the Times of Malta, said in a statement that the issue is possible “the biggest unexploded scandal” concerning the Nationalist Party – a reference to outgoing PN deputy leader Mario de Marco.

Hornyold-Strickland is claiming that his late aunt was persuaded to change her will in 197- by her testamentary executors – the late Prof. Guido de Marco and Prof. Joseph Ganado - while he was living in England.

He is now engaged in a court battle with their sons – leader Mario de Marco and Ganado Advocates partner Max Ganado – to release the family legal files belonging to the heir, which he says will prove that his aunt had intended him to be the rightful owner of the Foundation’s 78% shareholding in Allied Newspapers. Hornyold-Strickland seeks to have the irregular 78% majority shareholding returned to the estate.

De Marco and Ganado have refused to release the files - which Hornyold-Strickland insist belong to him by law. The defendants state that it would “create a dangerous precedent if they were released as the files relate to deceased lawyers”. But Strickland insists the files are not inherited by the de Marco family as under law, as heir, Mable Strickland's legal files belong to him.

“The result of the elections shows that the Maltese voters were more concerned with the issues of the country’s economic stability than over allegations of corruption by the Government,” Hornyold-Strickland said. “Many Maltese voters have also not forgotten that the reason the Nationalist Government was ousted in 2013 was because of serious allegations of corruption by some members of their administration.”

“Possibly the biggest unexploded scandal still relates to the issues that I am seeking justice on regarding the Executors’ maladministration of my great-aunt’s estate and their distribution of her Strickland legacies.

“Hence, I am demanding to have access to all my great-aunt’s legal and administrative files, which have been withheld from me for 28 years.”

He said that Mabel Strickland had been trying to protect Allied for  “herself and her heirs in perpetuity” because she was determined its newspapers would remain independent and free of political interference.

He is also contending that the breach of fiduciary duties, by the erstwhile executors, has resulted in the diversion of over €30 million of assets to the Strickland Foundation.

“The Foundation is now controlled, not by Mabel’s family, but by this ‘clique’ that includes Dr de Marco, who, as a PEP, should not have such direct influence on Malta’s leading English language newspapers,” Hornyold-Strickland said. “The Foundation has also been in receipt of €3 million of improper dividends from Allied Newspapers at the expense of the estate. Strickland maintains this is never what his great-aunt intended.”

Following the deaths of the two original Executors, the Courts have appointed Hornyold-Strickland to complete all remaining executor’s duties.

However, he said that he is unable to complete such duties in the absence of the files he is demanding access to.

“I am looking to the Courts to see that full and proper disclosure of all this documentation is made available, since I believe they will shed light on my great-aunt’s intentions and clarify the conflicts in her final will,” he said.

“Until I am given proper access to all my great-aunt’s legal and administrative files by this clique of people, who have breached their fiduciary duties, we will never know the truth. So obviously I am hopeful that this week all these files will be released.”

Strickland Foundation replies

"Mr Robert Hornyold Strickland later on this month has another court appointment which he conveniently failed to mention in his press release. Mr Robert Hornyold Strickland is facing charges of physically assaulting Mr Frank Bonello, a seventy-nine-year-old member of the Council. Mr Bonello, at the time of the assault, was collating documents from the office of the Strickland Foundation to submit to the Court. The assault was completely unprovoked. Ironically, yet very tellingly, the documents which Mr Bonello was retrieving from the office were requested by Mr Hornyold Strickland himself during court proceedings.

With regards to Mr Hornyold’s Strickland’s claim for the release of “administrative and legal” files the Council of the Strickland Foundation would like to point out that this matter is the subject of a judicial application. Both parties have made their submissions in court. The legal issues involved are not as simple as Mr Hornyold Strickland would like them to appear to be, as legal files are covered by professional secrecy, and in this case both the lawyers and the client involved are deceased. Out of respect to the Courts of Justice and to the memory of the late Mabel Strickland, the Council of the Strickland Foundation will not be drawn into a public debate on this matter. The Council has full faith in the judicial system and will wait for the Court to deliver its judgement before making any public announcements."