Hugo Chetcuti: The legacy and the entertainment empire he leaves behind

Hugo Chetcuti left behind a sprawling Paceville empire and a lot of mixed feelings on his meteoric rise

Flowers for the ‘king’ outside one of Chetcuti’s Paceville outlets (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Flowers for the ‘king’ outside one of Chetcuti’s Paceville outlets (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

Paceville’s ‘hospitality king’ and entertainment mogul Hugo Chetcuti was running a business empire which had at least €72 million in assets at the time of his untimely death.

Data provided by CreditInfo shows that Chetcuti wholly or partially owned numerous companies that held his assets in Paceville, with the top 12 most active companies alone registering total assets estimated at over €72 million. Their total net worth topped €18.5 million.

Once a club-owner who appeared to shun the media spotlight, in the last decade Chetcuti’s empire grew exponentially as the 52-year-old became the undisputed owner of a strip of Paceville real estate, branding it with the unmistakable ‘H’ that accompanied most of his entertainment concepts.

Properties and businesses owned by Hugo Chetcuti
Properties and businesses owned by Hugo Chetcuti

To his loyal staff and admirers of his business acumen, Thursday, 12 July 2018 was a sombre day after Chetcuti succumbed to complications following surgery after being stabbed in Paceville six days earlier. His clubs, food outlets and other entertainment venues in Paceville went silent on Thursday night as the music was turned off when news of Chetcuti’s death was confirmed.

Chetcuti was stabbed three times in the stomach by a former employee, Serb national Bojan Cmelik. CCTV footage seen by police shows Cmelik had been lying in wait for Chetcuti to emerge from Hugo’s Seafood and Cocktails, where he had been testing out menu items. Cmelik approached Chetcuti as he stepped out, and then stabbed him three times. The man was later arrested in Sliema.

Chetcuti opened his first venue in Paceville – Footloose – in the early 1980s. He then went on to build a veritable empire of pubs, restaurants and entertainment places, including gentlemen’s clubs and two hotels, in Paceville – all part of the ‘Hugo’s’ brand that he personally cultivated and promoted.

Over the last decade, Chetcuti’s appetite for property acquisition grew, as did his profile on social media. Chetcuti regularly flaunted his wealth on Facebook and Instagram, whether on holiday aboard his luxury motoryacht, showcasing his Rolls Royce during a London visit to collect it, or enjoying time with his grandson in Colombia. He also flexed his philanthropic muscle – comments on Facebook attested to the man’s generosity, often never publicised, although recent visits to an orphanage and the Dar Bjorn ALS hospice were given wide publicity.

The brand included popular hot spots Havana, Hugo’s Lounge, Hugo’s Pub, Shadow Lounge, Rocco Club Lounge, Bacco by Hugo’s, Club H, Soho Lounge, Native Bar & Diner, Hugo’s Passion and Hugo’s Terrace. In May, the group issued a €5 million bond, meant to finance further property acquisitions, among them his €55 million boutique hotel project, which took centre-stage at the top of the Saint Rita Steps.

A statement published by the Chetcuti family described the entrepreneur as “larger than life, a man who captivated us all with his generosity, compassion, wit, and profound awareness and sympathy for those less fortunate. The local entertainment and hospitality industry has lost its favourite son, but will continue to reap the benefits of his foresight and determination for decades to come.”

The Hugo’s group of companies will carry on with operations as normal, with business now falling on son Luke, who will have to step in his father’s shoes and fully immerse himself in the day-to-day running of the businesses.

Chetcuti with son Luke and his two grandchildren (Photo: Luke Chetcuti/Instagram)
Chetcuti with son Luke and his two grandchildren (Photo: Luke Chetcuti/Instagram)

La dolce vita

Chetcuti’s death resulted in an outpouring of grief with friends and admirers leaving flowers and candles outside his establishments.

Christian Spiteri, the architect who spearheaded all of Chetcuti’s projects in the past 20 years, told MaltaToday that he owed everything to Chetcuti, having given him his lucky break when fresh out of university, entrusted him with the building of his extraordinary Villa Isis in Madliena.

“Since then, I’ve spent nearly every day with Hugo, working on one project after another,” he said. “Because Hugo was a dreamer and a visionary, and the evidence is in what he managed to achieve.”

Spiteri lashed out at sections of the press that had accused Hugo of criminal activity, a notoriety acquired over his Paceville dominance.

“They have no idea who they’re talking about and what sort of man Hugo was,” he said. “If only they knew him as I, and many others did, they would recognise the kind, gentle and generous man that made everyone who knew him love Hugo.”

Chetcuti of course loved the better things in life, including cars and good food. “He loved ‘la dolce vita’ but he was also comfortable in humble surroundings and circumstances and, in fact, he surrounded himself with humble people and never sought the company of so-called VIPs for the sake of fame,” Spiteri said.

Spiteri described the ‘Hugo’s’ brand as seal of quality and attention to detail – Chetcuti’s mantra – and not just a way of cashing in on his fame. “Hugo had big, huge plans for Paceville and he had been working on this vision to make it a global attraction. Having already changed the face of entertainment in Malta, he was working on making it even better. Hugo had so many other projects in the pipeline and I hope that they will still see the light of day, because they would change Paceville as we know it,” he said.

“I wish to think that it will all be the same without Hugo,” Spiteri said. “For me, things definitely will never be the same again.”

The pursuit of innovation and change

Philip Fenech, a veteran nightclub owner and close friend of Chetcuti, told MaltaToday that he had witnessed the entrepreneur’s growth over the past three decades, having been there when Chetcuti opened the doors of his first venue, Footloose.

“I am proud to say I saw Hugo grow into the household brand that he became of later years,” he said. “And I was always impressed by Hugo’s determination and his pursuit of innovation and change.”

Fenech said that Chetcuti had never let anything get in the way of his entrepreneurial vision and that he had always been quick to change and adapt to market forces.

He said he had always known Chetcuti to be a true gentleman, in business, as well as in his personal life with family and friends. “Hugo’s wish was for his son Luke to take over from him and to carry on his vision,” Fenech said. “And knowing Luke, I am sure he will carry on his father’s legacy.”

And in fact, taking to Instagram, Chetcuti’s son has indeed vowed to continue his late father’s legacy. “Dad, I made a promise to you that I will continue your legacy and this I will do till my last breath,” Luke wrote. “You have taught me so much and I will put everything into my everyday life. I promise that I will continue building the empire you left us.”

Chink in the armour

Chetcuti’s rise as a business mogul has been stalled at times by the occasional controversy.

In 2003, he pleaded guilty to contempt of court after having assaulted a journalist at the law courts the year before. Chetcuti, then 36 years old, assaulted Super One journalist Joseph Mifsud in the Magistrates’ Court on August 26, 2002. He told the court that he had assaulted the journalist because he was angry about an article Mifsud had written about him.

Mifsud had published a report about a conspiracy to import drugs into Malta and had mentioned Isaac Chetcuti – Hugo’s brother – as one of the 19 people involved, though he never mentioned Hugo Chetcuti.

Chetcuti had apologised and had paid for the damage caused to Mifsud’s spectacles.

A 'dubious character'

In 2015, in his conclusions following an inquiry into the actions of former police inspector Daniel Zammit, Judge Michael Mallia described Chetcuti as “a dubious character”.

“With regards to the friendship of Daniel Zammit, and his brother Roderick, with Hugo Chetcuti, we find the latter to also be a dubious character, with a lengthy police record, mainly dealing with the continued and regular breach of regulations related to the use and management of entertainment venues in Paceville which also sell drinks, beer and alcohol,” the judge wrote in his conclusions. “It was not prudent for two police inspectors to be regularly seen in the company of Hugo Chetcuti.”

The pool at Hugo's Boutique Hotel
The pool at Hugo's Boutique Hotel

The judge went on to note that the two police inspectors had organised a birthday party at Chetcuti’s villa in Madliena, against no payment, and had therefore placed themselves in a situation where they could feel indebted to Chetcuti.

Zammit was also found to have joined Luke Chetcuti in setting up a company in 2010 – Diabolik Entertainment Ltd – to operate Steam, a gentlemen’s club in Paceville.

Hugo's companies: 

Lifetime Ltd (1996)

Shareholding 100% Hugo Chetcuti

Total assets:    €26,550,000

Net Worth:    €11,121,393

All Round Entertainment Ind. Ltd. (2004)

Shareholding 100% Lifetime Ltd

Total assets:    €16,605,558

Net Worth:    €2,085,644

F.O.D. Ltd (2002)

Shareholding 50% Lifetime Ltd and 50% Peter Paul Vella from Gozo

Total assets:    €1,871,014

Net Worth:    €891,736

H Operations Ltd (2013)

Shareholding 100% Lifetime Ltd

Total assets:    €846,779

Net Worth:    €192,588

Hugo Cast and Co Ltd (2001)

Shareholding 50% Lifetime Ltd and 50% Rowers Ltd (Raymond Grima and Jonathan Grima)

Total assets:    €167,138

Net Worth:    €32,957

Hugo’s Hotel Ltd (1987)

Shareholding 100% Lifetime Ltd

Formerly Hotel Bernard Ltd, bought by Lifetime Ltd in 2010

Total assets:    €18,803,785

Net Worth:    €2,539,459

HH Finance plc (2018)

Shareholding 99.9993% Hugo’s Hotel Ltd and 0.0006% Hugo Chetcuti

HH Operating Ltd (2018)

Shareholding 99.9166% Hugo’s Hotel Ltd and 0.0833% Hugo Chetcuti

Native Ltd (2002)

Shareholding 25% Lifetime Ltd; 50% Maryrose Scerri of Mosta; 25% Peter Paul Vella of Gozo

Total assets:    €707,688

Net Worth:    €148,844

Three Sixty Ltd (2002)

Shareholders 50% Lifetime Ltd and 50% Rowers Ltd

Total assets:    €2,078,717

Net Worth:    €1,516,780

Hugo’s Ltd (2007)

Shareholder 100% Hugo Chetcuti

Total assets:    €1,627,693

Net Worth:    -€4,404

HR Holdings (2012)

Shareholding 50% Hugo’s Ltd and 50% JRCM Developments

Total assets:    €2,782,392

Net Worth:    €325,188

Lucky Luke Trading (1995)

Shareholding 59.9% Hugo Chetcuti and 40.1% Victor Vella of Gozo

Total assets:    €373,549

Net Worth:    €46,820

Slingshot Malta Ltd (2009)

Shareholders 25% Hugo Chetcuti, 25% Liam Mangion, 25% Christian Spiteri and 25% Steven Versprille

Total assets:    €3,081

Net Worth:    -€155,425

Other companies fully or partially owned by Chetcuti:

  • Vivo Ltd (2007)
  • Cha Ltd (2014)
  • Chizouka Holdings Ltd (2010)
  • Energylab Ltd (2014)
  • Future Lettings Ltd (2018)
  • JH Operations Ltd (2016)
  • Paceville Entertainments Ltd (2016)
  • Hugo’s Yachting Ltd (2013)

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