Fenech meeting hastens PN meltdown as blame game widens rift

Civil war inside the PN: MPs and party officials accuse each other of association with Tumas Group, while Delia aides take stock of reality

Adrian Delia (centre) flanked by PN Secretary General Clyde Puli and MP Kristy Debono during a gathering for journalists and the social partners at PN HQ
Adrian Delia (centre) flanked by PN Secretary General Clyde Puli and MP Kristy Debono during a gathering for journalists and the social partners at PN HQ

It has been the bleakest of weeks for the Nationalist Party: even allies of Adrian Delia speak confidently of the last days for the embattled PN leadership, as polls show another drubbing in the coming European elections in May.

Close aides who spoke to MaltaToday this week joked wryly about getting ready to look for new jobs, while MPs who have been battling Delia since his election, have been busy revving up the guilt-by-association game.

Earlier in the week, Delia ally Hermann Schiavone resigned to become an independent MP as hara-kiri for having brokered a meeting with a Tumas Group director. The meeting ended up with magnate Yorgen Fenech, the reported owner of 17 Black in Dubai, a company linked to the secret Panama firms of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri as an alleged channel of cash from other sources. The news has been toxic for the PN.

“He didn’t have to organise that meeting, and drag [MP] Kristy Debono with him,” one senior party source told MaltaToday. “It was plain stupid, not even naïve,” the source said of the meeting in which Schiavone is believed to have requested some sort of sponsorship from Fenech himself.

Not only did the news revive the uncomfortable subject of parties being secretly bankrolled by businesses – even the ones they love to hate – but it sent anti-Delia MPs in a frenzy to tarnish others who had a past association with the Tumas Group, which amongst other businesses, has an interest in the Electrogas power plant and runs the Portomaso Hilton and countless other property projects. One of these targets was MEP candidate Frank Psaila whose Net TV discussion programme Iswed Fuq l-Abjad, until last year, had accepted adverts from the Tumas Group.

But the same party source urged caution. “This argument about taking donations from the Tumas Group is truly rich… the party has been accepting donations from businesses for ages, and the Tumas group has had a long relationship with the party like all major businesses.”

This is the crisis afflicting the debt-ridden PN, which even under former leader Simon Busuttil, did not shy away from taking money from the DB group to fund party salaries while hitting out at the company for its Pembroke land deal.

The blame game is alive and well inside the PN. Delia’s allies named his staunchest critics, like Beppe Fenech Adami and Jason Azzopardi, having enjoyed the largesse of the Tumas Group.

“To the best of my memory and knowledge, none,” Jason Azzopardi told MaltaToday when asked whether he had accepted any financial or other gift from the Tumas Group.

Beppe Fenech Adami, answering through the party’s spokesperson like some other MPs, mentioned a 2013 political event at the Tumas-owned Dolmen Hotel. “Therefore, well before any revelations about Yorgen Fenech’s involvement [in 17 Black]…  since those revelations I have never met, organised, attended any political event in any venue in which Fenech is involved.”

Secretary-general Clyde Puli too organised events at Qormi’s Topaz Hall, once owned by the Tumas Group, before the 17 Black revelations.

David Agius, Marthese Portelli, Karl Gouder, Claudio Grech, Karol Aquilina, Robert Arrigo, and Therese Comodini Cachia, among other MPs, also denied receiving anything.

Simon Busuttil, the former PN leader, chose not to answer. When he targeted the DB Group for having benefited from the ITS land deal, his deputy leader Mario de Marco’s law firm was privy to the negotiations themselves for the company finance vehicle.

De Marco also denies receiving any gifts, except that he has served the Tumas Group as a lawyer in the past. “Over the years our law firm, from time to time, handled a number of lawsuits involving companies in which Tumas Group is a shareholder. One such case is Deguara vs Cassar pending before the courts since 1994. This information is in the public domain as publicly accessible from the justice services website.”

The experienced lawyer also declared that his legal fees will be determined by the tariff established by the code of organisation and civil procedure.

Even Adrian Delia, the embattled leader of the party who has become the subject of an FIAU and magisterial inquiry into allegations of money laundering, denied accepting anything from the Tumas Group. “No. Nothing at all. Never.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Kurt Farrugia, did not reveal which Labour MPs have accepted gifts from the Tumas Group. “This is an issue which was created by a faction of the PN to weaken the PN leader. It is their mess and they should deal with it. We have no further comments to make.”

Another PN official who spoke to MaltaToday said the party had surprisingly increased its party membership, decreased its debts, raised more donations and small loan financing through its ‘cedoli’ scheme. But Delia’s support is stagnant, made clear by the fact that the party is split right down the middle.

“All the PN voters I meet tell me they are fed up with this infighting and that Delia deserves loyalty because he was elected democratically,” one MEP candidate told MaltaToday.

But the same is true for half of the party which sees Delia as an unwanted guest in the PN, a factor that will cost the party a seat in the May election. “Our biggest problem is convincing Nationalist voters to vote… Delia is in Gozo almost every week, because we are floundering there,” said the same candidate.

One Nationalist MP, not a fan of Delia, claims people like Claudio Grech, Roberta Metsola, and possibly Chris Said, are still possible candidates to take over the reins.

The PN MEP candidate knows the May result looks bad, but says Delia will not step down. “He said his litmus test is the next general election, not the first 18 months as leader.”

The MP thinks otherwise. “This is the beginning of the end,” the MP said confidently.

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