Tumas foundation for journalism now deals with a tarnished name

Journalism foundation that remembers Tumas Group founder unfazed by arrest of scion in connection with Caruana Galizia murder

In an irony of fate, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s one posthumous award in her native country was the Institute of Malta Journalism’s Gold Award, which is historically sponsored by the Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism
In an irony of fate, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s one posthumous award in her native country was the Institute of Malta Journalism’s Gold Award, which is historically sponsored by the Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism

One year after the passing of Yorgen Fenech’s grandfather, the industrialist Tumas Fenech, a foundation was set up in his name to further education in journalism.

Since then, the Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism has hosted Malta’s great and good in the world of journalism and academia.

But news that the Tumas Group scion and now former chief executive officer could be a person of interest in the murder investigation of Daphne Caruana Galizia, should be enough to shake the Foundation’s foundations. Only yesterday, the Institute of Maltese Journalists, long associated with the FTFEG, announced it would retire its two members on the trustees’ board of the foundation.

Yet Malcolm Naudi, the former Times journalist who serves as the FTFEG’s honorary secretary, is quick to insist on the independence of the foundation from the Tumas Group.

“Although set up by the Tumas Group, in conjunction with The Malta Press Club (today the Institute of Maltese Journalists), the Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism is fully independent, has a separate legal personality, and is not run by the Tumas Group,” Naudi, who once was the Press Club’s president, said.

The Tumas Group has supported the Foundation mainly by providing the venues for its meetings and activities and by hosting foreign speakers invited to participate in activities organised by the Foundation. The limit for the provision of these services is fixed at the amount of €15,000 per year.

Naudi is quick to say that Yorgen Fenech has never been a member of the FTFEG board or interfered in its running.

“Given the complete independence of the Foundation from the Tumas Group, there are no implications consequent on the arrest of a (former) Tumas director,” Naudi said when asked about the effects of Fenech’s arrest on the foundation’s name.

Tumas Fenech’s beginnings were indeed humble. A former police constable who even worked as a bus ticket despatcher, he showed a knack for buying second-hand items and reselling them. But it was with his first property acquisitions and later hotels that Tumas Fenech made his fortune.

“The Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism believes that the name ‘Tumas’ is an honourable name and that carrying it does not mean that it is dishonoured by association,” Naudi said. “Dissolution is not contemplated since the aims for which the Foundation was set up are still valid.”

In an irony of fate, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s one posthumous award in her native country was the Institute of Malta Journalism’s Gold Award, which is historically sponsored by the Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism.

The riches Tumas Fenech built for his sons and their children – a world of private jet travel, French horse-breeding and racing, and the island’s best homes – today appear to symbolise the excess of entitlement of Malta’s capitalist class.

The creation of the journalism foundation itself was unconnected to Tumas Fenech’s own pursuits, as told by President emeritus Ugo Mifsud Bonnici in a TV documentary: “His children wanted to commemorate his name through a foundation that served the country a useful purpose, in a field that was different from his own.”

The origins of the 17 Black firm in Dubai are unknown, but Daphne Caruana Galizia knew back in February 2017 that the company was owned by Yorgen Fenech – she posted that small detail in a comment beneath the cryptic post she uploaded on her blog with the photos of Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi, Joseph Muscat, and John Dalli.

It was only after her assassination, and the creation of the Daphne Project which sifted through a leaked cache of emails from Electrogas, in which the Tumas Group had a stake, that it was finally revealed that a 17 Black had been listed as a “target client” of two well-known offshore firms created in Panama, Hearnville and Tillgate, owned by former energy minister Konrad Mizzi and the PM’s chief-of-staff Keith Schembri.

Though honourable the name of Tumas Fenech may be, the excess of big business and capital has always sat uncomfortably with what journalism represents. Now without the blessing of Malta’s own press association, the foundation is destined to remain a club for creaking establishment types drunk on self-aggrandisement.

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