[WATCH] Mario de Marco: ‘It was my duty to protect client’s interest’ in ITS deal

PN deputy leader Mario de Marco says Simon Busuttil was aware of his legal brief for the db Group from the very start

Mario de Marco said his firm had been legal advisors to db Group for four years and that this was known to Opposition leader Simon Busuttil. Photo: James Bianchi
Mario de Marco said his firm had been legal advisors to db Group for four years and that this was known to Opposition leader Simon Busuttil. Photo: James Bianchi

The embattled PN deputy leader Mario de Marco has defended his brief for Silvio Debono’s db Group, saying that it was his duty as a lawyer to protect his client’s interests in negotiations with the government on a €60 million concession for the site of the Institute of Tourism Studies, to develop a new luxury development on St George’s Bay.

De Marco relinquished the brief soon after MaltaToday revealed he had been involved in negotiations with Projects Malta on behalf of the db Group, upending his own party’s criticism of the project.

“I, and the PN too, were not against the ITS site concession, as our leader Simon Busuttil himself has confirmed,” De Marco said on TVM’s Xtra. “Up to Friday of two weeks ago, Busuttil had no problem with my firm being the db Group’s legal advisor and this issue only arose after the party said it would ask the Auditor General to investigate the contract because of the concession’s value.”

Simon Busuttil’s demand for a national audit, which took place during a PN fundraiser, spawned the now infamous text message from db CEO Arthur Gauci, who took exception at the continued denigration of the business group by the PN leader, and revealed the company had been asked to bankroll the PN for the salaries of the party secretary-general and chief executive.

The Electoral Commission is now investigating whether payments to the PN’s media arm for alleged commercial services, to serve as donations to the party, had breached party financing rules.

De Marco said his firm Guido de Marco & Associates Advocates had been db Group’s legal advisors for the past four years. In mid-2015, De Marco  – together with his sister Gianella – represented the directors of the Seabank Hotel, part of db Group, in a criminal case following the death of a worker on the Seabank construction site. “It was obvious back then, even to the party, that my firm was representing db Group,” de Marco said of the company, whose non-executive directors at the time also included Nationalist MP Francis Zammit Dimech.

“Then, when at the end of the 2015, db Group had expressed interest in a government request for proposals for the ITS site concession, I once again reminded Busuttil that I was their legal adviser and he confirmed that the party had no issue with that.”

De Marco insisted that when he accepted the legal brief, he – and the PN as well – had nothing against the project itself and were in favour of the development of the ITS site. “I do not like controversy and do not seek the spotlight, and it is for those same reasons that I informed my party’s leader of my firm’s involvement with db Group on the ITS concession,” he said.

“If this project concerned a controversial development like the Zonqor University or the Delimara plant, I would not have accepted the legal brief in the first place,” he said.

De Marco said that as deputy leader for parliamentary affairs, he had no access to data on party donors or commercial clients of the party when asked whether he knew of the db Group donations.

“I need to make it clear that as legal adviser to db Group in the negotiations, it was my duty to check that there were no vague clauses in the agreement and to ensure that my client’s interests were protected,” he said. “But I was not involved in the direct negotiations about the price of the concession, the group had their own in-house counsel for that, and I did not even know when the contract was to be signed.”

De Marco also said he did not know why blogger and Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia targeted him and his family, as recently calling for his resignation. “Daphne has a right to say what she wants but I cannot help but be saddened when she attacks and makes accusations against my late father, Guido de Marco,” he said. “I do not know why I end up in her sights so often, but I would really like to learn why.”

But De Marco would not say whether he felt uncomfortable with the PN’s frequent extolling of Caruana Galizia’s journalism.

Labour: ‘The buck stops with Simon Busuttil’

In a press conference organised by the Labour Party on Friday afternoon, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and candidate Ian Castaldi Paris argued that the buck stopped with Simon Busuttil.

The duo reiterated their call on the Nationalist Party to publish the invoices, which would allegedly confirm the money given to Media.Link for commercial purposes.

Bonnici argued that Busuttil was ultimately responsible of the saga: de Marco had informed Busuttil of the work he would be carrying out with db Group, whilst Busuttil himself had met the businessmen.

The PL pointed out that de Marco had voluntarily renounced the legal brief, as pressure was mounting due to the CapitalOne investigation – which revolved around the other PN deputy leader, Beppe Fenech Adami, and his directorship in a fiduciary company.

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