Sliema sponsor ‘offended’ by Dar tal-Providenza due diligence

Former Sliema Wanderers president Jeffrey Farrugia speaks about the Catco Group, its chairman and the promise of millions in sponsorship money that did not materialise

Former Sliema Wanderers FC president Jeffrey Farrugia (left) brought in the Catco Group as a club sponsor but player wages remained unpaid despite promises of a multi-million euro investment. The straw that broke the camel's back was a pledge for a €500,000 donation to Dar tal-Providenza, which was fronted by former Opposition leader Adrian Delia last January.
Former Sliema Wanderers FC president Jeffrey Farrugia (left) brought in the Catco Group as a club sponsor but player wages remained unpaid despite promises of a multi-million euro investment. The straw that broke the camel's back was a pledge for a €500,000 donation to Dar tal-Providenza, which was fronted by former Opposition leader Adrian Delia last January.

The man who pledged a €500,000 donation to Dar tal-Providenza refused to cooperate with auditors in a due diligence exercise requested by the home, MaltaToday has learnt. 

Fisal Abdullah Alokla, the chairperson of the Tunisian Catco Group, was “offended” by the audit firm’s requests to provide it with details of his personal wealth and the company’s workings, according to former Sliema president Jeffrey Farrugia. 

Catco’s pledged donation – unprecedented in its amount for such telethons – was presented by former Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia during a televised fundraising event on New Year’s Day. The surprise donation stole headlines. 

Subsequently, Dar tal-Providenza said it would carry out an audit to verify the source of funds and appointed RSM Malta to carry out the due diligence exercise. 

But correspondence seen by MaltaToday shows that Alokla refused to comply with the audit firm’s standard due diligence requests, a move that prompted Dar tal-Providenza to refuse the donation

Catco Group chairperson Fisal Abdullah Alokla
Catco Group chairperson Fisal Abdullah Alokla

Catco Group was roped in as a sponsor for Premier League football club Sliema Wanderers last summer by Farrugia, known as il-Vinċ. 

Farrugia was made president of the club in August on the strength of the promised lucrative sponsorship that would have transformed the team. 

No money made it to the club and player wages remained unpaid, a situation that prompted an internal revolt after the lucrative donation to Dar tal-Providenza in January was announced. 

Turmoil at the club led to Farrugia resigning his post and the club held an extraordinary general meeting today to discuss a way forward. 

Speaking to MaltaToday, Farrugia said Alokla was offended by the audit firm’s probing questions. 

In an email seen by this newspaper, Alokla said that he was “aware that Malta is greylisted”, but he would “not be paying for it”.  

As part of the auditing process, RSM requested Catco Group’s structure and organisation chart, identifying all UBOs and directors as well as a declaration including a list of all the companies associated with the chairman.  

It also asked for details of the bank account and the entity from which the proposed donation will be paid. Copies of personal bank statements of the last 12 months and audited fiscal statements were also requested. 

The requests irked Alokla, and Farrugia claimed the auditors went “overboard” for a “well-intentioned” donation. “They shouldn’t have approached him in this way,” Farrugia said. 

Farrugia said that the Catco Group chief had already been subjected to an audit initiated by the Sliema club when he was signed on as one of their main sponsors last year. 

Asked how Alokla became interested in Maltese football, the former Sliema president said he got fed up of the Saudi league where he had an interest. “When I told him that the budget for a championship winning team in Malta is around €5 million, he got on board,” Farrugia said.   

MaltaToday recently revealed that the company had promised Sliema Wanderers a €25 million investment over five years, something Farrugia confirmed. 

Farrugia said that he had been put in contact with Catco through a friend of his partner. “I had spoken with Keith Perry [his predecessor at Sliema], and told him we need to do something different to the club,” Farrugia said.  

Alokla first started eyeing Malta when he was planning to invest at the former Flower Power site in Ta’ Qali. MaltaToday understands the company was hoping to build an amusement park. “I suggested he look into the Flower Power site, because he wanted to do something in the tourism industry,” Farrugia said. 

But despite the high-flying promises towards the football club, Catco failed to pass on any cash. Farrugia said the problem was with Maltese banks that refused to open a bank account in order for funds to be transferred to the club. 

Former honorary vice-president Keith Perry confirmed Farrugia’s statement, saying they had visited a number of local banks, but all had refused. 

The Catco Group logo has disappeared from the Sliema Wanderers livery, an indication of the club’s intention to move on from the false hope created by high-flying promises. 

But Farrugia insisted he was still committed to Sliema Wanderers: “We have managed to take a club which was battling relegation to a club which claimed the top spot during the earlier part of the season… If there are doubts about Catco Group, why are we still speaking every day? Why didn’t he [Alokla] just leave?” 

Whether club members share Farrugia’s enthusiasm for a sponsor that had problems to convince banks to open an account, is another matter altogether.

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