Sinanan stands behind new ferry deal

Wednesday, April 3, 2019 - 06:30

Hours af­ter Gov­ern­ment gave de­tails about the leas­ing arrange­ment of Mal­tese ves­sel Jean De La Valette (JDLV) to ease the coun­try’s seabridge woes, the ves­sel is now mired in con­tro­ver­sy.

In­for­ma­tion sur­faced via sev­er­al Mal­tese press re­ports that Fran­cis Portel­li, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Vir­tu Hold­ings Ltd—the com­pa­ny which the Na­tion­al In­fra­struc­ture De­vel­op­ment Com­pa­ny (NID­CO) will be leas­ing the ves­sel from, has been in­volved in a huge oil scan­dal in Mal­ta, with al­le­ga­tions of mon­ey laun­der­ing and bribery still hang­ing over his head.

Portel­li is cur­rent­ly fac­ing charges of bribery in a case con­nect­ed to the 2013 En­e­mal­ta oil scan­dal, which is con­sid­ered one of Mal­ta’s most promi­nent cas­es. In No­vem­ber 2017, he again ap­peared in a Mal­tese court. He was one of sev­er­al men ac­cused in a cor­rup­tion scan­dal on fu­el bunker­ing con­nect­ed to his al­leged in­volve­ment in Is­land Bunker Oils (IBOL). Both court mat­ters are still on­go­ing.

When asked if NID­CO had done a back­ground check on Vir­tu Hold­ings Ltd and if he was aware that Portel­li was be­fore the court on al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion yes­ter­day, Works and Trans­port Min­is­ter Ro­han Sinanan said he could not speak on this is­sue.

“I have no com­ment be­cause I have no in­for­ma­tion on what you are speak­ing about,” Sinanan said, ad­vis­ing that jour­nal­ists re­fer the mat­ter to NID­CO.

In re­sponse to ques­tions by Op­po­si­tion Sen­a­tor Wade Mark in the Sen­ate yes­ter­day about the leas­ing arrange­ment of the JDLV, Sinanan said Gov­ern­ment ac­quired the boat “for one year” to com­ple­ment the Galleons Pas­sage and T&T Spir­it, which have ser­vic­ing the seabridge be­tween Trinidad and To­ba­go.

The Gov­ern­ment has an op­tion to re­new the con­tract for an ad­di­tion­al six months if need­ed, Sinanan said. He said in­ter­na­tion­al and lo­cal ten­ders went out last Au­gust and closed in Oc­to­ber. Three com­pa­nies sub­mit­ted bids.

“The pre­ferred ten­der­er is Vir­tu Hold­ings and the con­tract is at this time is be­ing fi­nalised by NID­CO. As soon as that is com­plet­ed the fig­ures will be pre­sent­ed.”

In a fol­low-up ques­tion, Mark queried what type of con­tract will be award­ed, Sinanan said NID­CO had utilised the pro­fes­sion­al ser­vice of a mar­itime firm in the Unit­ed King­dom.

Mark en­quired from Sinanan if he was aware that the ves­sel “is de­fec­tive...that it was sub­ject to ar­bi­tra­tion in Eng­land and al­so court pro­ceed­ings in Aus­tralia.”

Sinanan shot back say­ing that Mark’s com­ment had not sur­prised him.

“I ex­pect­ed the Op­po­si­tion to bring fake news and try to do dam­age all the ef­forts by this Gov­ern­ment.”

Dur­ing an in­ter­view with Guardian Me­dia last Fri­day, Sinanan an­nounced that the JDLV was sched­uled to ar­rive at the end of May to re­place the limp­ing T&T Ex­press, which is up for sale.

In an im­me­di­ate re­sponse, UNC ac­tivist and for­mer min­is­ter De­vant Ma­haraj said the Gov­ern­ment has many ques­tions to an­swer about the pro­cure­ment of the ves­sel, which re­mains a mys­tery.

Ma­haraj said in­for­ma­tion by the Gov­ern­ment came like a thief in the night.

“Once again, the na­tion was sur­prised and stunned when Min­is­ter Ro­han Sinanan dropped it on the coun­try over the week­end that an­oth­er fer­ry would be leased, which has prompt­ed many ques­tions.”

Ma­haraj has since in­struct­ed his at­tor­neys to file a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quest to NID­CO, the Min­istry of Works and Trans­port and Port Au­thor­i­ty of T&T to get an­swers.

Last month, NID­CO’s chair­man Her­bert George and Port Au­thor­i­ty of T&T (PATT) chair­man Lyle Alexan­der vis­it­ed Mal­ta to view the ten-year-old ves­sel, which has a ca­pac­i­ty to ac­com­mo­date 800 pas­sen­gers and 230 cars.

Alexan­der yes­ter­day side­stepped all ques­tions re­gard­ing the pro­cure­ment process of the JDLV.

Asked why the pub­lic was not pro­vid­ed in­for­ma­tion by NID­CO ear­li­er, Alexan­der said noth­ing was “sprung up­on” on the pop­u­la­tion.

“Be­fore things are said de­ci­sions have to be made. I am not sure that the ex­pec­ta­tion is that every de­ci­sion that is con­tem­plat­ed has to go out in the pub­lic do­main. It’s about things be­ing done in the time it was done. The tim­ing was not right.”

He said the boat’s ten­der­ing process was han­dled by NID­CO and not PATT.

PATT played an op­er­a­tive role in es­tab­lish­ing the suit­abil­i­ty of the ves­sel to ser­vice the in­ter-is­land route, Alexan­der said, adding it had met all the nec­es­sary re­quire­ments.

The ves­sel is ex­pect­ed to sail from Spain to our shores next month in a trip ex­pect­ed to take eight days.

Portel­li's check­ered past

Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Vir­tu Hold­ings Lim­it­ed, Fran­cis A Portel­li, has been ac­cused of cor­rup­tion, bribery and mon­ey laun­der­ing in­ter­na­tion­al­ly.

Portel­li was one of sev­er­al men ac­cused in a cor­rup­tion scan­dal on fu­el bunker­ing via his in­volve­ment in Is­land Bunker Oils (IBOL) and ap­peared in a Mal­tese court last No­vem­ber al­so fac­ing charges of bribery in a case con­nect­ed to the En­e­mal­ta oil scan­dal of 2013.

An on­line re­port by Mal­ta To­day’s Matthew Vel­la dat­ed No­vem­ber 5, 2017, claimed IBOL had been restyled as Val­let­ta Bunkers Lim­it­ed.

Portel­li, along with An­tho­ny Cas­sar, were both charged with cor­rup­tion and mon­ey laun­der­ing through their deal­ings in IBOL in a sep­a­rate case to the oil cor­rup­tion scan­dal.

De­scribed as one of the most promi­nent cas­es in Mal­ta, the fo­cus shift­ed to Portel­li af­ter he launched a 25 mil­lion pound bond is­sue for his com­pa­ny Vir­tu Fi­nance plc and as a di­rec­tor of the guar­an­tor and 50 per cent share­hold­er of Vir­tu Hold­ings, which is the par­ent com­pa­ny of Vir­tu Fi­nance. He re­mained a par­ty in the crim­i­nal in­quiry in court, which led to his per­son­al as­sets be­ing frozen.

In a hear­ing on Jan­u­ary 30, 2018, the Con­sti­tu­tion­al Court con­firmed a rul­ing which held that a per­son fac­ing crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings has a right to si­lence when tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee.

They said any rul­ing or guide­line to the con­trary would be in breach of fun­da­men­tal rights.

Reporter: Shaliza Hassanali & Anna-Lisa Paul