Police should question Gatt – PL
Trafigura looking into the report
The police should question Transport Minister Austin Gatt over an oil-buying board set up nine years ago and now embroiled in graft claims involving a former member, according to the Labour Party.
Labour spokesman Evarist Bartolo yesterday said the oil-buying system established when Dr Gatt was responsible for Enemalta after 2003 was always prone to abuse.
In a pointed reaction, Dr Gatt said he had “absolutely no problem” should the police want to question him. He would collaborate “fully and without any qualification” with any investigation.
He said the Fuel Procurement Committee had actually been set up in the 1980s and Frank Sammut – the man at the centre of the corruption allegations – was a member long before he became minister.
During his time as minister for Enemalta, the members were not political appointees but were nominated by the corporation’s board for their technical expertise, he added.
Dr Gatt went on a tirade against the Labour Administration of the 1980s, adding that going back to police headquarters would remind him of “the 48 hours he spent in jail in 1982” when he was interrogated for organising the PN election counting hall team.
“In those days, Evarist Bartolo sat serenely within the Labour Party and never lifted a finger,” Dr Gatt added.
This exchange followed serious allegations that surfaced in MaltaToday over oil purchases made by Enemalta in 2004. Mr Sammut sat on the oil procurement board when a nominee company that belonged to him invoiced Enemalta’s Dutch oil supplier for a “consultancy fee”, according to the newspaper.
Trafigura, the Dutch oil company that allegedly paid Mr Sammut a commission of thousands of dollars, yesterday told The Times it was “looking into the report” by Sunday’s MaltaToday”.
“Trafigura takes any allegations seriously,” a company spokeswoman said without elaborating.
Mr Bartolo was unfazed when it was pointed out to him by journalists that Mr Sammut’s role was terminated sometime in 2004.
“Men come and go but the oil procurement system remained in place for years. It may have been Mr Sammut then, it may have been somebody else afterwards,” he said at a press conference.
Mr Bartolo said the PL had in Parliament often drawn the Government’s attention to the way Enemalta was buying its oil, a process he described as “vitiated”.
“We used to hear things but this is the first time that documented evidence has surfaced,” Mr Bartolo said, adding that this could explain why the country remained dependent on fuel oil for electricity generation despite various recommendations to shift to gas.
Mr Sammut was appointed to the committee by virtue of his role as managing director of the state-owned Mediterranean Offshore Bunkering Company.
In a statement the Government clarified that Mr Sammut’s job contract at MOBC was terminated in July 2004. It did not say why but in 2005 Dr Gatt told Parliament that MOBC’s bunkering function was to stop and as a result Mr Sammut’s role was no longer needed.
Mr Sammut had been appointed general manager at MOBC by the Labour administration in 1997.
Research by The Times showed that a parliamentary question in May 2004 by Labour MP Leo Brincat had brought to the fore concerns in the bunkering industry over Mr Sammut’s prospective employment with a private bunkering company.
Mr Brincat quoted from an influential oil magazine saying small Maltese bunkering companies feared that his previous involvement with the state-owned firm would give the new private bunkering company – Island Bunker Oils Ltd – a commercial advantage.
Speaking on the TVM breakfast show, MaltaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan yesterday said the police had questioned him on Sunday about the story. He said he gave them the invoices and documents the newspaper had printed to substantiate its allegations.