The oil saga as it happened
Allegations of corruption involving a former chief executive of State-owned Mediterranean Offshore Bunkering go back nine years.
A newspaper on Sunday, Malta Today, published documentation purporting to show that Frank Sammut, the man at the centre of this case, asked for a kickback through a nominee company from Dutch oil firm Trafigura.
The allegation is that disguised as a consultancy fee, Trafigura was invoiced in March 2004 by the Gibraltar-based company belonging to Mr Sammut for a shipment of oil to Enemalta.
Although the news came as a surprise to many, nine years ago concerns were already being raised about the role played by top people in MOBC.
The worries were primarily related to the potential conflict of interest some key people were believed to have had between their public roles and alleged private interests in oil bunkering.
The happenings at the time were documented in a series of parliamentary questions, which made no reference to the oil buying scandal that has come to light nine years later.
September 24, 2003
– Fuel consultant
Austin Gatt, then minister responsible for Enemalta, tells Parliament that an official at the State-owned Mediterranean Offshore Bunkering Company is also serving as a fuel consultant to the Enemalta chairman and his board. The consultant is paid €18,600 (Lm8,000) per year.
Enemalta chairman is Tancred Tabone and the consultant is Frank Sammut, who was appointed managing director at MOBC in 1997. Mr Sammut’s fuel consultancy is a one-year contract that expires in August 2004.
January 15, 2004
– Trafigura delivers oil
Trafigura delivers almost 26,000 metric tonnes of low sulphur fuel oil to Enemalta at a value of $4.4 million. The invoice for this delivery is sent on February 6.
January 20, 2004
– Minister denies MOBC conflict
Dr Gatt tells Parliament none of MOBC’s directors and managers has a private interest in the bunkering industry and denies any of them have a conflict of interest. He is answering a parliamentary question by Labour MP Leo Brincat.
March 25, 2004
– Questionable consultancy fee
Energy and Environment Consultants, a nominee company based in Gibraltar belonging to Mr Sammut, allegedly issues an invoice to Trafigura for the amount of $19,402.
The invoice is for a “consultancy fee” on the contract of sale for the supply of fuel oil to Enemalta delivered in January. The money has to be paid to an HSBC bank account in Switzerland.
April 27, 2004
– MOBC and conflict of interest in Parliament
Answering a parliamentary question by Mr Brincat, Dr Gatt says he received written allegations claiming that directors at MOBC had a conflict of interest because of their alleged involvement with Island Bunker Oils Ltd.
He says the person making the allegations never provided him with tangible proof.
“I suggested that if he had suspicions he should make a written report to those who could investigate such as the police, the Ombudsman, the Permanent Commission Against Corruption and anyone else he may want to report the matter to.”
Dr Gatt says he is informed the person wrote to the Ombudsman and an investigation is taking place.
Excerpt of the parliamentary exchange:
Mr Brincat: Mr Speaker... in light of these repeated allegations that we are hearing about and that have also appeared in the media, I am asking the minister whether he can carry out a serious and in-depth investigation to at least ascertain whether these allegations, if they are allegations, are founded.
Dr Gatt: If a person comes to tell me that “this is happening” and I ask him to at least give me something that I can pick on and the person keeps telling me these are rumours his principals are mentioning, and none of the principals wants to make a declaration, I can make no investigation.
May 3, 2004
– Concerns on Island Bunker Oils
In Parliament, Mr Brincat quotes an influential bunkering magazine, which reports the imminent departure of Mr Sammut from MOBC to become an independent consultant.
The magazine speaks of anger among the smaller players in Malta’s bunkering industry since Mr Sammut will be “closely associated” with the recently formed company Island Bunker Oils Ltd.
Industry players are concerned that the move will imply that Island Bunker Oils might inherit some or all of MOBC’s supply business and be treated more favourably than its competitors in terms of storage capacity at the terminal.
Dr Gatt refers Mr Brincat to his reply of April 27.
July 13, 2004
– Sammut’s job is terminated
Mr Sammut’s job as chief executive at MOBC is terminated. The official reason is that MOBC is being restructured and his role is no longer required. MOBC stops its bunkering operation and becomes an oil storage depot.