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Police get confession and denial in oil case

Tabone: I never offered or received any money

Lawyer Giannella de Marco and her client Tancred Tabone, centre, outside the law courts. Photo: Jason Borg

Lawyer Giannella de Marco and her client Tancred Tabone, centre, outside the law courts. Photo: Jason Borg

Former Enemalta chairman Tancred Tabone was in cahoots with his adviser Frank Sammut in taking commissions from oil purchases, a court heard yesterday.

Mr Sammut agreed to help Trafigura submit the best offers to Enemalta

But while Mr Sammut told the police that the pair received kickbacks from international commodity giant Trafigura, Mr Tabone flatly denied he was involved in the alleged corruption.

A court yesterday started to hear evidence in the case against Mr Tabone, who stands charged with bribery, corruption and money laundering during his time as chairman of the energy corporation between 2000 and 2005.

Mr Sammut is facing similar charges in separate proceedings. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Mr Sammut, a former chemistry teacher at De La Salle College, was CEO of Mediterranean Offshore Bunkering Company (MOBC) before being appointed to Enemalta’s oil procurement committee as an adviser to Mr Tabone in 2004.

Another two businessmen, Cassar Ship Repair chairman Tony Cassar and Francis Portelli, a director of Virtu Ferries Limited, have been charged and are pleading not guilty to bribing Mr Tabone and Mr Sammut.

Following a request by the Attorney General for a review of the bail conditions given to Mr Tabone and Mr Sammut, their deposit of €3,000 was yesterday raised to €25,000 and the personal guarantee of €15,000 converted into €75,000.

Taking the witness stand, Assistant Commissioner Michael Cassar testified for four hours, giving an overview of the way in which, police believe, Mr Tabone and Mr Sammut took kickbacks from the purchase of oil through a complicated arrangement between different companies.

AC Cassar said the investigation got under way after Malta Today broke the story.

The police approached the paper’s managing editor Saviour Balzan and asked him to hand over any evidence he had.

Mr Balzan gave them invoices and documents pertaining to the case and promised to help with the investigation if his source was willing to hand over further documentation.

The Assistant Commissioner said the police arrested Mr Sammut on January 22 and during the interrogation he admitted receiving kickbacks from Trafigura.

He told them he had met Trafigura official Tim Waters, who was in charge of supplies to Malta, at a meeting in London during an international fair. They reached an agreement that Mr Sammut would help Trafigura submit the best offers to Enemalta.

Mr Sammut said he would inform Trafigura of what Enemalta wanted and would ensure that the corporation’s oil procurement committee accepted the company’s tenders, even if the product did not fully match specifications.

He received commissions from Trafigura amounting to some $80,000, which was paid into an HSBC Swiss bank account opened specifically for this money.

He and Mr Tabone would split the money and he would pay him in cash or by money transfer, Mr Sammut told the police. He would hand all the invoices to Mr Tabone, who in fact was the person to suggest that a Swiss bank account be opened.

In a subsequent police statement, Mr Sammut said he received a further €159,000 which was paid into an account with the Royal Bank of Scot-land, which he also split with Mr Tabone.

AC Cassar said that at one point in 2004, Mr Tabone was asked by Minister Austin Gatt to terminate Mr Sammut’s contract with Enemalta.

According to Mr Sammut’s statement, Mr Tabone described this as a blow to him. He felt uneasy about having to make oil purchases without his adviser’s expertise.

Mr Sammut also admitted that he had a conflict of interest as consultant to Mr Tabone and as CEO of MOBC, since he was a silent partner in the oil trading and bunkering company Island Bunker Oils Ltd.

Mr Cassar (of Cassar Ship Repair) and Mr Portelli were active members of that company.

Mr Sammut also told the police that George Farrugia, the local agent of Trafigura (who has been granted a presidential pardon in return for information on this case) had known about the commissions and even helped work out the kickbacks disguised as consultancy fees.

Mr Tabone himself told the police that when he became the chairman of Enemalta he implemented a number of changes after noting that the oil procurement committee had lacked technical expertise.

He had known Mr Sammut from the company MOBC and appointed him as an adviser.

When Mr Sammut’s post in MOBC was terminated he was given a €93,000 golden handshake and it was after this that Minister Gatt asked for Mr Sammut’s resignation as adviser.

The minister had argued it was ridiculous for Mr Sammut to have been paid off on early retirement and then engaged as a consultant. Mr Tabone denied having anything to do with Mr Sammut on a business level.

He told the police he was shocked and surprised at the allegations of corruption because Mr Sammut was his consultant.

He said he was never offered money and never received any money either.

Asked by the police if he had received any bank transfers, he said he had once loaned Mr Sammut some money to buy land next to his house.

Asked how much, he said he could not remember. He said it was to be paid back to his Swiss bank account.

Asked what balance there was, he could not remember. He said the money in the account was used to go on holidays.

At one point during the interrogation Mr Tabone was taken to hospital complaining of a stomach problem and was kept under observation.

The case continues.

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