The Maltese agent of an Italian company that exported small arms to Libya admitted that a typing error in documents presented to the Maltese authorities inflated the monetary value of the weaponry tenfold.

The shipment of small arms, which required Maltese government authorisation for transhipment purposes, was worth €7.9 million but the figure was inflated to €79 million.

Malta was implicated in the sale of weapons by the 12th Annual Report Defining Common Rules Governing Control of Exports of Military Technology and Equipment, which showed that, in 2009, the island “exported” some €79.7 million in small arms to Libya.

The government had said Malta did not sell any weapons to Tripoli, insisting the arms in question belonged to an Italian-licensed company that used Malta as a transit point for the shipment.

However, in a letter to The Times on Tuesday, Italian Ambassador Luigi Marras questioned the government’s explanation and said Italy had only exported some €8 million worth of small arms to Libya in November 2009.

Pressed for an explanation about the discrepancy, the government yesterday released a letter it received from the Italian company’s Maltese agent, W.J. Parnis England, which admitted a typing error when filing the official documentation to seek authorisation for the arms transhipment.

“An extra 0 was inadvertently typed in,” the company said in the letter sent yesterday to the director of trade services.

The letter also refers to a copy of the invoice from suppliers Fabrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta, which purportedly shows the value of the weapons was €7.9 million. The government did not publish the invoice.

The Trade Department said in November 2009 an Italian company applied for authorisation for the transit of a shipment of arms to Libya. It said the agent did give an indication on the application of the monetary value of the arms but this was not necessary because it was the number and type of items that had to be certified that was required.

The department said the application was accompanied by the relative export certificate from the Italian export authorities and end user certification from the Italian Embassy in Libya.

“Since there were no sanctions imposed on Libya at the time, an authorisation for transit of the goods on the basis of the certification presented was issued by the Trade Department and allowed by Customs. The goods did not touch dry land in Malta at any point,” the department said.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi defended his government’s actions when questioned about the matter on TVM’s Bondiplus on Monday, denying that any weapons were sold from Malta.

Criticising the Labour Party’s weekly KullĦadd for the way it ran a story quoting the European report’s conclusion, at no point did Dr Gonzi say or indicate the cited value of €79 million was wrong.

KullĦadd’s registered editor and Labour Party deputy leader Toni Abela said the newspaper had merely reproduced information contained in a European document and that was already in the public domain. The Times had reported the matter some days earlier.

“The Prime Minister accused me of being disloyal to the country and tried to implicate the Labour Party in a negative way by giving the impression it wanted to trip up the government at this delicate moment. The Labour Party is four-square behind the government, as has already been stated,” Dr Abela said, insisting the European report was not something that should be kept hidden.

The Times made enquiries with the government after it received the letter from the Italian Ambassador and the matter was clarified yesterday.

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