The Malta Tourism Authority has given a €1 million sponsorship to VistaJet, a private business airline which does not bring tourists to Malta, The Sunday Times of Malta is informed.

Asked to explain the reason for this massive funding, neither Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis nor the MTA replied, citing “commercial sensitivity”.

This newspaper is informed that contrary to normal practice, the MTA has signed a €1 million sponsorship deal with VistaJet to place adverts on the airline’s in-flight magazine.

Normally, the MTA only places adverts with and sponsors mass-tourism related activities, including international tourism magazines, foreign newspapers with high circulation and large public activities including concerts and exhibitions. “This large sponsorship is very strange and very abnormal,” a member of the MTA board said. “This airline does not bring one single tourist to Malta and caters only for millionaires or their companies who hire aircraft to travel privately. It’s odd, to say the least,” he said.

This newspaper is informed that although senior MTA officials had resisted this sponsorship, they were overruled by the Office of the Prime Minister.

Asked specifically to give a reason for the sponsorship, a spokeswoman for Mr Zammit Lewis said that “information regarding agreements between companies and government is commercially sensitive and the dissemination of such information breaches confidentiality clauses between both parties”.

Registered in Malta in 2012, VistaJet has a fleet of 60 private jets, mostly Bombardier and Challenger, and operates private business flights across the globe. Most of its aircraft are Malta-registered.

The Office of the Prime Minister is a frequent client of the international company. Between June 2015 and August 2016, it flew Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and members of his staff 15 times.

The airline hit the local headlines recently in the aftermath of claims that Egrant, a Panama based company, was associated with the Prime Minister’s family.

Soon after TV footage showed two Pilatus Bank officials carrying bags out of the bank, VistaJet operated a flight to Azerbaijan, departing Luqa airport only a few hours after the Egrant story had broken and speculation was rife on whether incriminating documents had been removed from the bank.

A spokesman for VistaJet said the flight, to Baku, carried no cargo or crew, saying “it was just a ferry flight”.

A ferry flight is the movement of an aircraft from one base to the other.

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