Hard news and other stories

We either get a trickle of hard news or a downpour. We (the media) certainly have had a good share of substantial items to contend with last week.

We had the attempted murder trial, which is still ongoing, where Meinrad Calleja is facing the charge of commissioning the crime which nearly killed Richard Cachia Caruana, personal assistant to the prime minister on December 18, 1994; the Parmalat scandal where Malta keeps being bandied about with allegations of money laundering; the application of legal technicalities to prevent the Maritime Authority chairman, Marc Bonello and the executive director, Lino Vassallo from appearing before the magistrate, Dominique de Talance, presiding over the investigation into the Erika disaster which happened in December 1999, and the ongoing Mater Dei Hospital tender saga.

Investigators probing the Parmalat scandal believe that €250 million, raised in an €500 million-bond issue in Brazil in 2001, ended up in Malta via the Cayman Islands unit of Spanish bank Santander Central Hispabno.

Noel Grima, writing in The Malta Independent on Friday, reported that Parmalat Capital Finance Ltd, set up in the Cayman Islands but "effectively working from Malta", was described as "the centre of the complicated money transfers" (involving large amounts of money).

Quoting the Milan financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore he said that the Maltese Deloitte & Touche company auditor and partner, Edward Camilleri, made the following remarks on the 2002 company accounts: they "did not include data on the cash flow trends and other relevant information which are required by international accounting standards".

Italian journalists Carlo Festa and Nicola Borzi wrote "it was strange" that the Maltese auditors Deloitte & Touche "did not go further on the money totals that did not add up".

Paul Mercieca, managing partner at Deloitte in Malta, wrote to The Independent yesterday stating that "in essence, the company (Parmalat) disclosed its 2002 cash flows but failed to do so in the 2001 financial statements, which were not audited by Deloitte & Touche."

Furthermore, he claimed that "we have no connection with, or even knowledge of, any Maltese company directly owned by the Tanzi family".

The Italian journalists said that Parmalat Capital Finance Ltd was the focus point of a complex architecture of intergroup borrowing of the Tanzi family. They reported that the €250 million mentioned above "disappeared once in Malta".

Lawyer Ian Stafrace has been named as one of the directors of "the cobweb" of companies (Parmalat Capital Finance Ltd, Parmalat Holdings Ltd and Parmalat Trading Ltd) together with Fausto Tonna, Luciano Del Soldato and Alberto Maurizio Ferraris.

Vanessa Macdonald, reporting in The Times yesterday, said that the three Parmalat companies were registered in Malta in 2002 and quoted "sources familiar with the investigations" who said that "the transactions relating to the missing €250 million were carried out in 2001", and that "many of the transactions specifically related to Parmalat Capital Finance were carried out prior to April 2002".

In that case Ian Stafrace and Deloitte & Touche (Malta) have nothing to worry about.

The Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) is not saying much in response to the expressed beliefs of the investigators that the €250 million, raised in a €500 million bond issue in Brazil in 2001, ended up in Malta, except that investigations are under way.

The Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, chaired by Dr Silvio Camilleri, has said that so far nothing untoward had been found. However, I wonder how much time could have been dedicated to the issue by the AG's office, since it is notoriously understaffed and is tied up with the trial mentioned earlier.

No doubt, as usual, we shall get to know more from the authorities and media abroad.

Better late

Four years ago, in this column, I wrote that Dr George Carlo, head of the Washington based Wireless Technology Research (WTR) had really upset the 'goldmine' cart, by publicising his concerns on health risks posed by mobile phones.

That same week Go Mobile and Nortel Networks stressed in an article in The Malta Independent that "mobile phones are safe for people of any age... and are equally safe for children".

Yet a report released by the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones, chaired by Sir William Stewart, highlighted that "individuals may choose to use phones for as short a time as possible, use phones with low specific energy absorption rate (SAR), use hands-free kits and other devices provided they have been proved to reduce SAR."

As a general rule the Expert Group considered that "children less than 16 years of age should be discouraged from using mobile phones. Children are likely to be more vulnerable to any unrecognised health risks from mobile phone use than are adults.

"The rationale is as follows: the developing nervous system is likely to be more vulnerable than the mature nervous system to potentially hazardous agents because of their smaller heads, thinner skulls and higher tissue conductivity, children may absorb more energy from a given phone than do adults if there are detrimental health effects caused by mobile phone signals, those using phones for a longer period of their lives will tend to accumulate a greater risk."

Furthermore, the justification for suggesting persons aged under 16 is: "Development of the head and nervous system is generally complete by age 16.

"For example, the density of synapses reaches adult level around puberty and skull thickness and brain size reach adult levels around ages 14 to 15. Sixteen is usually recognised as the age at which individuals are sufficiently mature to make informed choices about other "adult" activities."

The Stewart report also said that "there is evidence that the frequencies used in mobile technology, children will absorb more energy per kilogram of bodyweight from an external electromagnetic field than adults (a one-year-old could absorb double, and a five-year-old around 60 per cent more than an adult."

It concluded: "It is not possible at present (2000) to say that exposure to RF radiation, even at levels below national guidelines, is totally without potential adverse health effects, and that the gaps in knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach."

What is interesting is that in the last four years the gaps in knowledge have not been bridged although the British government had unveiled a £7.4 million research project to try to uncover the truth.

Now the Malta health authorities, which, if I recall correctly, did not react to the Stewart report at the time, have suddenly become aware of the report and the problem.

Missing coats

Apparently, I shocked Paul Radmilli, one of my sources for the article on missing coats last week, and rather than contacting me, he chose to write to the editor regarding the coats incident at the D&V party at the Westin Dragonara.

Mr Radmilli told me, last week, that he did not want to write a letter because he did not want his name to appear. However, it seems that he has had a change of heart on that and his version of what happened at the party.

I protect my sources and the editor did not realise he was one of my sources, until I put him in the picture when I saw the letter on Friday, having been out of the office when the letter arrived.

Mr Radmilli seems intent on shifting the blame for what happened from the organisers of the party to the female partygoers.

Although he had told me he was appalled by the behaviour of some partygoers, he was also less than impressed by the organisers and the way the police were pushing and shoving the girls, yet were ineffectual in bringing the situation under control.

Girls were not singled out as the 'drunks' and 'thieves' in the version given to me last week by Mr Radmilli. In fact his tone was remarkably different. I certainly did not condone "uncivilised behaviour manifested by many a girl present", because I was not aware of these gender-biased allegations.

According to his letter the blame lay with "girls stone drunk making their way with coats which were clearly not theirs". I suppose the boys were all sober, and how was it clear that the coats were not theirs?

Nowhere in his letter does he mention the name of the organisers, but refers to it as the New Year's Eve party held at the Westin Dragonara.

Furthermore, Mr Radmilli made other serious allegations against the organisers and the cloakroom attendants which I did not publish because I only had his word for it. The things I referred to were substantiated by other sources.

I did refer to the 'Good Samaritan' who it seems was Julian Azzopardi.

Many people, including Paul Radmilli, have told me that the coat attendants could not cope even before things came to a head and that they were telling people to help themselves.

I object to people who indiscriminately label people savages and thieves. There might have been some dishonest people at the party but I am sure that most were neither "savages" nor "thieves".

Had the organisers ensured that they had adequate cloakroom facilities there would have been no chaos and no room for dishonesty.

One of my other sources was a young women who felt bad about having to take some one else's coat, but was left with no alternative other than freezing.

That was when I suggested the idea that the organisers could appeal to the people who took other people's coats through necessity rather than dishonesty by giving them a number they could call.

I was certainly not condoning theft.

Mr Radmilli also told me that the organisers were offering to refund him for his girlfriend's coat through their insurers. However, when I spoke to Darryn Portelli he told me he had still not spoken to his insurers. But he did agree to give me a mobile number, which was published last week, where people could call to retrieve or return coats.

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