A month before he died of a sudden heart attack in 1973, National Bank of Malta director Frank Cassar Torreggiani warned his son that Dom Mintoff was planning to take over the bank.
But Peter Cassar Torreggiani, now 74, does not blame the former Prime Minister for his father’s demise and even reconciled with Mr Mintoff, meeting him several times before his death last year.
Mr Mintoff has long been accused of forcing shareholders to hand over their shares when the National Bank of Malta faced a run on deposits in 1973. The Government eventually replaced the private bank with State-owned Bank of Valletta, leaving hundreds of families feeling robbed of their wealth.
Former shareholders, who are still battling a seemingly interminable court case 40 years later, argue that the Central Bank should have intervened to save the private bank.
Instead, Mr Mintoff’s public declarations had exacerbated the situation and shareholders were faced with a Hobson’s choice.
The episode remains imprinted in Mr Cassar Torreggiani’s mind but his memory was refreshed this week after Wikileaks published US diplomatic cables from 1973 saying his father’s heart attack after a four-hour meeting “provoked” the run on the bank.
Mr Cassar Torreggiani downplays the effect of the bank’s woes on his father’s health, pointing out that he had a heart condition that was more likely to have been the cause of his death.
And, contrary to what the cables claimed, Col. Cassar Torreggiani did not suffer a heart attack after a four-hour meeting.
“But it is factual to say that, around the time my father died, there was a run on the bank,” he says.
“From that point of view, it is a good thing that these cables are coming up today,” he says, four decades after the incident which is still the subject of seemingly interminable court proceedings.
“My father expected there would be problems,” he recalls.
The Central Bank governor, one of his father’s golf partners, had warned that the Government wanted the bank about a month before Col. Cassar Torreggiani’s heart attack.
Mr Cassar Torreggiani hopes that the court case, which was put off for the umpteenth time this week, is concluded through an out-of-court settlement.
This is because he believes a court judgment could “complicate matters” for Malta as a financial sector, especially in these sensitive times.
“The issue is: why wasn’t the Central Bank the lender of last resort? It could have been, quite easily. Nothing was preventing it, except a political decision which, in my opinion, was a mistaken one.”
“Today, this is the issue being discussed in the world,” he says, adding that there could be repercussions if the court does not give compensation to shareholders.
“I think it should go to Parliament again and it might, even through the court case. Our dialogue should be: how do you stimulate economic progress through central banking?”
Mr Cassar Torreggiani, a devout Neocatechumenal Catholic, gave up his involvement in the court case to get rid of the shackling “resentment” towards Mr Mintoff that it kept bringing up.
He even reconciled with Mr Mintoff after his retirement from politics, as part of his journey of faith where he “confessed” his resentment. He also met Mr Mintoff a couple of times after that, when the two spoke about how to tackle world hunger.
“I learnt the value of Christ’s words when he tells us to love our enemies. I learnt to do this, so there is no animosity there,” he says, when asked about his feelings towards the late Mr Mintoff today.
Asked about the claims on the Wikileaks cables that Mr Mintoff could have suspected fraud, Mr Cassar Torreggiani insists these were just rumours typical of an island like Malta.
“Nothing like this was ever actually brought up against anybody. We should ignore that unless there is anything specific that comes up,” he says.
The Kissinger Cables, the latest publication by controversial media organisation Wikileaks, features a detailed account of the complex National Bank saga but Mr Cassar Torreggiani fears that several cables are incomplete, with sections written off as “confidential”.
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