Updated December 6, 4pm - OPM right of reply
Edward Caruana – the chief canvasser of Education Minister Evarist Bartolo – has been arraigned in court.
He has been charged with acts of corruption and fraud while acting as an official of the government’s school-building agency, the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools, falsification of documents and bribery.
He pleaded not guilty.
Mr Caruana’s arraignment arrives more than 15 months after the presentation of a 200-page dossier to the police by the former FTS CEO Philip Rizzo – another person of trust of Mr Bartolo’s.
The case goes back to 2016, when according to the claims, Mr Caruana was asking for bribes and cuts in relation to various government works on the building of new schools and maintenance works.
In his dossier to the police, Mr Rizzo claimed that the minister’s canvasser used to falsify invoices while the FTS passed on to him more than €8 million in payments to contractors, which Mr Caruana insisted on delivering by hand.
It was later discovered that Mr Caruana was, in the meantime, building a block of apartments in Rabat without even taking a bank loan.
It was claimed that in one instance, Mr Caruana asked a contractor for ‘a truck of tiles’.
Soon after the 2013 election, Mr Caruana – a long-time canvasser of the Education Minister – worked at his private secretariat before being appointed to the FTS on a person of trust basis as a projects officer responsible for works related to the building of schools. The FTS fell directly under the political remit of Mr Bartolo, while Mr Caruana’s brother, Joseph, was permanent secretary.
Upon his resignation in December 2016, Mr Rizzo pointed the finger at Mr Bartolo, accusing him of spending weeks trying to persuade him not to report Mr Caruana to the police.
Later, Mr Rizzo also said that he had given all the information to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, but still no action was taken.
Mr Bartolo denied the claims and said that he had taken the necessary action and reported Mr Caruana to the police soon after he was given information on the claimed wrongdoing in September 2016.
However, Mr Bartolo later admitted that he had been informed about the irregularities weeks before but waited to find “a smoking gun”.
Following an official report to the police, Mr Caruana was transferred to another government department, as the minister said he had lost trust in his canvasser.
On his part, a few days after his transfer, Mr Caruana suspended himself on full pay after obtaining the clearance of Mario Cutajar – principal permanent secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister.
At the FTS, Mr Caruana earned a financial package of some €50,000 a year.
No clearance was needed - government
In a right of reply, the Office of the Prime Minister said that Mr Caruana did not need the principal permanent secretary's clearance to suspend himself on full pay.
"This was due to precedents which occurred before Mr Mario Cutajar was appointed principal permanent secretary," the OPM said.