Gozitan contractor Giovann Vella has not yet been paid in full for works done at the Victoria sixth form extension more than six years after he first raised the issue, a court has heard.
Vella returned to the witness stand last week to face questions by lawyers assisting Edward Caruana, a former official at the government’s Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools, who stands accused of corruption, fraud, falsification of documents and bribery.
Caruana denies the charges filed against him in 2017, following claims by the former CEO at the government’s school-building agency, Philip Rizzo, who had presented a 200-page dossier to the police.
When first testifying three years ago, Vella told the court, presided over by Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, how Caruana had allegedly sought a €30,000 cash award on the Gozo school tender he had lawfully won.
Caruana allegedly called him asking for a €30,000 cut to facilitate government payments due to the contractor on that project. The €30,000 figure was brought up again by Caruana’s quantity surveyor Robert Ciantar in July 2015, sparking a heated argument between the two men.
“Għax ma nirranġawx ma’ Dwardu?” (why don’t we settle the matter with Edward?), Ciantar had allegedly told Vella, insisting upon payment of the €30,000 sum.
On that occasion a heated discussion escalated into physical violence and a police report was later filed against Vella who, in turn, gave his own version to the sergeant when making his own report.
“Mhux aħjar ma nkabbruhiex?” (isn’t it better if we don’t escalate matters?), that officer allegedly suggested.
Vella understood those words as meaning that the issue would stop there.
But in fact, although criminal action was taken against him, no action was taken against Ciantar, said Vella when facing questions by Caruana’s lawyers last week.
“I did not attend [the court hearing]. I thought nothing would happen, (Jien ma tlajtx. Kont ħsibt li mhu se jiġri xejn)," said Vella.
On that November 2015 day he happened to be at Msida when his lawyer called to let him know that the case had ended in an ‘R and A [reprimand and admonition]’.
Not knowing what that meant, he had simply jotted down “liberat [acquitted]” in his diary, Vella said, leafing through the 2015 diary which he brought along with him to court in case he needed to consult it during cross-examination.
“But that cannot be” said Magistrate Frendo Dimech, pointing out that criminal cases could not be heard without the presence of the accused.
“Are you sure? Try to recall,” urged the court.
“I am most certain that I was not there. Perhaps my lawyer handled it,” the witness replied.
“Did you appeal?” probed the magistrate.
“No,” answered Vella.
After reporting the alleged corruption, he expected steps to be taken against Caruana and Ciantar.
“But they did not,” Vella continued.
“So, why did you invite Edward Caruana to your home a month later [after that incident]?” asked lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell.
“I did not invite him. He invited himself, suggesting the meeting to work things out,” replied Vella, recalling the day when Caruana and his wife turned up at the contractor’s home during a family barbecue on August 15.
After some back and forth arguments with Caruana’s lawyers as to the exact date of that visit, Vella confirmed that it was the 2015 Santa Marija feast day.
Faced with the lawyers’ suggestion that the witness might not have been paid fully because the contracted works had not been done properly, Vella strongly rebutted, “what you’re saying is completely not true.”
Vella first complained about not being paid in full in December 2014.
The works at the Gozo school had been surveyed by an architect daily and a monthly certificate issued accordingly.
Nothing could be done unless instructed by the FTS architect who was first “a certain Ellul” and later “Clint Camilleri,” added Vella.
The case continues this month. Inspector Rennie Stivala prosecuted. Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Stephen Tonna Lowell were defence counsel.
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