Entrepreneur and Electrogas shareholder Mark Gasan testified in the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry on Monday.
Gasan forms one-third of GEM Holdings, which owns 33 per cent of the Electrogas gas-fired power station in Delimara, alongside Paul Apap Bologna and the Fenech family.
Caruana Galizia was assassinated in October 2017. At the time of her death, she was going through a leaked cache of Electrogas documents.
Gasan told the inquiry:
• Yorgen Fenech wrote Electrogas shareholders a resignation letter in May 2019, but was kept as a board member until November of that year as no suitable replacement was identified.
• There was “nothing untoward” about an arrangement which led to around €40m in excise tax being absorbed by Enemalta rather than Electrogas and that he was not involved in negotiations.
• Fenech denied owning 17 Black and wrote Electrogas shareholders a “rather long email” rebutting allegations, but never followed through with a pledge to get lawyers involved.
• The last time he spoke to Fenech was a short time after he was exposed as the owner of 17 Black, in November 2018
• The Gasan family initially expected to invest €5 million in the venture and has wanted to exit it “probably since 17 Black” links emerged in late 2018.
• ‘Substantial’ cost overruns ate into the project’s profitability and financial models projected that it would start turning a profit “towards the end of the decade”.
• That he entered the project with the aim of being a “passive investor” in it, but was forced to become more hands-on as costs overran and Fenech started skipping board meetings
• Fenech was granted his own personal shareholding in the Electrogas venture because he was the project lead for GEM Holdings investors and would be spending more time on it than the other shareholders.
• He knew Joseph Muscat socially and had invited him to his wedding, but only met Konrad Mizzi for the first time in 2017 during the official opening ceremony of the power station.
As it happened
Live blog ends
5.05pm This live blog will end here. Thank you for having joined us. We'll have a summary of the key points from Gasan's testimony available at the top of this article shortly.
Inquiry to continue on Wednesday
4.58pm The inquiry will now resume on Wednesday, when minister José Herrera is due to testify. The board is also expected to call Gasan's GEM Holdings business partner, Paul Apap Bologna, back for further questioning.
Gasan does not recall 2013 Portomaso dinner
4.56pm Azzopardi has one more question for the witness: it concerns an alleged dinner held at the Fenech-owned Portomaso development in St Julian’s, three weeks before the 2013 election.
Azzopardi says the witness was there, together with his father, Joseph Muscat, Karmenu Vella, George Fenech and others.
Gasan said he did not recall any such dinner.
That’s all from the witness today. Gasan steps off the witness stand.
No knowledge of EU funding
4.50pm Azzopardi asks if Gasan was aware, in October 2013, that the EU had agreed to €5.5m in funding to help Malta build a gas pipeline.
The witness says he did not.
Gasan tells Azzopardi that based on PwC projections, his family were expecting to invest €5 million in the venture and that the capital to build was forecast to be €250 million.
Jason Azzopardi takes over questioning
4.48pm Lawyer Jason Azzopardi takes over questioning.
He reads from a blog post by Caruana Galizia in which she wrote that Gasol were in dire financial straits.
Gasan tells the lawyer that he does not recall that particular article, but that he knew Gasol was in financial trouble. He however also knew that Socar were backing them.
“Socar gave you peace of mind,” Azzopardi says.
Azzopardi also wants to know more about Electrogas’ profit models. Paul Apap Bologna had said that the venture would be profitable after five years, he notes.
“Perhaps he was referring to the first financial model,” Gasan ventures.
Gasan says he did not know of Fenech's meeting with Farrugia
4.41pm Gasan also denies having any knowledge of Yorgen Fenech’s meeting with Michael Farrugia in March 2014.
Farrugia, who was junior minister for planning at the time, met with Fenech just hours before he issued instructions to the Planning Authority to allow skyscrapers in Mrieħel.
The Fenech and Gasan families have high-rise plans for the area but Farrugia has testified that Fenech met with him to pitch an altogether different project concerning land reclamation.
'Joseph Muscat was invited to my wedding'
4.37pm Gasan is asked about his meetings with Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and Joseph Muscat.
He says he met Mizzi at the official launch of the power station, and Keith Schembri “a couple of times” after Electrogas had won the power station bid.
Muscat was invited to his wedding, Gasan says, and the two met at some social events as well as at his inauguration as prime minister.
Gasan denies meeting Muscat at social events to discuss business when he [Muscat] was still opposition leader.
LNG tanker permits
4.30pm Questioning moves on to the LNG fuel tanker used to fuel the Electrogas power station, and the permit process to allow it to be brought to Malta.
Comodini Cachia reads from an email sent by one of Electrogas’ lawyers,
Stephen Jurgenson, on January 12, 2017. In it, he wrote that the IPPC permit would cost €5.2 million.
Comodini Cachia says that concession was eventually halved. But the witness says he knows nothing about the issue and that he never handled negotiations with government departments about tax or concessions.
Gasan suggested Electrogas speak with minister
4.25pm Comodini Cachia sticks with the excise tax issue. She reads from a January 2017 email which Gasan wrote to then-Electrogas board member Turab Musayev.
“Do we approach Enemalta at once? Do we skip Enemalta and go to the Minister? ....Excise tax is a €40 million issue which would impact our losses,” she reads, before asking the witness to explain his reference to ‘go to the minister’.
Gasan does not respond until judge Lofaro insists he must.
“I didn’t go to the minister. I suggested we go to him to resolve the issue,” he says.
“Would you go yourself?”
“Was there a suggestion that this could be resolved by bypassing parliament?”
“I saw something in the media”.
[The suggestion emerged from a screenshot of an email between Electrogas and the attorney general's office, which one of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sons, Matthew, shared on social media].
'Nothing untoward' about excise tax deal
4.20pm Gasan is now asked about the way in which Electrogas was spared an excise tax bill running into millions of euro, with the tax being absorbed by Enemalta.
He says he was not involved in initial discussions with Enemalta and insists there is “nothing untoward” about the issue.
Gasan expresses frustration about Electrogas’ silence about it.
“I’ve been pushing for Electrogas to respond,” he says.
“They haven’t and it’s actually very frustrating. I’ve been pushing for it. They have not come out publicly with their position.”
Gasan points to PwC on tax talks
4.12pm Comodini Cachia asks Gasan about negotiations concerning tax arrangements for the project. Gasan replied to emails in late 2016 about the matter, she notes.
But the witness says PwC prepared the papers and were responsible for handling that.
“I would have to check,” he says.
That reply does not satisfy Comodini Cachia, who notes that just minutes ago Gasan told the inquiry that he had stopped being a passive investor in the project after 2015.
“You cannot say on the one hand that you were getting actively involved, and then not know about that agreement,” she says.
“It was PwC who handled it,” he insists.
4.06pm Questions turn to a leak of Electrogas documents.
Gasan says he learnt of the leak on December 27, 2017, when he received an email about it.
“I was shocked, the company was shocked. They shut down servers and filed a police report”.
[Caruana Galizia was going over the leaked documents at the time of her murder].
Yorgen Fenech's personal Electrogas stake
4.02pm Comodini Cachia asks Gasan about the deal which allowed Yorgen Fenech to keep some Electrogas shares for himself, through a parallel company
[Fenech is the sole shareholder of New Energy Supply Ltd., which owns just over 8% of GEM Holdings. GEM has a 33% stake in Electrogas].
What led Gasan to accept that deal?
Gasan: “Yorgen Fenech was going to spend a lot of time on this project. If the company worked out, it was OK for us. If managers have a [financial] interest, it’s good.”
Judge Said Pullicino: “And as far as you know, that shareholding was for himself?”
'What could we do?'
3.58pm Gasan is pressed about the delay between Fenech’s email to resign, in May 2019, and his resignation becoming effective, in November 2019 just days before he was arrested.
“There were discussions. But what could we do?”
“What you did, but faster,” one of the judges replies.
Comodini Cachia asks Gasan whether board members were reluctant to replace Fenech.
Yorgen Fenech's resignation email in May 2019
3.52pm Gasan retells the inquiry about the email Fenech sent following a subsequent board meeting in May 2019, which Fenech was not present for.
“He said, ‘Dear all, I’m resigning and suggesting Mark Gasan in my stead,” the witness says.
“Did he admit any wrongdoing?”
Gasan: “No, none at all.”
“Did you ask whether the reason was 17 Black or anything else?”
Gasan: “By that time, five months later, the email was mainly sent because of the discussion we had had with Ray [Fenech].”
Gasan says he replied to the email to tell Fenech that he did not accept to be appointed to the board.
Gasan: “We all accepted and agreed he wanted to be replaced, but until we had a replacement…”
Comodini Cachia asks why it took them six months [until November] to find a replacement for Fenech.
Gasan blames time constraints and points out that it was up to Tumas Group to find a replacement for Yorgen Fenech.
Fenech's 'rather long email' on 17 Black
3.46pm Gasan is again asked about what happened during the time when Fenech was linked to 17 Black.
Gasan recalls Electrogas and GEM checking their accounts for any possible links to 17 Black.
He tells the inquiry that Fenech had emailed all Electrogas shareholders about the allegations and told them he would be seeking legal advice.
“It was a rather long email,” he says. Judge Said Pullicino says the email should be produced as evidence in the inquiry.
A more hands-on role as Fenech goes absent
3.41pm Gasan says his family entered the project with the intention of being passive investors. But they were forced to take a more hands-on approach when the project began to suffer cost overruns in around 2015, he says.
He says Paul Apap Bologna started getting more involved too and the two men used to attend board meetings as observers.
Gasan says he started taking a more active role in “late 2015, 2016”.
Apap Bologna and himself represented GEM Holdings during Electrogas meetings in 2018 and 2019, as Fenech did not attend any meetings from then onwards.
Gasan says he had spoken to Yorgen Fenech's uncle, Ray, about Yorgen's extended absences from board meetings.
"He was concerned as well," he says.
Electrogas' 18-year safety net
3.35pm Comodini Cachia asks about Electrogas defaulting on its loan.
Gasan says that the default only came about because the government guarantee was on the verge of expiring and banks were pushing for the deal to be closed.
The witness is asked about Electrogas’ 18-year security of supply deal, but tells the inquiry he’s not technically qualified to enter into details of that agreement.
Comodini Cachia asks whether the deal was intended as a safeguard to protect Electrogas if Malta built a gas pipeline. Gasan says that if such a pipeline were built, Electrogas would use it too.
Comodini Cachia: “When did you know about the 18-year security of supply agreement?”
Gasan: “From the beginning”.
Electrogas profit estimates
3.29pm Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia, representing the Caruana Galizia family, has some questions for the witness.
She zeroes in on the initial presentation investors made concerning the power station and the initial planning stage.
Gasan says that PwC presented financial figures to investors at the expression of interest stage. The Gasan family was looking at a potential investment of €5 million. Costs were estimated at €250 million.
“But the real numbers came after July 2013, when the request for proposals was issued. The costs were substantially higher,” he says.
Gasan says that the project would later be affected by “substantial” cost overruns.
Comodini Cachia: “So was Electrogas never to see a profit?”
Gasan: “I haven’t seen the latest financial model. The earlier one said that the first profits would come towards the end of the decade”.
The witness is told that his business partner, Apap Bologna, testified that profits were projected as of 2023.
Who attended Electrogas party?
3.21pm Gasan is asked about a party to celebrate the project’s financial close. The party was organised by Electrogas.
He says Keith Schembri was not there, that he does not remember if Konrad Mizzi was present, and that he does not know if [attorney general] Victoria Buttigieg was invited.
Gasan says they wanted out 'since 17 Black'
3.19pm Gasan says his family has been looking for an exit strategy to get them out of the Electrogas investment “for a while, probably since 17 Black”.
“Its possible links with this terrible assassination meant that the project was not something we wanted to be invested in,” he says.
[The family only publicly declared it wanted out in a statement issued last month].
Gasan were 'passive investors' in project
3.16pm Then in November, GEM Holdings held a board meeting. Ray Fenech was there, Yorgen was not. Ray told the board that Yorgen had resigned all his positions, and the board decided to appoint Paul Apap Bologna instead.
Gasan says that his family were “passive” investors in the project from the outset. The family did not have time to take an active role in the project, he says.
'Yorgen wanted to resign in May'
3.14pm Yorgen Fenech wanted to resign in May 2019, Gasan tells the inquiry.
Fenech did not attend that board of directors’ meeting in May, he says.
“After that meeting, Yorgen saw the minutes and emailed director and shareholders to say he was resigning and appointing me in his stead,” Gasan says.
But the witness says he did not have the time to lead the project.
Gasan knew of Siemens discomfort
3.10pm Gasan says he knew that Siemens wanted Yorgen Fenech removed as an Electrogas director [the German multinational revealed this in a letter it sent to NGO Repubblika last week].
Trouble in contacting Fenech
3.06pm Yorgen Fenech was “hardly around” in January 2019, Gasan recalls, and that caused problems for GEM Holdings, which required a minimum of three directors to be present for a quorum to be reached.
Gasan says he and fellow investor Paul Apap Bologna resorted to contacted Ray Fenech, but Ray was also trying to meet Yorgen.
“This was after the assassination [ of Caruana Galizia],” judge Said Pullicino says.
Gasan: “I wasn’t aware of that. When I first heard of Yorgen’s possible involvement, I was shocked”.
GEM Holdings eventually held a meeting in May, he says.
Pressed by judge Lofaro, he confirms that the company could have changed Yorgen Fenech as a director and had the Tumas Group [his family business] appoint someone else in his stead.
Fenech 'hasn't denied' 17 Black
3.02pm GEM Holdings held a board meeting at the end of November 2018 [after the 17 Black news had broken].
Gasan says Yorgen’s uncle, Ray Fenech, and his own father, Joe Gasan, also joined the meeting.
“We were told that there was no link with 17 Black and that Fenech had hired lawyers in London to issue a statement of denial,” he says.
“But I saw nothing,” Gasan says. “Publicly, it looks like he hasn’t denied it”.
Gasan says that he had met and spoken with Yorgen when the allegation first surfaced, but did not meet him again after that.
Gasan and 17 Black
2.58pm Gasan is asked about 17 Black.
He tells the inquiry he first learnt about the connection between the Dubai-registered company and Yorgen Fenech following an email from a journalist in 2018. The email informed him that Fenech owned the company and asked three questions, he says.
Gasan: “I rang up Yorgen Fenech and asked ‘what’s all this about?’ I was shocked, I assumed it wasn’t his and that he was going to rebut [the allegation]. I also spoke to Ray [Fenech] and told him to speak to Yorgen”.
News that Fenech was 17 Black’s owner broke two weeks later.
“I called and messaged Yorgen. He told me that 17 Black was not his. I told him ‘if it’s not yours, come forward and deny it’”.
Gasan says that following that bombshell, “we checked and confirmed that there were no transactions or links between 17 Black and Electrogas”.
Fenech sent an email to Electrogas board members, to be attached to minutes of a board meeting, in which he denied the allegations made one-by-one “completely”, Gasan recalls.
Gasan and Nexia BT
2.53pm Judge Abigail Lofaro asks the witness about financial services provider Nexia BT and its managing partner Brian Tonna.
Gasan says he never dealt with the company in business but had met Tonna socially.
Nexia BT were the auditors of GEM Holdings [the company set up by Gasan, Fenech and Apap Bologna for the Electrogas venture] but the Gasan family usually used PwC as auditors, the witness says.
He is asked how he reacted when the Panama Papers data leak happened. [The leak revealed Nexia BT’s role in setting up secret offshore companies for Schembri and Mizzi].
Gasan says he was concerned, but it was not brought up at board level and there were no links to Electrogas.
NAO report into power station bid
2.49pm Questions turn to a 2018 report by the National Audit Office into the bidding process for the power station project.
The report found what the NAO described as “multiple instances of non-compliance” with the Electrogas bid which won the contract.
Gasan tells the court he read an abridged version of the report and its conclusions.
“In my opinion, certain criticism was fair,” he tells the court. He uses the bank guarantee as a case in point, arguing that it was granted to satisfy EU state aid rules and should have been cleared beforehand.
“It wasn’t really a concession for Electrogas,” he says.
Gasan, however, argues that the NAO found that Electrogas had won the contest fairly.
Fenech's ties to Labour Party
2.43pm Gasan is asked whether he knew of Yorgen Fenech’s connections to the Labour Party and says he only learnt that he was friendly with Konrad Mizzi “later”.
[Fenech was a childhood friend of Keith Schembri’s and was also among those on the guest list at Joseph Muscat’s birthday party, where he gifted the then-PM expensive bottles of wine]
Gasan tells the inquiry he first met with Mizzi during the official opening of the power station and never discussed it with Joseph Muscat.
He is asked whether the Gasan family has any business with Keith Schembri's business empire, Kasco.
"Not that I know of," he says.
Selecting Yorgen Fenech as project lead
2.35pm Gasan says that Yorgen Fenech was extremely interested in the project, and his father George was excited too.
The Maltese investors had to decide who among them would lead their side of the project, and the proposal to have Yorgen as the lead suited them.
Finding someone suitable to run the project was “one of our headaches”, Gasan tells the court.
Gasan says his concern was with the project’s financials. Yorgen Fenech would serve as Maltese investors’ representative with the other consortium partners.
Siemens joined consortium at last minute
2.31pm Gasan says he is not sure if Gasol’s involvement predated the election.
“Our concern is that the time between the idea and the fully-fledged project was very short,” judge Said Pullicino explains the witness.
Gasan: “It was towards the end of March. Potentially we had been approached before.”
The witness says that they discussed hiring PriceWaterhouseCooper and running a feasibility study on the project. The family was interested in the idea of an 18-year investment but still had no idea of the potential costs at that stage.
Gasan tells the court that Gasol had a joint venture deal with Socar, and came in with a 50 per cent stake. [The company would eventually be bought out after running into financial trouble].
But at that stage the Electrogas venture still lacked a power plant manufacturer. Siemens confirmed its involvement at the eleventh hour, he says. Had they not done so, the bid would have been disqualified.
2.26pm Judge Said Pullicino shows the witness a document and asks him whether it is similar to what Apap Bologna and George Fenech had pitched.
Gasan says it was the Labour Party which came up with the idea. Fenech had asked them [the Gasan family] if they interested in joining the project.
After initial talks about financials, discussions moved to logistics and prerequisites for the bid.
“At the time, our share was an estimated €5 million. We had sold our investment in Melita and were attracted by long-term projects,” he says.
Idea predated 2013 election
2.20pm This meeting happened in February 2013, Gasan says. [The general election would take place in March].
Gasan is asked by judge Joseph Said Pullicino to confirm that the meeting predated the 2013 election. He confirms that the Labour Party was still in opposition at the time.
Gasan says he had not met anyone from Labour at that stage. After the party won the general election, discussions started to get under way.
2.15pm Gasan is asked how he got involved in the Electrogas project.
He says he was first approached about it by George Fenech in 2013, when the two met about an unrelated matter. His father, Joe Gasan, was also present.
George pitched the idea, he said. The Labour Party had an energy grant and they tried to form a Maltese consortium.
“He spoke to my father. But it was never taken to board level. It was just an idea, nothing happened”, the witness says.
Gasan says George Fenech told him that he had already spoken to Paul Apap Bologna about setting up this consortium.
Professional background and ties to Apap Bologna
2.10pm Gasan tells the court that he returned to Malta in 2003 after studying in the UK. He then began to work in his family business’ property division, before branching off to other things.
He is asked what experience he had in the energy sector, and tells the court that the Electrogas venture was his first in the field.
Paul Apap Bologna – a fellow GEM Holdings shareholder who testified on Friday – is married to his cousin, Gasan tells the court.
Gasan takes the witness stand
2.07pm The three judges take their place and Gasan is called to the witness stand. He removes his face mask, takes the oath, and asks to testify in English.
Apap Bologna's testimony
2.03pm Gasan's testimony comes after the inquiry grilled fellow Electrogas shareholder Paul Apap Bologna last Friday.
Among other statements, Apap Bologna said he did not know that Electrogas was in default and that he had learned “through the press” about Yorgen Fenech’s political contacts or that he was the owner of 17 Black.
He also denied meeting Konrad Mizzi before the project had been awarded as well as claims about a €1 million donation to the Labour Party.
2pm Hello and welcome to this live blog. We're in the Valletta law courts, where Mark Gasan is due to testify in the Caruana Galizia public inquiry.
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