The Malta Tourism Authority extended a €1 million sponsorship to a private global aviation company without the board of directors’ prior consent, the Times of Malta has learnt.

Dubbed by the MTA as a “commercial marketing agreement”, the sponsorship was given to VistaJet on the instructions of the Office of the Prime Minister.

The company ferries government, corporate and private clients under what is known as a ‘pay-for-hours-flown’ fare structure.

Aviation industry sources said the deal went ahead notwithstanding objections by both board members and high-ranking MTA officials who learnt about the sponsorship from the media.

The sources added that, though handouts involving large sums of money were usually discussed by the board it did not seem to be the case this time round.

Asked why the board did not discuss the matter, the MTA’s CEO, Paul Bugeja did not reply. He did, however, confirm that the sponsorship had been given.

“A commercial marketing agreement exists with specific reference to promoting the Maltese islands with all VistaJet clients on all their fights, marketing activities and operations worldwide,” Mr Bugeja said.

The MTA should not hide behind smokescreens

“The agreement did not affect in any way the marketing funds and related activities the MTA had been allocated in its annual budget,” he added.

The Prime Minister’s right-hand-man, Keith Schembri, said “he was not aware of the sponsorship” when asked whether he had discussed the matter with VistaJet representatives.

In a statement, the federated association of travel and tourism (FATTA), which is represented on the MTA’s board of directors, slammed the deal and said it “strongly objects to any such type of sponsorship which appears manifestly beyond the remit of the MTA”.

“The MTA should not hide behind smokescreens of ‘commercial sensitivity’ and must explain how this sponsorship fits in with the authority’s mission and vision, values, objectives and work as highlighted on its corporate website,” FATTA said.

It added that the MTA must also declare “why it feels this sponsorship opportunity should take priority over sorely-needed investment in other activities or projects that are certainly more in line with its mission and more likely to achieve its objections”.

Questions sent to VistaJet remained unanswered.

The airline, which targets high net worth individuals, lately hit the local news in the wake of claims that Egrant, a Panama based company, was owned by the Prime Minister’s wife who denies the allegations.

Soon after two Pilatus Bank officials were seen on TV carrying bags out of their offices in Ta’ Xbiex, VistaJet had operated a flight to Azerbaijan.

A company spokesman had confirmed the flight to Baku but in-sisted “it was just a ferry flight”.

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