The government has been presented with an alternative offer in its bid to sell a 49.9 per cent stake in Air Malta, The Sunday Times of Malta can reveal.

Although negotiations with Alitalia are officially still under way, senior government officials confirmed that high-level talks have already taken place with Banayoti Holdings Limited.

This is a private business empire based in the UK and Canada and controlled by Ed Banayoti, who was until recently married to Princess Aisha of Jordan.

When contacted, a spokesman for Banayoti Holdings confirmed that a formal offer had been presented to the government for a substantial investment in Air Malta.

“We can confirm that talks with the Office of the Prime Minister and other senior government officials are ongoing and that we have submitted a formal offer for the minority shareholding in Air Malta, currently for sale,” the spokesman said.

“We are now awaiting an official response from the government, as it seems that they are still talking to Alitalia.”

We can confirm we have submitted a formal offer for the minority shareholding in Air Malta

According to a Memorandum of Understanding signed last May with the Italian national carrier, the government is precluded from starting negotiations with other parties until the talks with Alitalia are concluded.

However, talks between Air Malta and Alitalia are long past their end-of-August target date, set in the same memorandum, by which time the two sides were to conclude the deal.

Last week, the Times of Malta reported that a transition team set by the government in May to take over the nitty-gritty of the talks, including all current contracts, had been put on hold indefinitely, as talks with the Italian carrier had stalled.

The committee’s government-appointed chairman, Deo Scerri, has also moved to new pastures as the government appointed him chairman-designate of Bank of Valletta.

Although earlier this week Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis denied Italian media reports that talks with Alitalia have collapsed, it’s a known secret among government circles that the deal with Alitalia is off the radar.

The Sunday Times of Malta is informed that the offer made by Banayoti Holdings includes a substantial capital injection in Air Malta and an increase of the current national carrier’s fleet from eight to 12 planes.

The private company has also already met the unions involved in Air Malta and promised that all current employees of the national airline will be kept on the new airline’s books. “The new investors will keep all current Air Malta employees which are currently underutilised. Through the new business plan being proposed to the government, Air Malta will expand its network and will provide the possibility of more work to its employees,” sources said.

Apart from retaining all current profitable routes in Europe, the new investors plan to expand the company’s network to North Africa including in the cargo sector.

Government sources said that a due diligence exercise on the new investors has already been concluded and the government is set to start formal discussions once the Alitalia deal is called off.

The sources said that although the new investors do not offer the strategic partnership that the government may be seeking, it is ready to consider this alternative offer as talks with Alitalia and Etihad, which owns 49 per cent of the Italian national airline, have turned to a direction which was not envisaged by the government’s negotiators.

Benayoti Holdings Ltd

• Founded earlier this year, Banayoti Holdings Limited is registered in the UK with a paid-up capital of €1.8 billion.

• The firms’ sole shareholder is Edward Banayoti, a mega businessman born in Egypt and until recently the husband of the sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah, Princess Aisha bint Hussein.

• The holding company has many business interests in Canada, the US and the UK varying from real estate and the hotel industry to aerospace and defence.

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