Robert Abela has ordered an internal review of the Labour Party’s ONE media arm, amid concerns over the company’s finances.
Labour’s chief executive Randolph Debattista, former party chief executive James Piscopo and businesswoman and former Air Malta chairperson Maria Micallef are among a group who have been personally tasked by Abela with assessing the financial viability of the political media giant.
ONE has significant dues which insiders say have been estimated to exceed €7 million, accrued over several years dating back to before Joseph Muscat was even opposition leader.
Party sources said Abela is growing increasingly concerned about the company’s financial stability. They say he is even considering the possibility of “life after ONE” as the debts are understood to be mounting.
The party station has not filed audited accounts in more than 10 years. Its 2010 statement of accounts, the last set publicly available, show the company reported a loss of more than €500,000, with a debt of €2.7 million.
Replying to questions, a PL spokesperson said the party and its entities conduct regular exercises with the aim of ensuring they remain in a position to deliver on the functions they were created for.
“This has been done throughout the years and will remain across the various levels of operations. The management of ONE is a central and integral part in every process relating to broadcasting, whilst being assisted by a team which includes far more people than those whom you referred to."
ONE boss irked
Meanwhile, Labour sources said the move to appoint a review has not gone down well with the current leadership at ONE.
Debattista, Piscopo and Micallef visited the station’s head offices in Marsa earlier this month and requested access to the company’s accounts and other financial documents.
At the time of their visit, on September 4, ONE chairman Jason Micallef was out of the country.
The Labour loyalist is said to be aggrieved at what some have interpreted as “a lack of trust” in his leadership.
Micallef did not respond to questions and repeated requests for comment were unsuccessful.
Other sources close to the audit, however, have insisted the visit to the ONE complex had been planned and scheduled in advance and the review team had not known that the chairman was overseas at the time.
“The visit was not a raid as some may be depicting it,” a source said.
Shortly after the visit, the outspoken ONE chief posted a series of cryptic posts on his personal social media.
Writing on Facebook, Micallef said that in his long years of activism in the PL he had been responsible for millions of euros and had never once faced any claims of impropriety.
“I never expected any thanks or praise from those who trusted me with these appointments,” he wrote.
“However, when that integrity is undermined for ulterior motives, including revenge, and when mechanisms and people proven to be untrustworthy are employed, then a big problem has been created which requires confrontation. I have a lot to say after nearly 25 years in public life,” Micallef wrote.
A dig at Piscopo
Micallef’s comments about “trustworthiness” have been interpreted in Labour circles as a dig at Piscopo.
Police had investigated a claim, peddled by former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, that Piscopo had squirrelled away large sums of money in Jersey-based Fairbairn Private Bank.
Multiple sources told Times of Malta that Schembri used murder suspect Yorgen Fenech to try to get the claim published in the media around January 2019.
Piscopo has strenuously denied the claims against him and police have to date not pressed any charges against him.
Piscopo had served as the Labour Party’s CEO in the run-up to its 2013 electoral victory and was a key member of Joseph Muscat’s inner circle.
He was appointed executive chairman of Transport Malta following Labour’s rise to power and oversaw major infrastructural projects, such as the rebuilding of the Coast Road and Kappara Junction project.
He led the transport regulator until June 2018, when he moved to the Lands Authority.