The Magistrates' Court in Gozo this afternoon started hearing evidence of how Anthony Debono, the husband of former Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono, allegedly commissioned a contractor to carry out works in private properties - some of it shortly before the general election.

It also resulted that the permanent secretary at the Ministry for Gozo first met the contractor making the allegations in October last year but the police were only involved after the issue was reported in newspapers.

The prosecuting inspector also said that Mr Debono got to know that the police would question a property owner in connection with the case, and told him what to tell the police. 

Mr Debono, who was a civil servant in his wife's ministry, faces 13 charges including misappropriation of public funds.

The charges stem from what has become known as the 'works-for-votes' scheme where contractors were allegedly engaged by Mr Debono to carry out works in private properties, which would in turn be paid by the ministry.

At the start of this afternoon's sitting, the prosecution presented a number of documents, which it will refer to later int he case.

Police Inspector Ian Abdilla said the investigation started on March 8 when the Gozo Ministry permanent secretary asked the Commissioner of Police to look into allegations of wrongdoing which had surfaced in a newspaper. 

At about 1.45pm on March 8 , the police met the permanent secretary, John Borg and a number of Gozo ministry officials. A number of offices were sealed including the offices of the Projects and Development Directorate, the registry,  the Construction and Maintenance Unit (CMU) in Xewkija and offices of the Works Department in Victoria.

In the meeting on March 9, the police were informed that at around September or October, a contractor (whistleblower), Joseph Cauchi known as Is-Sansun had met the permanent secretary. He claimed he had carried out some works commissioned by Anthony Debono. 

The claims by the contractor were that the works commissioned by Mr Debono were carried out in private residences with no call for tender.

At this stage the possibility that Mr Cauchi would be treated as a whistleblower was raised with the Attorney General.

Inspector Abdilla said Mr Cauchi had been authorised to carry out the works by an invoice issued by the accused and not by the Works Department chief Joseph Portelli.

Mr Portelli used to approve the invoices presented by Mr Debono, but he had remarked that it felt awkward as his subordinate was the minister’s husband.
Mr Cauchi was owed some €50,000 by the CMU and he asked to get paid.

On April 1, the investigation took a new twist when Police Commissioner Michael Cassar informed them that the contractor was given protection through the Whistleblower Act. 

The contractor told the authorities that he used to convert farmhouses and also used to carry out works for the Gozo minister as early as 25 years ago.

The inspector explained that the ministry issued tenders for building material by cost or by volume. Mr Cauchi used to specialise in period contracts through which he used to offer a specified number of hours using construction machinery and vehicles to the ministry, wherever it was required.

Between 2006 and 2012 no further period contracts were issued for bobcats and excavators. However he used to give such services even during this period but he used to he paid in another method.

The whistleblower explained that works commissioned directly by the accused Anthony Debono which were at the heart of this case were the following:
• Building of rooms in a quarry belonging to Sammy Camilleri, (barumbara) amounting to some €9,000
• Other works included Gharb council, concrete in five-aside Gharb ground, and another concrete platform – in all cost was €13,000
• Works in a restaurant, including the wine cellar of Brookies restaurant belonging to the Portelli family.
• Concrete works on the road leading to the Fontana fireworks factory, and the construction of walls in Gharb.

Mr Cauchi explained that he could never invoice directly for these works as they were not covered by tender. Instead,Mr  Debono used to tell him how to issue the invoices. If for example he laid a road with concrete for €500, the accused used to ask him to issue an invoice for excavation works in a few other roads costing nearly the same amount so as not to raise suspicion.

Consequently the invoices were false, but everything used to be concealed.

The contractor said that instructions used to be dished out always by the accused.  

The contractor told the investigators that since he was not specialised in concrete but excavation, the concrete used to be provided by third parties from P & J Debono (fazolu). Road Construction also supplied concrete in the last week before the March 2013 general election as P&J Debono seemed no longer keen to provide the raw material.

Following 2013 election, the contractor complained to the Works Department head, Joseph Portelli, who refused to settle the pending amounts.

Mr Debono had promised  to help the contractor, and at one stage he gave him€10,000 in cash. In October 2014 he gave him a further €10,000. This meant that he was still owed €30,000.

These included some €13,000 for Gharb council works, and for other works carried at Sammy Camilleri’s quarry.

At this stage the prosecution presented 23 remittance advice notes, saying these were false invoices through which the whistleblower used to get paid for these works.

The majority of these invoices had no date on them, and included a fictitious number of hours the contractor’s vehicles were supposedly used. In this way the contractor used to get paid the aforementioned works. 

Other documents were presented showing the hire of a cherry picker for these works, when, in reality, the vehicle was no longer in use as it had been garaged.

The prosecution also presented a number of handwritten invoices made by the contractor, which corroborated the false invoices.

Inspector Abdilla said that during the investigation, the police seized several documents from the Gozo Ministry.

These consisted of receipts for the aforementioned works some of which were signed by the accused. “These are the mirror image of the 23 remittance advices [presented by the contractor],” Inspector Abilla said.

However, the last seven of them were missing as the documents were destroyed when the CMU moved to a different location.

Last month the contractor accompanied the police to the sites where the works had been carried out, in 22 different locations.

The inspector presented photos of the works, and also documents pertaining to the owners of these places.

On April 14, the contractor gave a statement in which he gave some background on the works carried out at each of these sites.

Place 1- Gharb Football ground in January in 2006, when, he said, Mr Debono instructed him to demolish and excavate the perimeter wall. Mr Debono was onsite as well as Gharb mayor David Apap.

Place 2 - 5-a-side pitch in the Gharb Primary school
Mr Apap was also present as works were carried out to enlarge the space for a synthetic pitch. Works were carried out in May 2006

Wied Gulja, in Gharb
Mr Debono had instructed the contractor to build a platform to be used once a year as the base of a statue during the village feast.

San Dimitri, road, Gharb
In May 2009 road works were carriedusing  20 truckloads of concrete

Close to a converted farmhouse in Triq it-Trux in Gharb: Concrete works to level the area in front of this property to enlarge the parking area.

Excavation for a wall at a field in Gharb;

A quarry belonging to Sammy Camilleri where drainage and services were laid;

Triq is-Sdieri l-Gharb - Ramps behind Ta’ Pinu Church;

Triq Wied l-infern in Zebbug -Concrete works in a field to prevent flooding;

A hill in Zebbug where concrete was laid on several pathways;

Triq il-Kanun l-Ghasri where drainage works were carried out on March 7 2013;

Trejqet il-Harub between Victoria and Fontana, on March 9 2013, where large volumes of concrete were laid in a private property;

Tac-Cawla Victoria – concrete road;

Wied il-Lunzjata at a farmhouse. A bridge was enlarged and the road was covered with concrete;

Kercem school in Feb 2013 - works consisted of a road leading to the yard which were never completed;

Sqaq ta’ Xirfi in Kercem – concrete works on 7 and 8 March 2013;

L-Ghadira ta’ San Raflu – an area some 2 km wide where concrete had been laid over a period of time.

Further down in a road overlooking Dwejra some concrete had also been laid;

Close to a farmhouse belonging to David Portelli (tal-linji) who was previously one of the owners of the Brookie’s restaurant in Victoria. These included excavation works. A wine cellar which was subsequently destroyed to enlarge the basement;

Tas-Sellum in Xaghra – concrete in a lane 70 metres long, on March 6;

A lane in Qala - a water reservoir which was among the first works carried out in this “scheme” around 2004 or 2005.

The inspector said that on April 27 the police had questioned the owner of a piece of land in Qala, where a water reservoir had been constructed.

Mr Debono got wind that the police would question the owner of this land, and told him to tell the police that the works had not been carried out by the CMU. Hence the police charged Mr Debono with trying to prevent other people from giving information or evidence to the competent authorities.

Inspector Abdilla said Anthony Debono was questioned on April 28. Though he was interrogated six times he refused to reply to any questions saying he was being used as a political football.

The accused was again questioned on May 5, and once again refused to reply to questions and to be assisted by a lawyer during interrogation.

At the end of the inspector's testimony, the prosecution made a request to freeze all assets of the accused. 

The court decided to issue a temporary order to freeze the assets of the accused until a final decision is taken at a later stage. The case is adjourned for next Tuesday

 

 

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