A leading Maltese catering company has been accused of using intimidating and disturbing language against the national auditor as it investigates a tender over managing a 500-bed St Vincent de Paul home.
In an exchange of letters between the National Audit Office and James Caterers Ltd, the NAO raised concern over JCL’s reaction to certain parts of their investigation.
“Of concern to the National Audit Office is the intimidation that James Caterers sought to convey in this correspondence, which this Office deems entirely unacceptable and intended to influence the outcome of this audit,” the NAO said in a letter to Public Accounts Committee chair Beppe Fenech Adami.
“While the NAO will not be intimidated or adversely influenced in its work for Parliament, the matter is being brought to the attention of the PAC, whose support is being sought,” they continued.
“The Office feels that this undue interference with its work is a contempt of parliamentary proceedings.”
The investigation revolves around a 2015 tender concerning a Luqa St Vincent de Paul home. While the original tender focused on providing meals and a kitchen at the home, it developed into a second project to extend the home. The multi-million deal was won by a consortium including JCL as well as a company under the db Group’s wings.
The NAO was subsequently asked to investigate the tender by independent MPs Marlene and Godfrey Farrugia.
In an earlier letter, signed by JCL managing director James Barbara, the company attempted to make a case for the NAO not to issue any public comments on the company as it may ruin a business deal they were trying to close.
“During the interview we stressed the fact that as a lead member of the chosen consortium we negotiated in earnest. You were clear that in the course of your investigation you were solely reviewing the conduct of the relevant public authorities and not also those of private contractors,” JCL said to the NAO in a letter dated 17th February.
“As we openly stated,” they continued, “we are currently on the verge of concluding and signing a large export contract of high value at international level. It follows that during this sensitive time, adverse public comments on us or the consortium will have a direct impact on our negotiations with the possibility of frustrating the conclusions.”
“No adverse comment, direct or indirect, can be afforded against the JCL.”
JCL also noted that the government and the NAO office had ample time to step in earlier if they felt there was any shortcomings in the tender, and that they’ve now invested €40 million into the project. They urged against any censure of JCL and made it clear they thought it wasn’t right that after all this time, the tender was not under review.
In a letter dated 23rd February, the NAO, via lawyer Ian Refalo, said their letter was “extremely offensive and disturbing”.
He noted that their “not so veiled” reference to legal action over work ordered by Parliament was “disturbing and unwarranted”. He warned their letter may indeed amount to a contempt of Parliament and would need to report it to the PAC unless JCL withdrew their letter.
In response to this, JCL, via lawyer Stefano Filletti, said JCL never intended to “offend, disturb or in any way interfere” with the investigative work conducted by the NAO. He said the company was motivated to “defend and safeguard their professional integrity and hard-earned positive reputation and trust” within Malta’s business community.
JCL ended by saying they believed their participation in the tender was “above board” and that linking their business with any other third parties involved was “grossly unfair”.