Mabel Strickland’s nephew, who is a 13% shareholder in Allied Newspapers, is seeking legal advice on how to recoup the €5.5 million that has allegedly been defrauded from the newspaper group his aunt built and is demanding everyone is held accountable, especially Nationalist MP Mario Demarco who wields enormous control.
“If these allegations are proven, then I believe all those who sat on the Boards of Allied and Progress at the time these decisions were taken should be tendering their resignations as should the Council of the Strickland Foundation who elected Adrian Hillman in the first place,” he said, questioning the “arcane and unaccountable” structures built by the Demarco family now represented by Nationalist MP Mario Demarco.
Robert Hornyold-Strickland feels a sense of vindication at the recent money laundering and bribery scandal involving two directors of the group and Keith Schembri, the ex-Chief of Staff of Malta’s disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, since he had been raising his concerns for many years, including about the printing press deal.
“I am disgusted and angry that Allied’s workers and editorial staff have been so betrayed and now having to work under such stress as a result of these allegations,” said Hornyold-Strickland, who is in court challenging the ownership of the group currently enjoyed by the Demarco family.
“I, personally, will do everything within my means to help the staff through this difficult period. We will come through this stronger and better,” he said.
He added that he was hopeful justice would be done and that Times of Malta would survive this scandal, but he pointed out that there’s a lot more to the story and it begins with the fact that no Strickland has been allowed to sit on the Strickland Foundation since she died.
“My aunt would be rolling in her grave,” he said.
Hornyold-Strickland, who describes himself as the sole heir to Mabel Strickland, has been persistently disallowed from participating in his aunt’s newspaper group or the Foundation ever since she died, despite being qualified to do so.
He wonders whether his training as a forensic accountant in the UK was the “main reason” why he had been blocked.
“What people will not know, is that following my Aunt Mabel’s death in 1988, Allied Newspapers Ltd fell under the effective control of her two executors Guido Demarco and Prof Joseph Ganado for 22 years, until their own deaths in 2010 and 2016 respectively. These two executors’ self-serving interpretation of my aunt’s will is now well documented in the court case I filed in January 2010 and is currently under appeal.”
He says two weeks after he filed his court case, they hurriedly transferred the controlling 78% shareholding in Allied to the Strickland Foundation. Until this time, the executors held these shares in their personal names (on behalf of Mabel’s estate) for 22 years.
“This situation, of course, gave them de facto control of the Strickland Foundation and thus indirectly the newspaper group because dividends from Allied represented the main source of income to the Strickland Foundation.”
“Just before making this highly irregular 2010 transfer, the executors elected themselves onto the Board of Allied and saw elected their own two sons onto the Council of the Strickland Foundation. Yet this 2010 transfer was illegal because the Strickland Foundation (as a registered body corporate) cannot be a shareholder since Allied is a private exempt company which only allows private individuals to be shareholders,” Hornyold-Strickland wrote in his statement, declaring this transfer invalid, which resulted in a second court case.
Hornyold-Strickland says that the Strickland Foundation managed to obtain several million euros in dividends from Allied, which also owns 99% of Progress Press Ltd, before 2010 even though it was not and never could be a shareholder.
“I also want to know why a certain clause in Maltese company law came to be amended, by subterfuge, in 2013 over the definition of ‘body corporate’. So far no one, not even the last Prime Minister has been able to give me any explanation at all for this change.”
Horneyold-Strickland has never been allowed to see the internal Adrian Hillman report commissioned by Allied Newspapers.
“This is a scandal,” he said.
The former managing director of Allied Newspaper Vince Buhagiar is among 11 people facing charges involving the OPM’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri. Hillman, who ran Progress Press, is also expected to face charges but does not yet seem to have been brought to Malta from the UK.
The charges revolve around a €13 million deal to buy a new printing press, more than €5 million of which was allegedly used for kickbacks to those involved.
What do you make of Hornyold-Strickland’s protestations?