Left: Former PN secretary-general Paul Borg Olivier; Right: Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix
The CEO of SCL Group, which owns data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica had approached the Nationalist Party with an offer a few months before the 2013 election, former PN secretary-general Paul Borg Olivier has confirmed.
Borg Olivier told Lovin Malta that he had instantly turned down Alexander Nix’s offer because he had never heard of the company, and the timing of the offer – so soon before the election – seemed suspicious.
His statement confirms part of a story run by journalist-blogger Manuel Delia yesterday, which claims that both parties had been in contact with the SCL Group – the parent company of Cambridge Analytica – in the run-up to the 2013 election.
While the PN turned down SCL’s offer, Delia said he has email evidence that indicates the big data firm had been advising the Labour Party for several years before 2013. One email allegedly shows that Christian Kalin, CEO of citizenship firm Henley & Partners, had actually asked SCL to introduce him to then Opposition leader Jospeh Muscat in June 2011.
The Labour Party has vehemently denied ever speaking to Cambridge Analytica or other big data mining firms.
Yet Borg Olivier’s statement confirms for the first time that Alexander Nix travelled to Malta to influence the election in March 2013 – which was won by the Labour Party by a historic margin of 36,000 votes.
Alexander Nix was recorded boasting about using dirty tricks to swing elections
“Nix emailed me in October 2012 to request a meeting and we met up a few days later,” Borg Olivier said. “We spoke frankly about the Maltese political situation and about what the surveys were indicating, and a few days later he sent me a proposal related to the targeting of voters through behavioural dynamics.”
However, Borg Olivier said he discarded the proposal immediately and didn’t even show it to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who yesterday told Lovin Malta he was not aware the PN was in contact with Cambridge Analytica.
“They came completely out of the blue, which I found strange,” Borg Olivier said. “Besides, it was way too late in the day. Everyone knew an election was fast approaching and the PN was already fully geared up strategically. It set me wondering where they came from and why they approached us when they did. In hindsight, I don’t exclude that they had wanted to extract information from us to relay to third parties. After what I’ve seen in the news, I wouldn’t put it past them.”
Cambridge Analytica hit the global news recently after a company whistleblower accused them of illegally harvesting Facebook data of millions of people in order to gain exclusive insight into voters’ habits. Cambridge Analytica would then use this data to micro-target political ads in favour of the political party or campaign team they were working for.
Joseph Muscat with Henley & Partners CEO Christian Kalin
Cambridge Analytica’s executives said in 2018 it had worked in over 200 elections around the world – including for Donald Trump in the United States, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Argentina and the Czech Republic.
In an undercover investigation by Channel 4, Nix boasted of using honey traps, fake news campaigns and covert operations to swing election campaigns.
In one exchange, Nix was recorded telling reporters: “It sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true as long as they’re believed.”
Last month, The Spectator magazine revealed that Nix has a long-standing relationship with Henley & Partners’ CEO Christian Kalin. In 2010, the SCL Group worked on a successful campaign in St Kitts and Nevis, where Henley & Partners had launched one of their first sale-of-citizenship scheme in 2006. There, SCL practiced dirty tricks, including filming the St Kitts opposition leader accepting a bribe from an undercover person posing as a real estate investor.
The same year, SCL and Kalin worked together on another election campaign in St Vincent and the Grenadines – this time for the opposition party. However, the horse they backed lost this election.
Paul Borg Olivier confirmed with Lovin Malta that he had a meeting with Kalin in 2011, who had been introduced to the party by PN MP David Agius – now deputy leader of the party.
The meeting concerned the Permanent Residence Scheme to attract wealthy foreigners to Malta, which the PN government at the time had suspended pending a detailed review. The Scheme was later revamped as the High Net Worth Individuals Scheme, and then again as the Global Residence Programme.
“Kalin introduced Henley & Partners as a company that offers citizenship services to governments and he referred me to a similar migration scheme in the UK,” Borg Olivier said. “It was a general discussion, but it included the sale of passports. We discarded the idea instantly because it wasn’t our policy to sell citizenship and sovereignty. I never met Christian Kalin again.”
A spokesperson for the Labour Party confirmed with Lovin Malta that Henley & Partners and the PL met up prior to the 2013 election in the context of the Permanent Residence Scheme.
“As a matter of fact, the Labour Party was and is always disposed to meet with people with an interest in the economic progress of our country,” the spokesperson said. “However, it was after the 2013 election that the government explored and endorsed the idea of launching an Individual Investors Programme. Henley & Partners won a competitive process to operate the Individual Investor Programme. Other companies had the same opportunity as Henley & Partners to submit their proposals to run the programme. In fact, there were other bidders.”
The spokesperson said that Henley & Partners were engaged on projects by the previous PN administration and that one of their first contacts in Malta was former finance minister Tonio Fenech.
Fenech told Lovin Malta that his contact with Kalin was limited to a single meeting in which the Henley & Partners boss proposed changes to the Permanent Residence Scheme.