In a bed in a small room at the Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital lies a man who has lived through the darker side of politics. A man whose father was implicated in a Soho prostitution case that marred the early venture into politics of his once best friend PN leader Adrian Delia. A man who feels he was stabbed in the back by that very same friend while he was knocking on death’s door. A man who has just awoken from a two-month coma. A man who wants to talk.
Kris Bajada, 49, glances up from his bed with that pained but somewhat contented expression of someone who has been consigned to hospital for way too long and is glad of some company to stifle the monotony.
I am here at Bajada’s invitation after he sent Lovin Malta a somewhat cryptic Facebook message, in Caps Lock, introducing himself as a man caught between two Nationalist Party leaders. For Bajada, as chance would have it, also used to be married to Diana Busuttil, the sister of former PN leader Simon Busuttil.
Bajada’s calves are red, his right leg strapped with a thick bandage and connected to some medical device, but the walker by his bedside is proof of how far he has progressed since slipping into a coma at the start of the year.
“I had bronchitis, my lips were blue and I was falling asleep on the spot,” he recounts. “I passed out in the ambulance and slipped into a horrible coma. I kept having erratic dreams, strange and awful dreams in which I was always paralysed from the waist down, and where every pain I felt from the outside manifested itself into a pain in the dream. If someone turned me over and hurt my legs, I’d capture the pain in my dream.”
“Once I was dreaming that I was at an English cottage and I suddenly heard my ex-wife’s voice calling out my name: ‘Kris, speak to me!’ In my dream, I turned my head and wondered where the voice was coming from. I later found out that my heart rate went up when she was speaking to me. She’s the only person in the world who could have done that.”
Bajada flirted dangerously close with death. His lungs collapsed, his kidneys stopped, he had a bleeding ulcer and he flatlined twice. At one point, doctors had advised his ex-wife and children to stay in hospital because he was soon going to die.
Yet Bajada’s body fought back and, some two months later, he woke up from his coma. Little did he know that his nightmare had only just started.
“I was still sedated when I woke up and I started hallucinating,” he said, tears falling down his cheek as he remembered. “It was a traumatic experience. I had lost all my muscular strength and couldn’t even hold a glass of my water in my hand or swallow it. I was just stuck in my wheelchair unable to move. I lost a lot of weight.”
As he regained consciousness, his children proved to be a huge help, bringing him a whiteboard and standing by his side as he slowly regained the ability to write and use his hands. Sadly, despite having visited him in hospital when he was in a coma, his ex-wife refused to visit him once he had awoken from it. He said she even blocked his number, something which broke his heart and convinced him that this was a closed chapter in his life.
And then his friends visited his bedside and brought even more bad news. While he was in a coma, Adrian Delia, his old friend and business partner, had filed a police report claiming his signature had been forged on a 2004 company document for a property business the two had opened together.
Although Delia didn’t say so outright, the implication was clear: the only person who could have realistically forged his signature was Bajada himself. It was another punch to the gut for Bajada and made him feel like the walls were closing in on him.
“I don’t remember forging anything and no one has showed me anything yet, but why did Adrian bring up a document that has been in the MFSA records for 15 years?” Bajada asks, struggling to hold the tears back as he relives the feeling of betrayal.
“It was the lowest day in my life. I was stuck in a wheelchair and couldn’t even sit straight in it. Karin Grech Hospital didn’t even want me because they thought I was never going to walk again, my ex-wife had blocked me and then my best friend did what he did.”
“You can’t imagine how I felt that night. I was in free-fall and I was fighting it all alone. I’m telling you, the month after the coma was worse than the coma itself.”
So when did all this begin? At university some 30 years ago.
Bajada had started dating Diana Busuttil around 1989, after developing a crush on her at private lessons a few years earlier. He still remembers their first date, down to the outfit she was wearing (a black Bolero jacket) and the way she kept her hair (golden brown and still wet).
Yet he wasn’t too fond of her brother, the eventual Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil.
“Simon and I never saw eye to eye,” he recounts. “He was a mummy’s boy, while I was quite wild. He always had that holier than thou attitude and that tendency to act as judge and jury. Unfortunately politics brings out the worst in people.”
“That being said, I remember him at church on our wedding day. When I saw Diane standing at the altar, tears started rolling down my face, Simon saw me and for a moment, we were very close.”
It was an altogether different story between Bajada and Busuttil’s eventual successor at the helm of the PN, Adrian Delia.
“Adrian was a year above me at university and we were in different courses but our circles kept merging and we immediately hit it off,” he recounts. “He was always the extrovert, as was I, while Simon was at the other end of the spectrum.”
“Adrian always loved being the centre of attention and whenever he was at an event, you’d realise he was there.”
Bajada remembers the first time Adrian Delia introduced him to his new girlfriend and eventual wife Nickie Vella de Fremeaux.
“We went to lunch at this Valletta restaurant and Adrian introduced me to Nickie as his best friend. Nickie was posh but trying to act down to earth and Adrian told her that if she passes the test with me, then they will be together. That’s Adrian for you though; he was always a showman but in a good way.”
And although Delia only entered politics in 2017, Bajada remembers that his old friend always thought he was destined for that life.
“Adrian always loved and dreamed of politics. Once, when we were young adults, he had designed his own ideal political party, down to which people he’d appoint to which positions.”
Although Delia loved politics, it was Bajada who ended up getting a firsthand taste of it in 2004, when Simon Busuttil was elected as one of Malta’s first MEPs.
“Simon going to the EU wasn’t a nice experience for me,” Bajada recounts. “People were always expecting me to hook them up with Simon in the hope of acquiring some sort of favour, but Simon and I were never close and he was never the sort to dish out favours. I had to keep turning them away, they got offended and all of this caused friction between myself, my ex-wife and others.”
“When Simon later contested the PN leadership, I was heading his campaign’s family unit (a role he refused to delve into for confidential reasons) but I advised him not to run. I urged him to let the ship sink and then step in to save it. Otherwise he’d sink along with it and be blamed for sinking it himself. However, he was too patriotic and loved his party too much to listen to me.”
From fried chicken to Soho properties
Long before he gave that prophetic advice to Busuttil, Bajada had some equally fateful dealings with Delia. Upon graduating from university, Bajada started working at his father’s property business while Delia landed a job at a bank’s legal team. However, their paths soon crossed again, with Delia first becoming Bajada’s lawyer and eventually also his business partner.
They started opening several companies together, mainly in the property industry, including the company Frankef, which Delia later claimed had utilised a document with his forged signature.
“Adrian was always a good negotiator and very good with people. He would find the deal and I would sell the deal.”
They also tried their luck in other industries which never kicked off, including an oil importation venture in Libya and a fried chicken joint in Birkirkara that was to be called Chunky Chicken.
“It was collective insanity,” he recounts wryly about this quirky time in their lives. “There was a guy who had developed a recipe for fried chicken, our very own Colonel Sanders. We rented a place and demolished it but the chef decided to keep the recipe for himself and the whole thing collapsed.”
Then, one day, Bajada’s father Eucharist bought two properties in Soho, London, and he needed a director who wasn’t based in the UK for tax saving purposes. His son introduced him to Delia, who then opened a Barclays International bank account in Jersey, the Channel Island chosen as a jurisdiction for tax purposes.
Little did they know back then that this would trigger a whole chain of events that would erupt years later, with Daphne Caruana Galizia accusing Delia of using it to launder money earned through prostitution and the FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) and the police eventually investigating him too.
While Kris Bajada insists his old friend certainly didn’t open the account to launder money or evade tax, he acknowledges that the PN leader committed a mortal sin when, according to MaltaToday, he told police he had never opened a Barclays Bank account at all.
“It’s just like the case of Bill Clinton. It wasn’t so much that he had sex with his secretary but there was a big problem when he lied about it,” he says.
“And Adrian is definitely lying if he said he never opened that account. I remember him at 24, really happy that he had acquired a Barclays account.”
Delia cast doubt on MaltaToday’s report, telling Lovin Malta that he was never called in or questioned by police at all.
However, the PN leader has in the past denied opened a bank account overseas. In an interview on Xtra during his leadership campaign, Delia had said: “I never had accounts overseas. I never had, I don’t have and I wont have.”
Delia denies having ever owned a foreign bank account at 16:24
Bajada’s version of the story goes like this:
His father Eucharist purchased the two apartments and sublet them to his brother Emanuel (Lolly) and his brother’s wife Eve. These in turn sublet the apartments to a certain Guilnara Gadzijeva, who was later arrested and jailed for using Bajada’s properties, along with several other London apartments, as brothels.
A heated legal battle between the two brothers ensued and Eucharist Bajada, with Delia’s legal help, eventually managed to evict Emanuel and Eve Bajada from his apartments.
“I don’t know whether my uncle knew what was going on in those apartments, but he should have known. Delia, as director of the companies which owned the houses, should have known too,” Kris Bajada says.
At one point, a Russian man phoned Kris Bajada to threaten him to stop his father from trying to evict the prostitutes, and Kris found a burned tyre outside his home in Malta.
“They found out where I lived and sent me a clear threat but I still made sure the prostitutes were evicted,” he said. “Somehow I always end up bearing the brunt.”
Bajada is convinced Caruana Galizia’s information (she first made the story public before the PN’s leadership election) had originated from his aunt Eve Bajada, who succumbed to cancer a month after the journalist was murdered.
“Eve had a grudge against Adrian for evicting her from the apartment and causing her to lose all that rental income,” Bajada says.
In any case, Emanuel and Eve Bajada were never even interrogated by the British police because it is not illegal to accept rent from prostitutes, unless one specifically charges them a higher rent to benefit directly from their prostitution. Indeed, had the Bajadas found out about the prostitutes and ordered their eviction, they could have found themselves charged with harassment.
“If a woman stays at a hotel for two months and prostitutes herself from her hotel room, should the police arrest the hotel owner?” Kris Bajada argued. “If a government flat is used as a brothel, should the government be arrested?”
In 2017, all of Malta got to know of this case when Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote a series of blogposts alleging that Delia had used his Jersey bank account to launder money from a prostitution racket.
“I respect Daphne, but she had a habit of taking a chunk of truth, building a whole web around it and then choosing her own ending,” Bajada says of the late journalist. “In this case, the only truth in the story was that Adrian Delia was the director of my father’s companies and that his bank account received rent for his properties.”
He said he had told Caruana Galizia his version of events but the late journalist just kept adding to her story.
“I didn’t have a bad relationship with Daphne, although she was quite short-tempered with me. Once I told her we should meet up for a coffee when all this was said and done and she said that yes, we should. She got killed before we got a chance to meet though.”
Yet Caruana Galizia’s allegations certainly scared Delia, and Bajada remembers his old friend calling him up in the middle of the night, panicking and asking if he had documents. Not only did Bajada comply, but he also endorsed Delia, a decision that caused more rifts between himself and his ex-wife’s family.
“I hate politics,” Bajada says frankly. “I mean, I like the mechanisms of it, but it’s caused me nothing but trouble my whole life.”
Bajada last spoke to Delia around Christmastime of 2018, around a month before he slipped into a coma, but his family name continued haunting the PN leader.
In March this year, the Sunday Times of Malta reported that the FIAU had passed on the Jersey account case to the police after concluding there was a “reasonable suspicion of money laundering”. The report stated the police were struggling to crack the case, given that so much time had passed and that the investigation relied on other countries providing them with the necessary information.
The evening before the story was published, Delia held a press conference in which he confirmed that certain company documents had been brought to his attention at around the same time as the journalist had sent him questions related to the FIAU report.
Delia explained that the documents included forged signatures under his name and that he has passed them on to the police for investigation. MaltaToday then confirmed that the document in question was a memorandum of association of Frankef, a company Delia and Bajada had opened some 15 years ago.
The police took the report extremely seriously, carrying out an extensive search of Diana Busuttil’s house at around 3am before leaving without a single piece of evidence in hand. As was reported back then, they couldn’t investigate her ex-husband’s house because he was in hospital with a serious condition, now revealed to be a coma.
Contacted by Lovin Malta earlier this week, Delia confirmed the police were yet to update him on the state of the investigation, but insisted his sole intention behind filing the report was because he was seeking justice for a crime.
However, Bajada has another theory, which is that his old friend threw him under the bus, safe in the knowledge that he was in a coma and couldn’t defend himself, to deflect attention from the FIAU report.
“What does Frankef have to do with the Barclays account?” Bajada asks. “Absolutely nothing. It was just a way for him to deflect attention. It was fucking stupid of Adrian to attack me though. I’ve known him for years and they say the worst of fights are with the best of friends, so why throw me under the bus? Maybe because I was dying?”
Bajada’s testimony is another blow for Delia, who last month led the PN to its worst ever electoral performance at the European Parliament and local council elections. Four top-ranking PN officials, media chief Pierre Portelli, executive president Mark Anthony Sammut, administrative council president David Stellini and treasurer David Camilleri, have since resigned from the party and several MPs have privately urged Delia to resign too.
However, Delia has adamantly refused to step down or even seek a vote of confidence at the PN general council, arguing that PN members had elected him two years ago to lead the party into the upcoming general election.
And Bajada, who knows Delia more than most, can predict how this internal drama will continue to unfold.
“Adrian will never resign and will fight to the end, even if his MPs manage to force him out as Opposition leader. That’s just the kind of person he is.”