THE REAL STORY OF HER LEGACY
The separation of powers (of which a free press is regularly regarded as the fourth pillar) has long been a touchstone of economically developed nations that are free from corruption. Providing otherwise puts Malta under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Journalism should not be able to be bought and sold and controlled or unduly influenced by politicians to suit their own ends. Journalism needs to be free from political, judicial or legislative influence – precisely as Mabel Strickland originally intended when she and her father founded Allied Newspapers Ltd.
There is now, however, cause for concern – if not outright alarm – that Malta’s leading and highly respected independent publishing group has been effectively hijacked by a political clique for its own ambitions. The vehicle for this has been The Strickland Foundation (that was in fact set up for Mabel and her heirs in perpetuity), whose Council, for years, included Mabel’s two Executors, Prof. Guido de Marco, and Prof. Joe Ganado, and from 2009 also their two sons, Mario de Marco and Max Ganado. Max Ganado resigned from the Council in 2015.
In 2009, Mabel’s executors used their controlling vote in Allied (supposedly held on behalf of Mabel’s estate) to elect themselves as Directors onto the Board of Allied Newspapers Ltd, against the wishes of every other shareholder present, notwithstanding that The Strickland Foundation (to whom the shares were theoretically bequeathed and which by now was also controlled by them) was already represented on the Board of Allied.
One year later, in 2010, Mabel’s Executors, in actions which were certainly improper and probably illegal, authorised the transfer of Mabel's controlling shareholding in Allied to The Strickland Foundation without reference to Mabel’s chosen heir. No instrument of transfer for this has ever been produced.
During the previous 20 years The Strickland Foundation had been in receipt of over €3 million of dividends from Allied, despite not being a registered shareholder, which is highly irregular if not fraudulent. Since the Foundation is currently not required to publish its accounts (despite enjoying charitable status) we, the public, cannot see how these large sums of money are being used.
The Strickland Foundation, that should lead by example on openness and transparency, persists in remaining wholly unaccountable to public scrutiny when it could so easily volunteer to publish its accounts – and this in the days when Mario de Marco (a politician and also a Strickland Foundation Council member) repeatedly demands transparency and openness in his numerous half page Talking Point articles in the Times of Malta. How ironic this is all directly as a result of the unaccountability of The Strickland Foundation and its covert modus operandi that it has been able to get away with this highly irregular share transfer, thus far.
Undue political influence over Malta’s leading English language media group is precisely what Mabel sought to avoid when she set out her aims for her Foundation – i.e., to encourage democracy and to maintain the independence of the press. These qualities were precisely what Mabel’s papers represented in her lifetime and were created by many decades of hard work by her and her team of dedicated journalists and printers. The interlocking control of The Strickland Foundation and the Allied Board of Directors threatens this heritage for all citizens of Malta.
For ease of use in this website, you will find a list of all the Appendices attached on the tab marked (LINK – hash to Important Documents tab). In addition persons mentioned in this website or representing a legal entity mentioned here can be found here
The Strickland family have a long association with Malta, dating back to 1858, when Captain Walter Strickland, a naval officer from an old British, aristocratic, Roman Catholic family married a Maltese lady, Donna Louisa Bonici, heir to Sir Nicholas Sceberras Bologna, and set up a home on the island.
Gerald Strickland, their son, who later became Sir Gerald and then Lord Strickland, was born in Valletta, Malta, in 1861. He went on to become an MP for Lancaster in the UK as well as an MP and from 1927-32, Prime Minister of Malta. Earlier, he pursued a diplomatic career as a colonial governor in the Leeward Islands (1902-04) and in Australia (1904-1918). Lord Strickland maintained a family home in the UK (Sizergh Castle, in Cumbria) and his family home in Malta (Villa Bologna, in Attard).
Lord Strickland and his first wife, Lady Edeline Sackville-West, had six daughters and two sons. He lost three of their children (including both boys) in infancy, as well as Lady Edeline, on her return to Malta in 1918, leaving him with five unmarried daughters. In 1926, Lord Strickland took as his second wife Margaret Hulton, whose family had substantial newspaper and charitable interests in the UK.
The Stricklands founded St Edwards College, the best-known public school in Malta, and established a number of hotels on the island, including the Phoenicia, which remains one of the leading hotels in the Mediterranean, and the Xara Palace Hotel. Lord Strickland, his second wife and his third daughter, Mabel, founded Allied Newspapers Ltd in 1935 to develop his existing local newspaper interests. Allied publishes Malta’s leading English language newspapers, The Times of Malta and The Sunday Times of Malta, and contract prints many other publications.
Mabel Strickland started her life as a professional journalist as Lord Strickland’s assistant before becoming a newspaper editor and, later, its proprietor. She was notable for being a successful businesswoman and politician as well. She was the first woman to lead a political party in Malta and contributed immensely to the island’s cultural, political and economic life. Mabel died in 1988 at the age of 89. She never married, nor did she have children of her own. She was very close to her great-nephew, Robert Hornyold-Strickland, however, and named him as her sole and universal heir in each Will she drew up from 1975 onwards. This fact has been recognised by the Maltese Courts.
Robert Hornyold-Strickland is both a British citizen and, since 2013, a Maltese citizen. Robert lived with Mabel in Malta in the 1970's, before being prevented from returning by the Mintoff Government. Robert remained in the UK for nine years before a change of Government in Malta allowed him to start visiting on a regular basis again. In 2009, Robert and his wife, Dee, once again settled full time in Malta in the home where Mabel had lived, where Robert had always stayed when visiting and where Mabel wanted Robert and his heirs to live, as shown in her Will(s).
READ MORE: How Robert was denied citizenship before 2013 despite his attempts to become a Maltese citizen. See Point 3: Government Interference
Mabel’s estate in 1975 (and at her death in 1988) consisted of a number of properties in Malta, including her beloved home, Villa Parisio, with its furniture, art collection, chattels and family records. She also owned controlling interests in Allied Newspapers Ltd and the Xara Palace Hotel Company Ltd.
Allied Newspapers Ltd was founded by Mabel and her family in 1935 to incorporate the family’s existing local newspaper interests. At her death, she had a 92 per cent shareholding in it. The remaining 8 per cent of the shares were owned by other family members and former employees. All the money invested in the newspaper group was put up by the Strickland family.
The Xara Palace Hotel Co Ltd was founded by Mabel in 1947 and she owned 99 per cent of the company shares.
Mabel was very proud of her family heritage and had always wanted her Strickland family legacy to continue in Malta. Her favourite nephew Tom Hornyold-Strickland of the family’s senior line had turned down Mabel’s invitation to become her heir in Malta because of his obligations in the UK. Tom’s eldest son, Henry, was also expected to live in the family home in the UK. Therefore, in 1975, Mabel chose Tom’s second son, Robert, to be her heir, as they got on very well together and because he was prepared to meet Mabel’s demands.
Mabel did not want her heir to be an absentee landlord and was adamant that Robert live and work in Malta, which meant being actively involved in her companies so as to maintain a close bond between them and the UK, Malta and the Commonwealth. Accordingly, in 1977 Mabel made Robert a director of the Xara Palace Hotel Co Ltd and the Overseas Representative of Allied Newspapers. She also promised to make Robert a director of Allied Newspapers Ltd when he passed his chartered accountancy exams in the UK. However the news of Robert passing these exams coincided with Black Monday riots at the Times of Malta headquarters which resulted in Mabel having a heart attack. She never fully recovered from this set back.
Mabel was equally passionate about maintaining a free press, independent from outside political interference, and wanted her legacy to assist in providing for the continuing education of journalists, as well as to help any of her past employees who needed financial assistance.
Mabel as Editor
When it came to her will, however, Mabel was faced with a difficult conundrum. Back in 1975, when Mabel made Robert her heir, the political situation in Malta was highly turbulent. Following Maltese independence in 1964 and in the move to a post-colonial scenario, the British military base, a major employer in Malta since World War II, was scheduled to close in March 1979. Tensions and uncertainties were prevalent.
In 1975, the Prime Minister of Malta wished to see all key businesses and employers in Malta, including the media, controlled by Maltese rather than by foreigners. The Government planned to achieve this through a proposed Foreign Interference Act, which became law a short time later, creating problems for Mabel’s planned Strickland succession. It turns out that, despite his Maltese ancestry and strong ties to Malta, despite the fact that Mabel herself had become a citizen of Malta, Robert, a UK citizen, was not, at that time, a Maltese citizen. So, in the event of Mabel’s untimely death, Allied Newspapers would have effectively come under the control of an Englishman, or “foreigner” – the very situation that the Foreign Interference Act prohibited.
(LINK to Appendix 2–Document RHS-1 Mabel Strickland’s 1975 Will) To take account of these political concerns regarding foreign interference, Mabel made provision in her 1975 will for a contingent trust to hold 408 of her shares in Allied Newspapers Ltd (a controlling 55 per cent of the equity) only in the event that she was to die before Robert achieved Maltese citizenship. Crucially, this 55 percent shareholding was to revert to Robert as soon as he achieved citizenship. Robert was to inherit another 272 shares (37 per cent of the equity in Allied) immediately on Mabel’s death. Mabel’s intentions with regard to Robert, the Trust and her executors (needed if Robert was living abroad) were clearly set out in her 22 July 1976 letter to Robert. (LINK to Appendix 3 - Document RHS-2 )Mabel’s home and all her other assets were to be left to Robert after he had settled a few personal bequests.
Mabel with Robert
In view of the proposed Foreign Interference Act and concerns around the potential for abuse by trustees, Mabel sought to ratify her choice of heir by adopting Robert as her son in January 1977. This was done to make her chosen succession clear to family, friends, employees and the public, and to facilitate a smooth transition. However, this adoption process was blocked by the Mintoff Government in March 1977 through the enactment of legislation with retrospective effect, which was unconstitutional. Legal experts have all agreed that this legislation was not only personally vindictive, but, in being made to be retrospective, was also unconstitutional. One year later, in 1978, the Government banned Robert from returning to Malta – an action designed to put further pressure on Mabel’s succession plans and totally separate her from her heir. Robert was now forced to live and work outside Malta and Mabel, a frail old woman by this time, became totally isolated and unable to pass over the reins of her businesses to Robert, as she had hoped and intended. This highly politicised attack not only breached the family’s human rights and caused Mabel to become ill, but also changed the course of history for the Strickland legacy.
Robert’s forced exile from Malta in 1978 lasted nearly nine years. After the promotion of Mabel’s existing legal advisor to the post of Judge by the Prime Minister, Mabel made Dr Guido de Marco her new legal advisor in 1977. After Robert was exiled, she gave de Marco her power of attorney in case she became terminally ill or incapacitated.
In August 1979, Dr de Marco, by his own admission in his affidavit, persuaded Mabel to revise her will for reasons unknown; but Robert was still retained as her sole heir. His affidavit, which was sworn in 2009, was not filed until 2011 - 14 months after his death. While this affidavit was not prepared as a dying declaration, it was still accepted, surprisingly, by the courts. There was no equality of arms here in this instance as clearly Robert’s legal team could not cross examine de Marco, even though Robert could disprove many of the statements made in that affidavit
We know from letters in Robert’s possession (one from Mabel dated 24 September 1979 and another from Dr de Marco dated 30 September 1979) that Mabel had asked Dr de Marco to explain “the changed circumstances” to Robert in the UK, following the filing of the new will. Mabel had immediately instructed Dr de Marco, as her legal advisor, to visit Robert in London to explain the “recent developments” but de Dr Marco, in his letter, confirmed that he had been to London but had not managed get hold of Robert while he was there, he promised to do so soon. He did not explain why he was there or that he had been sent on Mabel’s instructions; curiously he never tried to update Robert on the revised will at any time during the next 8 years. Robert finally realised the will had been significantly changed after Mabel died.
Since 1975 and the writing of her original will, Mabel had always fully explained such matters to Robert. But by 1979, she didn’t trust the security of her communications by telephone or letter – which is why she asked Dr de Marco to function as messenger.
The reality is that nine years later, at the time of Mabel’s death, Robert was still unaware of the very existence of the 1979 revised will. This was because Dr de Marco failed to carry out Mabel’s instructions to meet with Robert, to explain the revisions in the will as soon as they had been made.
NOTE: It’s a matter of record that Dr de Marco visited London in September 1979. His failure to meet Robert was in direct contravention of his client’s instructions and points toward Dr de Marco’s failure in his duty as Mabel’s legal adviser. There is no doubt that Dr de Marco knew where Robert lived and worked in London and had his contact information.
READ MORE: As you will learn, Dr de Marco became an executor of Mabel’s estate and a Council Member of her Foundation, which was the largest beneficiary under her revised 1979 will, putting him in direct conflict with Mabel’s heir, Robert, whose interests he was also supposed to safeguard and protect. He ended up simply competing with Mabel’s heir rather than acting in a bonus paterfamilias manner.
Unlike the 1975 will, the revised 1979 will was ambiguous and contained many contradictions. (LINK – Appendix 4 – Document RHS – 3)
a) A Trust Becomes a Foundation. It changed the original succession plans that Mabel had set out and replaced the contingent family Trust with a newly formed Strickland Foundation under the control of a Council of Administration, which included her two legal advisers – Dr Guido de Marco and Prof. Joseph Ganado – and, at the last minute, Mabel herself as Chairman. With Robert being abroad in 1979, Mabel specified that her two legal advisers were also to become the two initial Executors on her death. Mabel also specified that, to get around the provisions of the Foreign Interference Act, all the Council Members should be Maltese, which would exclude Robert, initially.
b) Allied Shares Multiply and Divide. Instead of 408 shares of Allied being put into a trust for Robert, with a further 272 shares going to Robert on Mabel’s death, the new will provided for 508 shares to be bequeathed instead on her death to The Strickland Foundation. Mabel’s home and some of the contents (previously left to Robert) were also left to The Strickland Foundation, but with Robert given the sole lifetime rights to live there with certain conditions. Robert remained Mabel’s sole heir and inherited all of her other assets and liabilities.
c) Mabel’s Heir Blocked From Involvement in Her Foundation & from Protecting a Free Press. Since Mabel’s death the two Executors, Dr de Marco and Prof. Ganado, together with the Council of The Strickland Foundation, which they, their families and friends now control, have blocked Robert from any involvement in the Foundation or with Allied Newspapers, even though he is now a Maltese citizen and despite the fact he is living and working in Malta and strongly believes in a free press and independent journalism.
NOTE: In October 1979, two months after Mabel signed her revised will and one month after Dr de Marco was supposed to update Robert in London, there was a politically inspired riot in Malta, which attacked and burned down the offices of The Times of Malta, following which Mabel had a heart attack. Her health never fully recovered thereafter.
Mabel died on 29 November 1988, one month before her 90th birthday. She had been increasingly unwell ever since the 1979 fire at the Times of Malta and Robert, on his visits to her, had found her to be very frail. This was following the change of Government in 1987 when Robert was once again allowed to enter Malta. However, at this time, 11 years after Dr de Marco had been instructed to go to London, Robert was still unaware of the 1979 changed will. When she died, Mabel had a photograph of Robert at her bedside.
a) A Grieving House Staff Traumatised. It is a matter of record that, within hours of Mabel’s death, a Strickland Council Member who was also the former Managing Director of Allied Newspaper Ltd. visited Mabel’s Villa. Far from going there to comfort Mabel’s grieving house staff, he showed total disrespect, shouting at them angrily and desperately demanding to know what was in every cupboard and drawer in her study and office, even while Mabel’s body lay in the next room. Mabel’s staffs were horrified at this behaviour. Robert, knowing nothing of all this, flew in from the UK the following day for her funeral.
b) A valuable Sculpture Gone Missing. Within one day of Mabel’s death, one of Mabel’s favourite possessions, “The Arab Horses”, a bronze sculpture by Antonio Sciortino, was stolen from her Xara Palace Hotel. This sculpture had been given pride of place for 40 years. It hasn’t been seen since.
c) An Heir Left in The Dark. Mabel’s wills were opened and published on 7 February 1989. Surprisingly, her executors didn’t notify Robert, Mabel’s sole heir, of the appointment; nor did they invite him to attend. Because the original notary who had filed the will for Mabel had died in the intervening years, the Executors chose another notary (a cousin of Dr de Marco) to publish and transcribe the will. This notary admitted that he had trouble reading Mabel’s handwriting and seems to have made several significant transcription errors.
d) Death Duties Paid, No Assets Received. Executors Anointed, Not Yet Appointed. On 8 February 1989, Dr de Marco finally informed Robert that although he was still Mabel’s heir, her 1975 will had been superseded by another in 1979. The news obviously came as a shock to Robert who, still, accepted to be his Aunt’s heir and paid off her liabilities and the substantial death duties on her estate. He assumed that he would then be entitled to receipt of her assets. He was wrong.
Robert was told that his Aunt’s 92 per cent shareholding had now been re-registered in the names of the two Executors, without reference to the heir or to the validity of the bequest, and this was some five years before the executors had even had their appointments fully confirmed by the Courts.
The executors also decided, unilaterally, that a number of other properties adjoining Mabel’s home should be annexed to the bequest of the Villa Parisio to The Strickland Foundation. They even insisted that her heir be prevented from finding out the extent of the contents of the Villa and what family papers there were in Mabel’s home.
SUMMARY: Robert found that his Aunt’s two key assets had been effectively handed to parties under the control of his Aunt’s Executors, together with their families, and that his Aunt’s original intended legacy was usurped. Her family and legal files and many of the contents of her house have been removed or hidden from Robert to this day.
a) Attempted Negotiations. Robert initially tried to negotiate an amicable settlement with the Executors. It was only after years of failed attempts that in 2010 Robert filed a court case against the two executors and The Strickland Foundation challenging what, in his regard, was their self-serving interpretation of Mabel’s will.
b) Harassment and Human Rights Violations. Moreover, although Robert and his family are legally the only persons entitled to live at Villa Parisio under the terms of his Aunt’s final will, the Executors and The Strickland Foundation have pursued a campaign of harassment against Robert, his wife and family, in an attempt to make the Villa impossible to live in, with no privacy for the family, in an attempt to drive the family out of the Villa. Examples of this unconscionable harassment are given in Point 20.
Mabel’s 1979 instructions to her Executors and her legal adviser are vital in providing clarity to her thinking at that time. But Robert, and the Courts, have been denied access to, or any disclosure, of her legal files since her death despite these papers belonging to Robert. These files are being withheld by the families of her original Executors and by The Strickland Foundation; this is also despite a Voluntary Court Judgment of 9 April 2015 (Link to Appendix 8 – Document RHS-6) and a Court of Appeal Judgment of 31 January 2019 (Link to Appendix 11), both of which have ordered documents to be disclosed.
As a result of Mabel’s revised 1979 will and the subsequent behaviour of the two original executors working in conjunction with the Council of The Strickland Foundation, Mabel’s wishes for a continuing Strickland legacy have not been carried out, despite The Strickland Foundation being set up “for herself and her heirs in perpetuity”.
The differences between a trust and a foundation are significant in that a trust is set up for a specified beneficiary (Robert in the 1975 will), for whose benefit the trustees are supposed to act. The trustees are the legal owner of the assets placed in trust, but only on behalf of the beneficiary who owns the beneficial interest. The trustees must therefore exercise a high degree of care and skill in carrying out their fiduciary duties on behalf of the beneficiary.
Since any foundation is certainly regarded as a “body corporate” all the assets are therefore owned by the foundation itself, which is administered by a Council – none of whom own any of the assets personally, although collectively they control them. The Strickland Foundation was set up by Mabel “for herself and her heirs in perpetuity”, which was made very clear. But this appears to have been interpreted by Mabel’s Executors as for the benefit of the Executors’ own sons and not Mabel’s sole heir. As such, this clique has been competing with Mabel’s heir for her estate. (LINK – Appendix 5 – RHS 4)
a) Why Change Her Original Will? Without the disclosure of Mabel’s legal papers, it is unclear why Dr Guido de Marco advised Mabel to make these significant changes to her earlier will, or whether she intended to marginalise her heir.
b) No Strickland in Their Namesake Foundation? There has been no Strickland sitting on The Strickland Foundation Council since Mabel’s death, which is odd given that The Strickland Foundation was founded by Mabel “for herself and her heirs”; that it was bequeathed entirely with assets owned by Strickland, and that it bears the Strickland name. Instead, the Council of the Foundation (after a number of deaths and resignations) now comprises Mr Ronald Agius, Mr Frank Bonello, Dr Mario de Marco (son of Dr Guido de Marco and himself a politician, like his father), Mr Marcel Cassar and Dr Giovanni Bonello. Bonello was appointed Chairman on 7 September 2016.
c) Why Exclude Mabel’s Sole Heir? Robert, always Mabel’s sole heir, has meanwhile been deliberately excluded by the Council members (which included the original two Executors) from any role within the Foundation or Allied Newspapers, as was his legitimate expectation. These Council members were the very people Mabel placed in a position of trust to safeguard her wishes.
d) How Many Shares Are There? The Strickland Foundation now claims to own 581 shares in Allied Newspapers Ltd, which is 79 per cent of the total shareholding. There are two problems with this claim: First, there are conflicting accounts as to the number of shares Mabel intended to leave the foundation (508 as stated in the will or 581 as claimed by the Executors or nil if the legacy is declared void ab initio).
e) Why the Foundation Cannot Legally Own Allied Newspapers Shares. The second problem with The Strickland Foundation’s claims is that, in Malta and other leading jurisdictions, the Foundation is what is termed a “body corporate”. Under the Memorandum and Articles of Allied Newspapers as well as under Maltese company law, Allied Newspapers has always been a private exempt company, which, therefore, forbids any “body corporate” from owning its shares. The Foundation cannot legally own these Allied shares. By contrast, a trust (which is what Mabel wanted to establish in her first will) with an individual private beneficiary could have been a shareholder. This was therefore a major error in the drafting of the revised 1979 Will by Dr Guido de Marco, unless Mabel intended a different outcome, which has not yet been revealed in her legal papers.
Under English law, the bequest of these shares to The Strickland Foundation in 1988, and their supposed transfer some 21 years later, would undoubtedly have been declared “void ab initio”, causing the legacy to fail and the shares to revert to the estate and the heir. It is hard to see how a different outcome would be legally defensible in Malta, in that it would directly violate Maltese statutory law and, even if it were possible under Maltese law for a “body corporate” to be a shareholder in a private exempt company, Allied’s memorandum and articles of association prohibits the ownership of its shares by a “body corporate”.
The earlier contingent trust had been set up with succession planning specifically in mind and to protect Mabel’s legacies for Robert as her sole heir. The new Strickland Foundation was also set up by Mabel “for herself and her heirs in perpetuity”, as it clearly states in its Foundation Deed, and it was initially controlled by a Council of Administration, under Mabel’s chairmanship. Since the Foundation was not due to receive any assets until after Mabel’s death, it is obvious that the chairmanship of The Strickland Foundation was devised to give a role for Robert rather than for Mabel herself, but only once he had achieved Maltese citizenship, which he did in 2013.
READ MORE: For a quick, clear explanation of the Major Problems With the 2010 Transfer of (Allied Newspapers Ltd) Shares, see the First Affidavit of Robert Hornyold-Strickland: (LINK TO AFFIDAVIT – Appendix 1)
In 1989, shortly after Mabel’s death, Allied Newspapers Ltd registered her entire shareholding in the name of the two original Executors “on behalf of the estate”. This transfer was done without the knowledge of the full Board of Allied or Robert (as Mabel’s heir) and fully five years before the Executors were unconditionally confirmed in their positions as Executors by Chief Justice Noel Arrigo. Chief Justice Arrigo was subsequently removed from his position for financial impropriety.
a) A Game of Musical Shares. Under Maltese Company law, these shares would normally have been registered in the name of Mabel’s heir until her legacies were validated, before being passed over to the appropriate beneficiaries. Instead, the registration of these shares, in the names of the original Executors, gave them a controlling voice in the Foundation’s affairs from that moment on. The Executors decided, unilaterally, how many shares Mabel intended to leave to The Strickland Foundation because it was not clear how many, if any at all, could be bequeathed to it. The fact that the Executors held onto the shares in their personal names, on behalf of the estate, for 22 years suggests that they were well aware of the fact that they had a problem, but still chose not to consult the heir. Robert was allocated the balance of Mabel’s shareholding.
b) A Morphing Definition of Mabel’s Property. The Executors also decided, unilaterally, the extent of the property known as Villa Parisio (Mabel’s home), which was to be left as a legacy to The Strickland Foundation and they decided, without any attempt to consult the heir, that it consisted not just of the property purchased as Villa Parisio, but also several other neighbouring farmland properties all owned by Mabel but purchased well after Villa Parisio. This behaviour, unsurprisingly, has resulted in the original Court action (34/2010), which was entirely avoidable if the Executors had behaved properly.
c) The Strickland Foundation and Allied Newspapers: A Too Cosy Relationship? Of the 92 per cent shareholding in Allied Newspapers Ltd owned by Robert’s Aunt, only 13 per cent has since been transferred into Robert’s name to date, whilst the balance of 79 per cent is registered quite improperly in the name of The Strickland Foundation until the Court rules to whom these shares belong. Meanwhile, all of the Board and senior positions in Allied Newspapers Ltd. have been decided by The Strickland Foundation since Mabel’s death.
d) From Fathers to Sons, Without a proper quorum. In 2009, it became evident that Robert would sue the Executors and The Strickland Foundation for diverting assets due to him as the heir. At the same time, with the death of some council members on The Strickland Foundation the two original executors, Dr Guido de Marco and Prof. Joseph Ganado, used their controlling votes on the Foundation’s Council to see elected their own sons (Mario de Marco and Max Ganado) onto the Council of The Strickland Foundation, without a proper quorum. See also note at Point 12.
e) Why These Actions Are Questionable in Terms of Ethics and Legality.
1) This act of nepotism reinforced the control of the executors’ families, at the expense of the heir, and ignored the rules set out in the Foundation’s Statute on the procedure to elect Council members.
2) The 2009 election of the executors’ sons onto the Council was also of questionable legality, since there hadn’t been a valid quorum on The Strickland Foundation Council for the previous five years.
3) The executors justified their power grab by saying Robert was not Maltese (and the rules stated that Council Members should be Maltese). That excuse can no longer be used, since Robert has Maltese nationality. In any case, the Foundation’s Council could have changed the requirement for Council Members to be Maltese at any time after the Foreign Interference Act was repealed (and particularly following Malta’s accession to the EU in 2004). They chose not to do so, despite changing the aims and rules of the Foundation in other respects.
NOTE: Mabel didn’t leave control of Allied Newspapers to the de Marco and Ganado families. If Mabel had meant for the newspaper group she created and ran for more than six decades to have been left to her legal advisers’ families and to their friends, as is effectively now the case, she would have clearly said so. She said no such thing and there is not a shred of evidence that would support such an intention. Instead she again declared Robert Strickland, her nephew, to be her sole heir rather than ever naming Dr de Marco, Prof. Ganado or their sons.
In January 2010, after 21 years of fruitless negotiations to reach an amicable settlement on the interpretation of his Aunt’s will, Robert filed his legal action (34/2010) against the Executors and The Strickland Foundation.
He did so reluctantly, not only because legal cases in Malta can take decades to resolve but also because Dr de Marco was a former President of Malta and had previously been a top criminal lawyer and deputy prime minister. He thus had many influential friends. Prof. Joseph Ganado was also a leading civil lawyer and university lecturer.
Eight years later, Robert’s legal action finally resulted in a judgment on 10 May 2018, awarding most of the family’s possessions in the Villa to Robert as well as criticising the executors and The Strickland Foundation for human rights abuses.
DETAILS OF THESE ABUSES CAN BE SEEN IN POINT 20.
NOTE: Because the judgment was confusing in other ways, however, it was immediately appealed by both sides. A start date for the appeal hearings is still awaited and so this legal action continues, having commenced ten years ago.
Despite inexplicably holding the 79 per cent shareholding in Allied in their own names for 21 years (ostensibly on behalf of Mabel’s estate), just two weeks after Robert filed his court case, the Executors responded by transferring their majority shareholding in Allied Newspapers Ltd to The Strickland Foundation. This transfer is irregular and was done by stealth, without the knowledge of the full Allied Newspapers Board or the other shareholders, without the approval of the heir or the Courts and with no valid instrument of transfer. (LINK – Appendix 6 – Document RHS – 5A)
SUMMARY of a SILENT TAKEOVER: Because the executors had these shares registered in their names until 2010, and because the dividends from Allied until that time represented the majority of The Strickland Foundation’s income each year, the executors were in de facto control over the affairs of the Foundation and hence Allied Newspapers as well.
The executors reinforced this control by leaving vacant the posts of Council members who died between 1989 and 2009 (by which time the Council was permanently below its allowed minimum number of members and couldn’t assemble a quorum at any meeting), then seeing elected their own sons to the Council (instead of Mabel’s chosen heir) in 2009. At the same time, the executors used The Strickland Foundation’s supposed controlling vote in Allied (a vote called into question by the fact that foundations couldn’t own Allied shares) to elect themselves as Directors onto the Board of Allied, against the wishes of every other shareholder present.
a) No Documentation. Allied Newspapers Ltd has failed to produce any valid transfer document for the 2010 transfer of the majority shareholding in Malta’s leading media company. This was confirmed by a judgment of the Voluntary Court. (LINK See Appendix 8 – Document –RHS – 6)
It took the former Managing Director of Allied Newspapers Ltd, Adrian Hillman (a very close friend of Dr Mario de Marco and who was his best man), two years to provide Robert, Mabel’s heir, with any documentation about the 2010 transfer. This information was given very reluctantly on 22 April 2015 and still did not include the instrument of transfer. Hillman was originally recruited to be the campaign manager of Guido de Marco in 1996. He was then eventually appointed MD of Allied Newspapers Ltd in 2012. Hillman has since resigned all his positions in the Allied Group after allegations of financial impropriety were made public about his offshore company Lester Holdings in the BVI – information obtained on this was unearthed with the release of the leaked so-called Panama Papers.
b) Prohibitions Regarding a “Body Corporate” Owning Allied Shares. Such a transfer couldn’t be valid, in any event, because of the restrictions of the Memorandum and Articles of Allied, as well as Maltese company law, prohibiting family companies (known as private exempt companies, such as Allied), transferring any shares to a “body corporate”, such as The Strickland Foundation. The Strickland Foundation is registered as Legal Person Foundation 35). (LINK – Appendix 9 – Document RHS – 7)
c) A Share Register Gone Missing!...The company cannot even claim that the shares were actually transferred out of Mabel Strickland’s name into the names of the Executors in 1988, since Robert was told by the Company secretary that the Company may have “lost” the original Allied Share Register in the 1979 Black Monday fire. This is rather surprising since all the other statutory books kept with the Share Register have survived the fire intact but the loss of this Share Register may explain why there appears to be no valid instrument of transfer for the subsequent 2010 transfer of these same shares to The Strickland Foundation.
d) A Conflicted Company Secretary. Although the transfer of the majority shareholding of Allied would seem to be “void ab initio” legally, it doesn’t appear to have ever been questioned or challenged by the Board of Allied or its auditors. Allied’s own company secretary, Dr Clinton Calleja, was responsible for checking, accepting and recording the 2010 transfer (on a newly reconstituted computerised share register). But Calleja also works for Guido de Marco & Associates, giving him a serious conflict of interest.
e) Questions About the Number of Shares – Again. This 2010 transfer is also questionable because the number of shares transferred to The Strickland Foundation was not the legacy of 508 shares stated in Mabel’s Will, but 581 shares. This excludes the fact that this transfer was probably void ab initio.
f) Mysterious Amendment: The 2010 transfer is being challenged in a second legal action, filed by Robert in 2015, on a point of law. Yet, four years later, this case is finally under way, having been held up for three years by the defendants’ delaying tactics.
Under the provisions of UK company law (upon which Maltese company law is also based) this legacy would have been declared null and void because of the impediment mentioned in point 13b above where the Articles of Association of Allied Newspapers Ltd specifically states that. “no Body Corporate shall be a shareholder”. The Strickland Foundation is a body corporate. Although the Articles of Association cannot be altered without the agreement of all the shareholders, it is understood that an amendment to the Companies Act specifically regarding the definition of "body corporate" was passed in April 2013, disguised as a Budget amendment by the outgoing Government. The new Government accepted this amendment to Company Law with no questions asked as to the reasons why this particular clause (a long held tenet of Maltese Company Law) was be changed, or to whose advantage it could be. Despite repeated requests to the Government, over a two year period to furnish Robert with the reasons and details surrounding this amendment and, importantly, the name of its original proposer, no explanation has yet been received by Robert.
Note: Notwithstanding the questionable motivation for the statutory amendment being passed into law, it does not have retroactive effect and furthermore Allied’s Articles of Association cannot be altered without the agreement of all the shareholders. Therefore the 2010 transfer is still “void ab initio”.
By their actions in 2009 and 2010, the executors appear to have completely ignored Mabel Strickland’s well-known wishes for her heir in order to divert control of the Foundation and the newspaper group to their own families and friends.
a) All in the Family. Following the death of the two original Executors and the resignation of Dr. Max Ganado and one other Council member, Dr. Mario de Marco, a leading opposition politician, remains on the Council with four others. All but one of them was appointed by the Executors or their sons.
b) Appointments Without Consultation. Since Mabel’s death, there has been no democratic or transparent process in the selection of the Foundation’s Council members, as required by the Foundation’s Statute, and Council members are elected for life unless they choose to resign. The guiding aims and principles of the Foundation have been ignored on several occasions or have been changed. The Strickland Foundation, registered as a legal person (LPF 35), does not publish its accounts, as under current Maltese law it is not required to do so. However, while currently not required by law, this isn’t as transparent as one would expect for a charitable body.
The last appointment to the Council, the new chairman, Judge Giovanni Bonello, (a former Judge at the European Court of Human Rights) was made with no due democratic process, the post was not advertised, and no effort was made to discuss his appointment with the Strickland family. The new chairman’s recent appointment to The Strickland Foundation was even more surprising given that, only a few weeks previously, he had been in charge of the independent Board of Inquiry into the alleged wrongdoings of the newspaper’s former managing director, Adrian Hillman who appeared to enjoy close links not just to Dr Mario de Marco, but also to Keith Schembri (Chief of Staff to the former Prime Mininster Joseph Muscat). Although Judge Bonello must have known about the history of human rights abuses by The Strickland Foundation towards the Strickland family, he accepted the post of Chairman and yet refuses to get involved in resolving any of the problems.
Not only have the executors, or their sons, controlled the appointment of all the Directors and Senior Management of Allied Newspapers Ltd since Mabel’s death, but Dr Mario de Marco is also the Company’s legal representative and has advised on all major purchases or sales of assets and property. Dr Mario de Marco’s brother-in-law, Paul Camilleri, is Allied's architect; he advised the Company on the purchase and development of its new headquarters. De Marco’s business colleague, Clinton Calleja has been the Company Secretary of Allied Newspapers Ltd since 2008 and was responsible for registering the irregular share transfer in 2010 with the Malta Financial Services Authority (Form T) - on the instructions of the two original Executors, when Adrian Hillman was also a Director. (See Link Appendix 7 – RHS -5B)
The Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit of Malta also had “reasonable suspicion” Keith Schembri (former Chief of Staff of Malta’s former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat) was involved in money laundering after he transferred hundreds of thousands of Euros to his friend, then managing director of the Allied Group, Adrian Hillman. Dr Simon Busuttil, a former leader of the Nationalist party, in Malta, had described he has 'detailed proof' in a cache of documents of €650,000 of suspicious transactions involving Schembri paying out Hillman (between 2011 and 2015), without any form of explanation. “The payments came from secret structures that indicate a textbook case of bribery and money laundering,” Busuttil said. Schembri’s company Kasco Group had won a competitive tender to supply Allied Group’s Progress Press with its printing press in .....2010.
Daphne Caruana Galizia, the tragically assassinated Maltese journalist, makes reference to this in her blog.
“If we are to believe him (Schembri) on the subject of the date when he closed his Swiss bank account, it coincides with the setting up in the British Virgin Islands, around the same time, of undeclared companies, hidden behind nominees, for himself, his business partner Malcolm Scerri and Adrian Hillman. These BVI companies are called Lester, Colson and Selson, and all three have accounts at Pilatus Bank.”
It was alleged that Adrian Hillman, Keith Schembri (the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff until he resigned in late 2019) and Konrad Mizzi (who also resigned as a minister in late 2019) set up secret offshore bank accounts at about the same time. Keith Schembri’s company, KASCO, was a major supplier of newsprint paper to Allied Newspapers Ltd and was also the agent for the major printing machinery purchase when they moved into their new headquarters.
When these revelations about Hillman holding these offshore companies were made, it was noted that he had €650,000 in his account which could not be easily explained. However, it was known that Hillman was very closely linked to Keith Schembri. As a result of all this, an internal Board of Inquiry, chaired by Judge Giovanni Bonello, was immediately set up by Allied Newspapers to investigate these allegations against him. Hillman refused to co-operate with the Allied enquiry and gave up the chance to explain openly his new found wealth. Instead he resigned from the company, but is, allegedly, still a person of interest in ongoing investigations into offshore bank accounts. None of the minority shareholders of Allied has ever been allowed to see the final internal Allied investigation report; we understand, this will never be made public. This is curious and lacks any attempts at transparency.
Since Robert was appointed the residual executor of his Aunt’s estate on 7 April 2016, he now has access to copies of some of the executors’ original files. These show plainly that the Allied Board paid dividends directly to The Strickland Foundation from 1998 to 2010 before the Foundation was even registered as a shareholder! Although it is evident that the Foundation was ineligible, anyway, to be a shareholder of the company, over €3 million of dividends had already been paid directly to the Foundation, instead of to Mabel’s estate, over this 13-year period. Neither the Board of Allied, nor its auditors, seem to think that this is important or a matter of public interest, and the Foundation, as noted above, does not disclose how it spends its money. This matter should be looked into by the appropriate authorities.
Since the death of both the original executors, Robert Hornyold-Strickland, being Mabel’s heir and the only person still able to be an executor, was appointed by the Courts on 7 April 2016 to fulfil any final duties required of the executorship. However, Dr Max Ganado, who until recently had possession of Mabel’s executorship files following his father’s death, refuses to pass on all the original files to Robert, despite Robert being Mabel’s sole heir and residual Executor. This is no legal defence for this and Dr Max Ganado’s continued possession of these files constitutes a fortiori theft.
Instead, the 28 known executors files appear to have been redacted, over the past few years, and only copies of some of these files (and not original documents) were eventually passed on to Robert by Dr Max Ganado more than one year after the Court made its order. There is missing information from these copies (that were handed over) that includes the dividend cheques made out to The Strickland Foundation, missing executorship bank statements and dividend warrants for each of these improper dividend payments. It was only in November 2019 that Allied Newspapers Ltd itself reluctantly passed on to Robert only some of these dividend warrants and details, as ordered by the Voluntary Court in 2015.
Robert is required to submit a final statement of affairs of the executorship to the Courts, having satisfied himself as heir that everything is properly in order. He cannot do this, however, until he has access to all the above files, as well as details of €3 million in irregularly distributed dividends paid by Allied Newspapers Ltd to The Strickland Foundation instead of to the Executors of Mabel Strickland's estate, which should have been included in the income of the Executorship since the Executors were apparently the registered shareholder and not The Strickland Foundation.
Despite repeated requests over many years, Mrs Violet de Marco (widow of Dr Guido de Marco), Dr Mario de Marco, Dr Max Ganado, The Strickland Foundation and the Board of Allied Newspapers Ltd. have all failed to pass on all of the files that belong to Robert. By their actions, in withholding files and information, they are preventing the new executor from carrying out his duties and interfering with the Court’s ability to dispense proper justice.
Similarly, the bulk of Mabel’s personal, family, administration files and legal papers have been (and are still being) willfully kept from Robert by The Strickland Foundation and the de Marco family. All these files belong to Robert, as Mabel’s sole heir, and not to the families of the original executors. Yet they have never been released to him. The Courts have now ordered the release of some of these files, especially any relating to the 1979 changed will or the setting up of The Strickland Foundation. Nevertheless, Robert has evidence of sensitive files being passed over by the Council of The Strickland Foundation to a third party for safe keeping. (LINK – Appendix 10 - Robert Strickland’s second affidavit on the non disclosure of sensitive files)
The executors, the Foundation’s Council members and their staff have all waged a systematic campaign of abuse, insults and harassment over a number of years against Robert and his family, which has been distressing for them and is now well documented. Over 70 examples of harassment were documented by the family up to 2015.
a) Foundation events and private parties. The Foundation and the Executors frequently used the Villa and its gardens for private parties, unrelated to their legitimate purposes, and completely without the permission of Robert and his family, who are recognised as the only people allowed to live at the Villa. These functions included the Executors’ birthday parties, anniversary parties and even the wedding reception of Adrian Hillman, a very close personal friend of Mario de Marco. None of these events were connected in any way with the aims of The Strickland Foundation. In this way the Foundation was directly competing with the heir for use of the Villa and abusing the family’s human rights to live peacefully in their own home.
b) Removal of the family’s kitchen plates and equipment. In 2012, lunch parties were held in the Villa family dining room by members of The Strickland Foundation, even when the family was in residence. Robert and his family were totally excluded from their dining room and not able to use their own kitchen. If Robert and his family went abroad on holiday, the family’s kitchen equipment, pots, pans, dishes etc., were repeatedly moved by Foundation staff to Robert’s bedroom and unceremoniously dumped on his bed. This petty action took place a number of times until the family threatened to call the Police the next time it happened.
c) Construction projects on a heritage home. Building works were frequently undertaken at the Villa, without consulting the family, to make it difficult for the family to stay there. These works were frequently started when the family was abroad and could not object. These included illegal works (which subsequently had to be pulled down) and other construction completely out of character with a heritage home.
d) Bedrooms and bathrooms rendered unusable; a garden gone to ruin. Works undertaken shortly after Mabel’s death included the removal of all beds and mattresses from the bedrooms and most of the baths from the bathrooms, making it virtually impossible for the family to stay at the Villa. Other bedrooms and bathrooms have been kept permanently locked from Robert and used to keep Mabel’s files away from him or turned into a kitchen for the Foundation’s ‘gardener’, entirely without the family’s consent. Meanwhile, the gardens have been woefully neglected, many of the fruit trees destroyed and the family prevented from taking care of them. Mabel had a tradition of sending a large basket of Maltese oranges to HM Queen Elizabeth every Christmas which came from her gardens and The Queen has always expressed her delight and appreciation of the gift as they remind her of her happy times in Malta. The Strickland family maintains this tradition each year, but the actions of The Strickland Foundation in allowing the gardens to become ruined is jeopardising this happy tradition. The family have offered to maintain the plants and trees in the gardens, but The Strickland Foundation has refused to allow this and seem to prefer to see the gardens decline.
HM The Queen with Mabel and Rev J. McLoughlin in 1951
e) Renamed rooms. Rooms in the Villa were renamed by the Foundation so as to make those rooms, specifically referred to in Mabel’s Will, unrecognisable by the Courts. The Foundation set up an office within the Villa and stored many of Mabel’s papers and possessions in locked rooms, some of which remain permanently locked to this day. One of these rooms was even designated in Mabel’s Will for Robert’s exclusive use but he had to take the Foundation to court to get its doors unlocked, costing him €2,000 to have a door unlocked! Many of Mabel’s files and books have even been removed from the Villa by The Strickland Foundation to other properties to keep them away from Robert. The safety and condition of these family and heritage items cannot be established.
f) Repeated breaches of privacy. The Strickland family’s privacy has been traduced by the Foundation, which installed CCTV cameras in all the main rooms in the house, under their exclusive control, which seemed designed not only for security but also to spy on the family. This installation of cameras was done entirely without asking the family’s permission, until the Courts ordered their removal a few years later. The Strickland Foundation made frequent unannounced and unnecessary entries into the Villa while the family was in residence, even at 7 am and 8.30 at night and even at week ends – until ordered to desist by the Judge.
The Foundation also still employs a “gardener” who has done very little gardening at the Villa for over five years but is frequently found right outside Robert and his wife’s bedroom looking into the room. He keeps a number of dogs and other animals and birds in the garden outside the family bedrooms, totally against their wishes. One dog is so neglected that it often barks all night long, keeping the family awake and yet the gardener refuses to keep the dog at his own home. The Foundation seems to have a policy of deliberately ruining the gardens at the Villa and allowing many beautiful old walls to collapse, refusing to repair them, or to allow the family to get involved with restituting the garden.
The abusive behaviour of the Foundation’s gardener, which is clearly condoned by The Strickland Foundation, is currently the subject of another court action in relation to Robert’s wife.
g) The Xara Farm controversy. The Xara Farm, in the same village, has been claimed by The Strickland Foundation as being an integral part of the Villa. This isn’t borne out by the facts. Still, the Foundation has allowed its so-called gardener and others to use the farmland without consulting Robert, until the Courts finally decide its true ownership. The result has been that the Strickland family has been denied the use of this land for more than 30 years.
h) Family belongings and household goods at issue. A similar situation exists with the collections of family portraits and artworks, chattels and family records from the Villa, which the Foundation unilaterally took possession of (before its true ownership was established) and despite it being promised to Robert by his Aunt. Many other items, such as books and papers, were removed from the Villa by the Foundation or the Executors many years ago and have not been seen since, though they are believed to be stored by the Foundation in a nearby garage. One of these artworks, a beautiful bronze statue of the “Arab Horses” by Antonio Sciortino, was stolen from the hallway of the Xara Palace Hotel on the very night that Mabel died. It, too, has never been seen since. A plaster original of it has pride of place in the new Muza Art Museum in Valletta. The Police investigation into the theft has so far got nowhere.
i) Over 30 years have elapsed since Mabel died. By the time the first court case was filed Mabel had been dead for 20 years and yet the attitude of the original executors towards the heir meant that his inheritance had been denied to him for all of these years. This is in breach of his human right to enjoy the fruits of any inheritance on a timely basis. The executors failed in their duties to act in a bonus paterfamilias way as laid down by law but, because of their massive conflict of interest from the outset, and competed, directly, with the heir instead.
J) To what end? Harassment continues to this day and is well documented. It appears to be aimed at preventing the family from living peacefully in the Strickland family home, with their family possessions, as Mabel unquestionably intended.
With reference to the original 2010 Court Case, the Judge ruled in May 2018 that the Xara Farm in Lija is an integral part of Villa Parisio (and thus belonged to the Foundation), despite a mass of evidence on the file to suggest otherwise. The Xara Farm had always been run as a business and managed by the Xara Palace Hotel Company since its original purchase by Mabel. But the Court had misfiled a number of crucial documents provided by Robert, which was only discovered after the Judgment.
The Judge also ruled that the majority of the contents of the Villa (at least all those with a value in excess of €1,000) belonged to Robert and he censured The Strickland Foundation for human rights abuses against the Strickland family.
Furthermore the Judge ordered The Strickland Foundation to restore certain rooms to the way they were at the time of Mabel’s death but decided, confusingly, that Robert, his wife, three children and any guests and staff, should all be restricted to a single bedroom and bathroom at the Villa (as suggested by the Foundation but not supported by the Will). This is a risible and inaccurate interpretation of Mabel’s Will, by her executors and the Council Members of The Strickland Foundation, when it was known that there were seven guest bedrooms and six guest bathrooms at the Villa when Mabel died.
Both sides have appealed this judgment on the basis that it has wrongly interpreted both the facts and the law.
This case shows a catalogue of financial impropriety, dereliction of duty by the executors, disregard for the law and of the Strickland family’s human rights, poor governance and abusive behaviour by the original Executors against the Strickland family – all to the benefit of The Strickland Foundation (controlled by themselves and, now, their family and friends).
Apart from Robert and his family, the other losers in this situation are the minority shareholders and employees of Allied Newspapers and the readers of their newspapers, as well as the people of Malta, who would expect to see respect for the law and respect for and upholding the principles of a fair and free press.
The Times of Malta's own editor recently said this case was not of public interest, and as a result the paper has covered hardly any of this scandalous story. Other papers have found it of great interest. An article that Robert did write for The Times of Malta, 8 years ago in May of 2012, caused such a stir that the management of the paper rang Robert to try to persuade him to withdraw the article. The three people who called to try to dissuade him were Austin Bencini (Director), Adrian Hillman (Director) and the then Managing Director. Robert refused to back down and the Editor, at the time, Steve Mallia, was also brave enough not to be leaned on by Management, and went ahead and published the article. The article still went through eleven iterations before it was published; it is here to read and still seems so prophetic about corruption in Malta at the highest levels.
One prominent Maltese politician has been quoted as saying this scandal “ is a clear case of daylight robbery”. If Mabel Strickland had wanted the benefit of her assets to be inherited and enjoyed by her legal advisers and their progeny, very clear words would have been needed in her will, where, of course, there were none. The opposite is true. Mabel clearly intended Robert to be her sole heir and to live at Villa Parisio, with his family. She provided for that in her will. All who knew her were aware that she wanted Robert to be involved in her businesses too as soon as he could get back to Malta. That Strickland assets still remain under the effective control of one of the sons of her original executors (who is a PEP as a prominent politician) and this makes a mockery of justice and the rule of law in Malta. At the same time, if this situation is allowed to continue, it represents a threat to Malta’s free and independent press at The Times of Malta and the Sunday Times of Malta. It must be rectified.