Interview | Wednesday, 15 July 2009

A tale of clipped wings

Karl Stagno-Navarra

I was originally invited to interview Luigi Crispino last week, however a phone call just a few hours before we had to meet informed me that the Sicilian businessman had to leave quickly for Bologna to “sort out” some business.
Luigi Crispino is a controversial character, and his reputation of being an impulsive decision-maker and rich in survival instinct was more than evident as the events unfolded within a span of three days.
The main theme of our meeting was the birth of Efly, Luigi Crispino’s latest project: A Malta-based low-cost airline to operate between Malta, Sicily and Gatwick.
Efly has already been registered in Malta, and a first aircraft - a British Aerospace 146-300 – is currently at the Medavia hangar in Safi.
Crispino - who has also been involved in a number of start-ups over the years, has been involved in a series of businesses, including a private yacht marina in Syracuse where his family runs a legal firm.
His career is constellated with projects and issues with the Italian judiciary. He was arrested in 2000 following the grounding of Air Sicilia and its bankruptcy.
He was also sued and had to pay €145,000 in compensation to a senior consultant of his who claimed to have never been paid, and who had reportedly instigated the investigations by the Guardia di Finanza into his finances.
Known for his ability to rehabilitate himself, Luigi Crispino is listed as a car concessionaire, developer, pharmaceutical representative and owner of a resort in Lampedusa. He also entered politics in Sicily by founding a left-winged movement that went into disband shortly after its inception.
With a second aircraft said to arrive in Malta in the coming days, Efly had originally reported to have signed a contract with a Bologna based airline to operate on its behalf, however the company still required a license to operate from the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), and this license has still not been issued.
While a press statement explained that the aircraft has been registered to Aircraft Leasing Management, a Maltese leasing company that is owned by the Crispino family and other investors, a person close to the Sicilian businessman informed me about the themes he wanted to talk about in his interview with Business Today.
Namely, Luigi Crispino wanted to talk about how the present crisis in the tourism industry could be overcome; The role of a private airline based in Malta; Why would Efly be highly beneficial to the tourist sector; and why it is important to have a Maltese low-cost airline operating from MIA.
All was set for the interview, but as we were informed of Luigi Crispino’s surprise departure, a few hours after we received a press note stating the following :
“Luigi Crispino has resigned from Chief Executive Officer of Efly Ltd with immediate effect. He has also transfered all his shares to another company.
“The shareholders were notified with Dr Crispino’s decision to relinquish his post and has decided to nominate a board to administer the company.
“The newly appointed Chairman is Gilbert Gatt. New board members include Antonio Maria Mattei who is the Managing Director, Frans Camilleri who is the Account Manager and Joseph Attard who will be a member of the latter mentioned board.”
The news came as a surprise followed by a phone call from Luigi Crispino who still accepted to be interviewed.
“My resignation was spontaneous, and taken in the best interest of the airline,” he stressed, but refused to answer what these “interests” were.
I confronted Crispino suggesting whether he resigned his post due to the delay by DCA to issue a permit for the airline to operate, given his history as founder of Air Sicilia that had gone bust in 2000, leading to his arrest by the Guardia di Finanza and a series of investigations that ensued the collapse of the company, not to mention also investigations on fraud, bankruptcy and tax evasion.
Crispino replied with a “no comment” and insisted that his decision to resign as Efly chairman was “purely strategic.”
He went on to explain that after obtaining the JAR-145 license and certification from CAMO which authorizes Efly to conduct its own maintenance on the fleet of aircraft it has leased from Aircraft Leasing Management, “with my resignation I have removed the last obstacle for Efly to obtain the last part of the license.”
“I have done all this in the interest of Efly’s growth and the role that Efly can play for the benefit of the Maltese economy.”
There is no doubt that any airline based in Malta would be beneficial for the Maltese economy, most of all for its tourism sector. But Luigi Crispino insisted that he’d rather not talk about the themes indicated in the first instance.
“Right now I have nothing more to add about Efly except that I am confident the project will take-off shortly,” he said.
Here again I stress with Crispino that it sounds quite odd to see him suddenly announce his resignation so soon from the company, when it was considered to be his baby and a first recovery attempt in civil aviation since the collapse of Air Sicilia.
Again, he insisted that he had nothing more to add, explaining that any further information about the company should come from the new board of directors.
I turned my questions to the newly-appointed Managing Director at Efly Antonio Maria Mattei who refused to give any comment.
“Just leave us alone,” was his immediate answer, while adding that “journalists should mind their own business while I mind mine.”
Having taken this reply into account, I asked Antonio Mattei about his origins, and profession.
“I am a citizen of the world, and my profession is none of your business,” he replied, while admitting that he has been in Malta doing business for the past few years.
The conversation proceeded for almost 20 minutes in a surreal climate of hostility, where absolutely no information about Efly was given.
“All I can tell you is that we have an airplane here in Malta that is ready to fly,” Mattei said, however he refused to say where the plane would fly to once Efly is granted a license by the DCA.
“We will keep you posted should we have any developments,” and concluded the conversation.
A quick research into the company and its structure reveals that Luigi Crispino has employed Frans Camilleri, former Corporate Group Head Strategic Planning as Efly’s account manager.
Mr Camilleri’s repution in aviation strategy is second to none, and has long years of experience on a series of projects, amongst which was the Air Malta fleet renewal programme in 2002.
Aircraft Leasing Management has been registered with the MFSA with 20,000 shares at a nominal value of €1 each. The administrative offices are registered in Msida, however the company is operating from San Gwann.



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15 July 2009


Malta Today


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