Air Malta’s ‘new’ consultants facing Alitalia bankruptcy charges in Rome

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The duo behind failures at Etihad, Alitalia and Air Malta.

The owners of Knighthood Global Ltd – the Abu Dhabi-based consultancy firm hired by the Maltese government to transition the failed Air Malta into a new national carrier – are currently facing criminal charges in Italy connected to the bankruptcy of Alitalia.

James Hogan and James Rigney, the former CEO and CFO of Etihad who set up the Knighthood consultancy after being forced to step down, have been indicted by the Civitavecchia court in Rome over their alleged criminal behaviour leading to the folding of the Italian national flag carrier.

Together with another 12 former Alitalia and Etihad officials, Hogan and Rigney were charged in late 2022 with aggravated fraudulent bankruptcy, false corporate communications, obstacles to supervision, and other offences related to excessive costs in accommodation, lunches, and expenses, all of which, prosecutors say, had a hand in Alitalia’s collapse.

Both consultants maintain their innocence. Criminal proceedings are still underway.

Meanwhile, sources told The Shift that Rigney is present at Air Malta Executive Chairman David Curmi‘s office three days a week. They said he is acting as a de facto CEO for the new airline, which is yet to be set up.

The Shift asked Curmi to clarify Rigney’s role and provide information on how many personnel Knighthood Global provides to Air Malta, but he did not reply.

He also did not comment on the history of the consultants he chose, including accusations they were behind the bankruptcy of Alitalia and the dismal financial result at Etihad, forcing the Abu Dhabi government to sack them from their roles in 2017.

Sources told The Shift that apart from the €200,000 a month that Knighthood Global receives for consultancy services, costing taxpayers almost €5 million between 2022 and 2023, they also provide other consultants, paid separately outside the main contract.

For example, Lorna Delziel and Tomas Damien Powell, also former Etihad officials, have been on Air Malta’s staff list for several months, receiving over €10,000 a month each, excluding expenses.

The Shift asked Curmi to provide details of expenses such as accommodation, travel, subsistence, entertainment, and others incurred by Knighthood and paid by Air Malta or the government, but he did not reply.

Last week, The Shift revealed how Hogan and Rigney’s company was the same initially hired by the government in 2021 to save Air Malta from folding.

The two also have a long connection to Malta through Leslie Cassar, a former agent of Air Malta in Australia who then founded the World Aviation Group and continued doing business with Air Malta for decades under every chairman and administration.

Through one of his companies, Centercom, in which Air Malta has a shareholding, Cassar has a multi-million-euro contract to run Air Malta’s call centre. The government issued another multi-million to the same company to give it customer care services.

Through Knighthood Global, Hogan and Rigney, both Australians, have a physical presence in Malta as their company has one of its main branches operating from the same office building of Cassar’s World Aviation Group at the Mosta Technopark.

Hogan and Rigney are also officials of a Malta-registered company, Knighthood Capital Partners Malta Ltd.

Curmi, acting as executive chairman and put on a €21,500 a month salary, has no experience in aviation and has never worked in the sector.

Air Malta sources said that Curmi depends entirely on Knighthood Global to lead the way on decisions at Air Malta and related to the new airline.

In 2017, Hogan and Rigney had even convinced disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat to sell the majority stake of Air Malta to Alitalia and Etihad.

But the deal was pulled at the last minute when the imminent folding of Alitalia became apparent, along with the involvement of Hogan and Rigney in the company before its demise.

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