On Wednesday timesofmalta.com broke the news about the trip to Las Vegas by Joseph Cuschieri, former chair of the Malta Gaming Authority and current CEO of the Malta Financial Services Authority, all expenses paid by Yorgen Fenech, the person accused of masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
On Thursday The Shift upped the ante. It informed readers that Edwina Licari, who was a senior official at the Malta Gaming Authority when Cuschieri was Chairman and then joined MFSA with a €100,000 annual package when he became CEO was also on that luxurious trip. Licari is now also a member of FIAU.
As if this was not enough, on Friday timesofmalta.com advised us that an OPM official, Charlene Bianco Farrugia was the fourth person on the trip.
Forty eight hours or so have passed by after the first report was published. It beggars belief that Joseph Cuschieri is still the CEO of the regulator of Malta’s financial services. This lack of action by the Prime Minister and the Board of Governors of MFSA and that of the FIAU is shameful.
“Not just wrong, obscene”
I spoke to key players in the sector to try and form an opinion on the gravity or otherwise of what Cuschieri did.
“What he did”, was one answer “was not simply bad. It was obscene.”
The reasons are legion
1. Cuschieri in his role of Chair of MGA was expected to regulate Fenech, the owner of a casino. Cuschieri said in his defense that the offer was made after he left MGA, so he saw nothing wrong in accepted what looks like a gift.
So, is Cuschieri so ingenuous that it did not occur to him that many people, who are not as innocent and naïve as he is, would think (mistakenly, quite naturally) that the deluxe trip was a gift for services rendered? Heaven forbid that any would think I am saying that Cuschieri rendered any services which were untoward. Perish the thought. But people with less that childlike minds would be tempted to think that was what happened.
I never cease to wonder how come our institutions are led by people who can manifest such a high level of naïveté! Alas!
2. Cuschieri said that he went with Yorgen Fenech to advise him on some investment that Fenech was considering to make. Was the nature of the investment so complex that the ‘consultancy delegation’ needed the presence of a high official at the Malta Gaming Authority and an official at the Office of the Prime Minister?
3. When Cuschieri went to Las Vegas, courtesy of Yorgen Fenech, he was the CEO of MFSA which regulates all financial services. In that role he is responsible to no small extent for the regulation of some of Fenech’s business activity which includes bonds etc listed with the stock exchange. The Code of Ethics of MFSA clearly says that staff cannot accept gifts.
Perhaps Cuschieri can say in his defense that the Fenech invite came only one month after he joined MFSA which perhaps was too short a time for him to familiarize himself with the Code of Ethics. Had he had the time to do that he would have discovered that even a small gift had to be declared let alone such an expensive freebie.
4. Cuschieri told timesofmalta.com that he accompanied Fenech to give consultancy. One understands that this was not a pro bono arrangement. This really is a bummer. Conflict of interests apart, life in Malta must be tough that someone with an annual basic annual salary of €120K needs to do part time work for those whom he is expected to regulate. The Maltese saying “il-familja trid” was never so true
5. One final thing. The Shift reported that it saw documents which show that just a few weeks after the trip, the MFSA issued a call to find new premises. One of those who submitted a multi-million bid is The Quad. This is the Tumas Group and Gasan Holdings controversial multi-story high-rise in Mriehel, granted development permission as the policy was changed a couple of hours after Fenech visited Castille for a meeting with the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for planning. Surely another coincidence and not a post hoc propter hoc occurrence.
PM should take action
Our sources said that this most recent balbuljata will harm our reputation on the eve of Moneyval penning its report on whether to grey list or not Malta.
If the Prime Minister and the Board of Governors of the MFSA and FIAU have the national interest above all else they should take immediate action. There should not be a place in MFSA for Joseph Cuschieri nor for Edwijna Licari, let alone a place on FIAU as well.