Law firm given ‘improper advantage’ to sell passports – Standards Commissioner

Julia Farrugia Portelli

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, George Hyzler, has concluded that Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli gave an improper advantage to the law firm Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates when she appeared in a promotional video produced by the law firm to promote the citizenship by investment and residential visa schemes.

The video was shot in the Auberge de Castille at the time Farrugia Portelli was a Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for these schemes.

Standards Commissioner in his conclusion said that when ministers support initiatives by private operators, they should be careful to avoid crossing the line between providing appropriate official assistance and giving an improper advantage.

The Commissioner came to this conclusion after considering a complaint by the NGO Repubblika against Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli.

Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates produced three videos to promote citizenship by investment and residential visa schemes. Minister Farrugia Portelli appeared in all three videos together with officials from the government agencies that administer the schemes and representatives of the law firm itself.

The Commissioner concluded that this may have given an improper advantage to the firm because the videos gave the impression that it was well connected with the authorities.

The Commissioner also found that Farrugia Portelli was not directly involved in the production of the videos. This was the result of a lack of thought on her part, as well as a failure to act promptly to have the videos removed once she became aware of the effects of her actions.

The Commissioner also held meetings with Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli and Jean Philippe Chetcuti of Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates with Minister Farrugia Portelli instructing the firm to remove the videos from its website. The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life felt that this action, together with his own report, were a sufficient remedy in the circumstances.

Minister says she did not act in bad faith

Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli said that her appearance in the videos produced by the law firm Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates was not intended to give an advantage to the law firm in promoting the citizenship by investment and residential visa schemes.

In a statement issued after the conclusions of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life were published, Minister Farrugia Portelli said that she immediately took action and after a meeting was held between the Commissioner, the Minister and a representative of the law firm, Farrugia Portelli instructed the law firm to remove the videos.

Minister Farrugia Portelli must resign – PN

The Nationalist Party that Minister Julia Farrugia failed to understand that her behaviour is a clear example of bad politics and she must assume the political responsibility and therefore resign.

In a statement issued by PN MP Karol Aquilina on behalf of the Nationalist Party, he said that Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli knew exactly what she was doing as the videos were filmed in the chamber where cabinet meetings are held and the Chief Executive Officer of the IIP Scheme, Jonathan Cardona, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Malta Residency Visa Agency, Roderick Cutajar, were present.

Minister crossed a very fine line

The activist group Repubblika said that the message that Minister Farrugia Portelli conveyed in the videos filmed by the law firm was that there is no fine line between the scheme and preferential treatment to the particular law firm.

Repubblika said that following the conclusions by the Standards Commissioner, Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli must resign.