Environment Minister Jose Herrera has told The Shift that the government will not be joining a legal case planned by a number of Igaming companies to recover thousands of euro given to the fraudulent White Flag scheme run by Croatian Kristijan Curavić.
Last month, The Shift reported that a number of Igaming companies were planning legal action against White Flag International after the organisation breached the conditions of contracts signed committing to deliver ‘plastic-free’ beaches in Malta and Gozo. The companies asked the Maltese government to join the case.
Igaming companies, as well as government entities, have forked out thousands of euro to support what promised to be an environmental project. But while private companies are making efforts to recover their funds, the Maltese government has shown no interest. Some €35,000 of taxpayer money was allocated to the project, yet the actual amount spent on Curavić’s project is not yet clear.
The Ministry has said it has no grounds to support such court action: “The Ministry has no juridical interest in the lawsuit, furthermore the Ministry has no locus standii to intervene in the refereed cause”.
The Shift has shown through a Freedom of Information request how the Gozo Ministry signed a contract with White Flag operators amounting to €29,000 for two White Flags plus providing “all-inclusive accommodation for divers and officials during site cleaning and annual inspections”.
This was part of a plan announced by Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana “to cover all of Gozo’s beaches with White Flags”. Caruana had told Parliament that only €7,776 had been spent, omitting to mention the contract signed that was then revealed by The Shift through a Freedom of Information request.
Herrera is still claiming there is no reason to take action to recover taxpayer money because his ministry had signed no agreement with the organisation. Yet, the Environment Ministry spent at least €3,867 on the launch of the first White Flag in Wied iz-Zurrieq, according to information tabled in parliament.
The launch at Wied iz-Zurrieq in March 2018 was attended by the Minister himself, former EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella, the CEO of the Environment and Resources Louise Spiteri and Ocean Governance Ambassador for Malta Alan Deidun who later said he had abandoned the project after his endorsement was questioned. Former EU Commissioner Vella never answered questions sent to him.
Curavić promoted Malta as “the first plastic-free ocean country”, leading to a line up of government officials only to keen to appear in photos with him. He then used this to sell the idea to other governments, until The Shift revealed the whole project to be a scam, saving taxpayers and private companies from investing further thousands of euro in a fraudulent scheme. By that time, Curavić had already managed to acquire seven White Flags in the country.
The reports even led to other governments withdrawing their support, notably in The Seychelles where a project for 40 White Flags in the country was halted.
When Ministers and representatives of the European Commission were standing in line for photos with Curavić, he was already facing charges for fraud in a similar scheme in his home country, The Shift had revealed.
Curavić, who has left Malta since news broke of the scam, had mentioned Environment Minister Herrera, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as “the initiators” of the White Flag project in Malta on the organisation’s web site. The text was removed after the scheme was exposed as a scam.