Maltese taxpayers were billed almost €300,000 for first class air, hotels, meals and entertainment by Jonathan Cardona, one of disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s closest aides and former classmate, while touring the globe to sell Maltese passports, The Shift can reveal.
In four years, between March 2014 and April 2018, Cardona, in his capacity as CEO of Malta’s Individual Investor Programme (IIP) selling EU passports, spent weeks abroad during 43 trips – almost once a month – to sell Maltese passports to millionaires.
The total bill amounted to €275,130, according to official documents seen by The Shift.
During his passport tours, which included multiple visits to Ukraine, Brazil, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Monaco, China and the US, among other countries, Cardona promoted the Maltese cash for passports scheme and met millionaires and their representatives, urging them to purchase EU citizenship.
Cardona was often accompanied by Monica Farrugia, a close associate at Identity Malta and later at the Malta Individual Investor Programme, and a member of the executive committee of the governing Labour Party.
These extravagant trips saw him spending tens of thousands of taxpayer funds for flights and accommodations at luxury hotels throughout the world.
During one nine-day tour of Asia, visiting Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, Cardona and Farrugia spent almost €30,000 on flights, luxury hotels and other expenses. They were also joined by Charles Mizzi – the programme’s chief communications officer and close associate with those in the Muscat government.
In January 2018, a four-day visit by Cardona and Farrugia to the US cost taxpayers almost €18,000. In September 2017, Cardona, Farrugia and Mizzi spent almost €20,000 for a week-long visit to Turkey and China.
The Shift has also learned that the majority of Cardona’s trips abroad were to attend events organised by Henley & Partners, which the Maltese government had granted an exclusive concession to in 2013 to operate the cash-for-passports scheme and sell it from country to country.
It has also been uncovered that as part of the contract between the government and Henley & Partners, Maltese government representatives, including Muscat, were contracted to attend conferences abroad to promote the sale of Maltese and EU passports. Muscat attended Henley & Partners’ events around the globe every year, to sell Maltese citizenship.
The scheme has been criticised by the European Commission, which said the cash for passport scheme exposes the EU to “money laundering, corruption and organised crime“. The Commission had stressed it does not endorse the scheme, contradicting what the Maltese government had told the public.
During his visits, from Singapore to Dubai to New York, Muscat was always accompanied by Keith Schembri, his then-chief of staff, who was forced to resign following weeks of street protests late last year for his alleged involvement in the plot to assassinate journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
In 2017, Schembri was accused by then-Opposition leader Simon Busuttil of receiving kickbacks through the cash-for-passport scheme.
This information was also included in a report by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) passed on to the police, showing that Schembri had received proceeds from Brian Tonna, owner of Nexia BT, from the sale of passports. The funds were wired to an account which Schembri held at Pilatus Bank.
Nexia BT had set up the Panama companies, through the now-defunct Mossack Fonseca, for Schembri, former Minister Konrad Mizzi and a third company – Egrant – that was the subject of a magisterial inquiry, the conclusions of which have been questioned by top legal experts.
To date, no one has been prosecuted by the police following the release of allegations of kickbacks to Schembri. A magisterial inquiry was opened in 2017 after a challenge by Busuttil, but it remains listed as ‘ongoing’.