Questions are being raised about the payment of €19,050 in taxpayers’ funds by Minister Jose’ Herrera who hired a Valletta-based firm to provide round-the-clock security for his family, including at his residence in Lija.
The minister decided to hire security during the height of political turmoil late last year following revelations about his government’s involvement in criminal activity. Herrera admitted that he had not received any “particular threat” and neither was he the focus of public anger.
The protests led to the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi from his ministerial role.
Herrera’s personal security cost taxpayers €635 per day, totalling €19,050, for the protection of his family.
Government ministers are normally afforded such protection by the police and other publicly paid security services following the assessment of a threat.
Investigations by The Shift indicate that Herrera, elected from the Valletta district, chose through two separate direct orders to hire Protection Services Malta Ltd – a company based in his constituency.
Additionally, the head of the firm, former AFM soldier Jason Pisani, was one of Herrera’s clients when he practised law before his appointment as a minister.
In 2007, Herrera’s ‘bodyguard’ was arraigned in court, charged with assaulting a Liberian refugee and of inciting racial hatred. At the time, Herrera was Pisani’s defence lawyer. Pisani was freed as the refugee was not deemed credible by then-Magistrate Giovanni Grixti.
Registered in May 2013, just a few weeks after Labour was returned to power, Protection Services Malta is owned by Elinor Inga-Lill Svensson Moller, a Swede with a Maltese passport living in Valletta, along with Sue Ellen Deguara, also from Valletta.
Pisani, who boasts of extensive service in protecting private individuals, lives at the same residence as Svensson Moller. Pisani’s brother, Jody, who also works at the firm, is Herrera’s canvasser and was one of the ‘unknown’ thugs who locked journalists inside Castille following a tumultuous Cabinet meeting that led to the end of Muscat’s government.
The firm was also given contracts to provide security at Pjazza Teatru Rjal at Valletta’s entrance – when Herrera was politically responsible for its administration.
Asked to explain why the Minister was feeling threatened during the political turmoil at the end of last year, and if he had filed a report with the police, a spokeswoman for Herrera told The Shift that there was “no specific threat directed at the minister”.
She added that the service was procured “as a precautionary measure to ensure that during such a delicate period and particular circumstances, the security of Dr Jose’ Herrera in his official capacity as government minister is handled in a professional manner and, hence, proactively avert any unwarranted situations which could arise.”
The spokeswoman did not explain why Herrera did not use normal police channels in such a situation but instead decided to use taxpayers’ money for his family’s protection.
Neither did she reply to questions about how Pisani’s firm was selected, by whom, and whether Pisani was Herrera’s canvasser and former client.
It is not yet known whether other ministers, colleagues of Herrera who formed part of the Cabinet of disgraced former Prime Minister Muscat, had decided to use public funds for their own protection during the turmoil which led to a change of Cabinet.
This is not the first time that Herrera gave jobs to clients of his private legal practice.
Upon becoming Environment Minister in 2016, Herrera employed retired AFM Major Pierre Vassallo as his chief of staff, along with another retired AFM officer, Mario Schembri, as a director at the Environment and Resources Authority. He had represented both in court cases instituted against the government regarding promotions denied.