Malta’s embattled Film Commissioner Johann Grech has spent more than €600,000 of taxpayer money on flights and accommodation in just two years, globetrotting the world together with his private secretary, The Shift can reveal.
Although marketing forms part of the Film Commission’s mission to try to lure film productions to Malta, Johann Grech seems to have taken his mission to new heights spending more than 10 times on travel than his predecessor.
During his first full year at the helm of the Commission in 2014, Engelbert Grech, a former TV producer on Labour’s One TV, spent less than €30,000 on travel. His successor, Johann Grech spent a staggering €326,000 during 2018 alone – his first full year at the Commission.
This extravagant travel spending spree continued to balloon the following year, when Johann Grech spent a record €345,000 on trips abroad, according to answers to a Freedom of Information request seen by The Shift.
Almost always accompanied by his private secretary, in 2019 Johann Grech flew to Los Angeles four times and spent weeks overseas in various exotic destinations including Canada, Hong Kong, Beijing, Australia, New Zealand and New York.
Most of the spending of the 2019 travel budget went towards the Film Commissioner’s flights.
For Johann Grech and his private secretary to fly for a conference in Austin, USA and then attend a festival in Hong Kong, taxpayers had to fork out a total of €47,000 on plane tickets.
This does not include more than €4,000 in subsistence allowances and almost another €5,000 in costs for hotel accommodation during a 13-night mission.
On another trip last year, Johann Grech spent more than €39,000 on flights tickets to travel on a 20-day back-to-back mission to Los Angeles, Cannes in France and London.
During 2019, Johann Grech travelled almost twice a month. The Film Commission forked out more than €30,000 in a year on subsistence allowances, used by the Commissioner and his delegations for lunches and dinners, taxis and other ‘necessities’ while abroad.
Johann Grech, who is close to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat while his wife Maria Grech is Michelle Muscat’s assistant, was appointed as Film Commissioner in late 2017 on a person of trust basis and given a financial package of around €60,000 a year.
He was not known for any special qualifications in the film industry, except that since 2013 he has been in Muscat’s inner circle acting as the OPM’s marketing manager at Castille.
During his time, the OPM splashed millions on propaganda and choreographed events, boosting the disgraced former prime minister’s standing among the electorate.
His wife, Maria, was appointed as Michelle Muscat’s private secretary on a full-time basis, despite the fact that she occupied no formal role in her husband’s government.
Maria Grech is still seen accompanying Michelle Muscat during activities of the Marigold Foundation.
The Film Commissioner has been in the spotlight in recent months following accusations of corrupt practices by local film service providers.
Last May, the Malta Producers Association (MPA) submitted a formal complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman asking for an investigation. This was after The Shift revealed that the Film Commissioner had excluded a number of service providers in the country while promoting a select few to foreign film producers.
Grech denied these accusations. Yet it has not been enough to dispute the evidence. The MPA has called for Grech to be sacked and for a level playing field to be allowed in the industry.
Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli has ignored these calls.