Is there anyone in this government who wasn’t — literally or figuratively — in bed with Yorgen Fenech?
Joseph Cuschieri is the latest in a long list of shameless opportunists caught crossing ethical lines with the accused murder mastermind for personal gain.
The Chairman of the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) took a free trip to Las Vegas with Malta’s richest businessman in May 2018 — but it’s okay because Cuschieri was already transitioning out of the Malta Gaming Authority at the time.
What could the CEO of Tumas Gaming and the Portomaso Casino possibly gain from him?
Anyway, we know there was no conflict of interest because Cuschieri said so.
“At the time Mr Fenech was considering undertaking an investment and I was invited to advise on regulatory matters,” he tells us.
When asked what he did in exchange for the all-expenses-paid trip, Cuschieri refused to elaborate, claiming, “it is inappropriate for me to disclose commercially sensitive information.”
Everyone knows that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
I bet that comes as a relief to a few others. It turns out Unlucky Joe wasn’t the only one who tagged along on this jaunt to Sin City.
OPM official — and former personal assistant to Keith Schembri — Charlene Bianco Farrugia went along, too.
They were joined by Edwina Licari, a legal advisor to the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA). She was a senior official at the MGA when she took the trip.
She’s also on the board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) — yes, the same unit that was supposed to investigate Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri, Lord and Lady Egrant, Pilatus Bank, Nexia BT and all the rest of them for money laundering and assorted financial crimes.
Licari was appointed to the FIAU last summer, right after Fenech’s other buddy Silvio Valletta was removed.
When it comes to having an eye inside every regulatory body that matters, Fenech was second only to the man who controlled them all, his WhatsApp buddy Joseph Muscat.
I realise that no one’s ever held accountable for anything in Malta, but Cuschieri and Licari should probably know that it doesn’t matter if they weren’t paid for advice, as Cuschieri claimed.
Their behaviour shattered the code of ethics of both the MFSA and the European Central Bank (ECB). But anything goes in the Land of the Kickback King, especially when it comes to friends of friends.
Cuschieri has a long history of enriching himself at your expense.
His tenure as head of the MGA, which started soon after Muscat came to power in 2013, is a sordid tale of spending sprees, direct orders, and pointless office “refurbishments”.
But Cuschieri quickly grew tired of squeezing whatever he could from being the regulator of one of the country’s most important economic sectors. When his friend The Kink was reelected in 2017 on a mandate of corruption, he set his sights on the MFSA.
His old pal Keith Schembri helped him get the job, and they amended the law to bump up his pay, creating a new CEO structure that sees him raking in a salary and benefits worth roughly €12,000 per month.
The Vegas jaunt with Yorgen Fenech happened a few weeks later.
Cuschieri exercised considerable power at the MFSA. He didn’t waste any time getting rid of competent bureaucrats, offering the most experienced people lucrative early retirement packages, and replacing them with officials he could count on to do things his way, no questions asked.
He went on to drive the whole ship into the ground, running up a €25 million deficit during his first year. But don’t worry, the government took care of that using your money.
Just a few weeks after his ‘lost weekend’ at Caesar’s Palace, Cuschieri decided to issue a call for the transfer the MFSA’s headquarters to a bigger — and much more expensive — building, and a bid worth €38 million was submitted for a property that just happened to be owned by his travel buddy’s Tumas Group and Gasan Enterprises (who are also partners on the Electrogas deal).
What else did the errant CEO do for the accused murder mastermind? Is this just the tip of a badly blackened iceberg? No fresh revelation seems surprising anymore, regardless of how sordid.
Will this latest batch of compromised public servants resign or be sacked?
I wouldn’t count on it. Bobby Backdown campaigned on a promise of continuity, and continuity is exactly what he’s delivering. Nothing’s more important than keeping the Kink Behind the Curtain and his collaborators out of jail.
Moneyval would be well advised to just get it over with. This particular limb has already been consumed by gangrene, and nothing short of amputation will keep it from spreading everywhere else.