Embattled MFSA CEO Joseph Cuschieri was drawing an extra pay for attending meetings of the MFSA’s Board of Governors without their knowledge, The Shift can reveal.
Members of the Board who spoke to The Shift on condition of anonymity confirmed that they discovered earlier this year that Cuschieri was being paid the honoraria reserved only for Board members on top of his generous remuneration package – he is one of the highest paid public officials in the country.
Despite the fact that the CEO should attend Board meetings as part of his duties, Cuschieri was being paid an additional €15,000 a year. This had not been approved by the Board.
“This had been going on for many months despite Cuschieri not being authorised to receive these funds. We only discovered this by chance, and we have put a stop to it as we deemed it abusive,” an MFSA governor told The Shift.
Cuschieri has suspended himself from his role at the helm of the financial regulator following alleged breaches of the code of ethics when he travelled to Las Vegas on a trip financed by the man suspected of commissioning Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Yorgen Fenech.
When asked whether Cuschieri was made to refund the money he was not supposed to have taken, another governor insisted that he did not know.
“The only member of the Board who knew what was going on behind our backs is Professor John Mamo, the chairman, as he was the only one defending Cuschieri’s actions. There was no Board resolution for Cuschieri to get the extra thousands he got, and we cannot understand who authorised the finance department to issue the extra payment,” the governor said.
As chairman of the MFSA, Mamo, who occupies a non-executive role, receives a €30,000 honorarium. He is reportedly very close to Cuschieri.
Appointed to the MFSA’s helm on the recommendation of the Office of the Prime Minister, Cuschieri was given a lucrative contract that places him as one of the highest paid public officials in the country.
Apart from a basic salary of €115,000, increasing by €3,000 per year for a five-year period, Cuschieri is also entitled to a 20% performance bonus, pushing his annual package up to over €140,000.
In addition, he has an all-expenses-paid car, a free smartphone and tablet, and reimbursement of all his travelling, subsistence and hospitality expenses.
Cuschieri insisted he had done nothing wrong when accepting a trip from Fenech, who owns over 60 companies, a number of which are regulated by the MFSA. Yet European Central Bank sources have told The Shift that his behaviour was in clear breach of the code of ethics that prohibit the acceptance of such gifts.
Edwina Licari, who accompanied Cuschieri on the trip to Vegas while she worked at the MGA, also suspended herself. Licari followed Cuschieri from the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) to the MFSA where she was given a financial package of €100,000 as a lawyer on international affairs despite her lack of experience in the field. She was appointed as General Counsel on the MFSA’S executive committee in October 2018.
She was also appointed to the Board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU).
The Shift is informed that during their time at both at the MGA and the MFSA, Cuschieri and Licari regularly travelled together on business trips to different parts of the world. It is not clear what duties Licari was covering for the MFSA or the FIAU in Vegas.
Cuschieri is married to the President’s daughter.
The trip financed by Fenech also included Charlene Bianco Farrugia, a former personal assistant to disgraced former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri.
So far, both Cuschieri and Licari have not been sacked by the MFSA. Instead, they self-suspended themselves “until the Board of Governors carries out any verifications necessary in relation to the events reported in the media”.
Despite a commitment of zero tolerance of abuse on his watch, Prime Minister Robert Abela has defended Cuschieri saying there was no evident conflict of interest.