Edwina Licari, the “self-suspended” General Counsel of the MFSA, was recruited to join the financial regulator and put on a €100,000 financial package through the personal intervention of CEO Joseph Cuschieri, The Shift can reveal.
He had also dictated her terms of employment to the organisation’s human resources department, with very few details given to the Board of Governors.
The Shift revealed that Licari had accompanied Cuschieri on a trip to Las Vegas funded by Yorgen Fenech who is accused of commissioning the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. At the time, Licari was still working at the Malta Gaming Authority, which raised questions on a conflict of interest since Fenech is a major player in the sector.
Fenech was involved in more than 60 companies, some directly regulated by the MFSA or the MGA, up until the time of his arrest in November 2019.
Members of the MFSA’s Board of Governors recounted, on condition of anonymity, how Licari was given “red carpet treatment” in the recruitment process held by the MFSA:
“We were not aware at the time that Ms Licari was already working for Mr Cuschieri at the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA). However, we had immediately smelt a rat in the way her process was expeditiously handled by the CEO.”
While normal recruitment processes were ignored, including the various stages normally applied to determine the best candidate, Licari had to sit for only one interview – conducted by Cuschieri himself.
“Ms Licari was the only candidate interviewed for the job despite the fact that this was one of the most highly remunerated positions in the MFSA and which should have attracted an avalanche of applications. Strangely, this did not happen,” sources told The Shift.
In addition: “It results that Ms Licari was also so confident she would get the job that she had already resigned from her role at the MGA when attending the interview with Mr Cuschieri and Prof John Mamo, the chairman of the Board, together with another senior MFSA official selected by Mr Cuschieri.”
Both the Board and the human resources department, which usually offers a contract according to written procedures, were overruled when it came to establishing Licari’s conditions of employment – again, as a result of the direct intervention of Cuschieri.
“Following Mr Cuschieri’s intervention, Ms Licari was given a remuneration package well above that which is normally given to new recruits in such a high position. She was also treated better than other officers in her grade who had been on the job for years.”
The new General Counsel role in the MFSA was only legalised through amendments to the law published in March 2019. Yet Licari was recruited six months earlier – in September 2018.
She was also appointed to the Board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU).
As Malta’s financial services industry awaits a Moneyval assessment on whether to greylist the country, the regulator’s CEO and its top legal official have been suspended pending an investigation on their behaviour in clear breach of the MFSA’s code of ethics as well as that of the European Central Bank.
It was announced that both Cuschieri and Licari “self-suspended” themselves – a new term created.
MFSA rules make it clear that employees, particularly the most senior of the organisation, cannot accept such gifts which “give the impression that they can be influenced by considerations of personal gain in the performance of their functions or official duties.”
Despite clear rules in the MFSA’s code of conduct, which the MFSA is refusing to publish, Cuschieri denied breaching the code despite admitting that he, together with Licari, went on the Las Vegas trip financed by Fenech.
The MFSA did not address questions by The Shift on findings published last week showing Cuschieri was pocketing the honoraria reserved for members of the Board of Governors without the latter’s authorisation, topping up his €140,000 package as CEO.
The Authority did not reply to questions on the amount Cuschieri received for attending Board meetings until this was stopped when the Governors got wind of this irregularity. The MFSA was also asked whether Cuschieri had been asked to refund back the money.
Also, the MFSA would not say whether Cuschieri and Licari were still receiving a salary following their “self-suspension”.
On Tuesday, the MFSA said in a statement that former Chief Justice Joe Azzopardi and lawyer Mark Simiana have been tasked to determine whether Cuschieri and Licari had breached the rules.
The MFSA said that the independent panel is “to carry out the assessment process in an expeditious manner”.