Embattled MFSA chief Joseph Cuschieri and the Authority’s General Counsel member Edwina Licari, currently “self-suspended” from their roles, travelled together at least 38 times over the last six years, according to new information tabled in Parliament.
The necessary authorisations for all this travel, which cost taxpayers some €0.5 million over six years, used to be made by Cuschieri himself, despite both the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) and the MFSA had different departments responsible for approving such costs.
Cuschieri and Licari, who started working together in 2013, soon after Cuschieri was hand-picked by the OPM to head the gaming regulator (MGA), spent weeks abroad attending conferences, meetings and other undisclosed business, flying thousands of miles across the globe from Australia to the Philippines, Macau, New York and Las Vegas.
Four nights in New York in 2015 cost taxpayers €17,868, while a week in Peru in the same year cost €26,959. Five nights in London the following year cost €24,107, and they also went to the Philippines and Australia in the same year on two separate trips for a total cost of almost €20,000. They also visited most of the main European cities together. On some trips, they were accompanied by others.
Although they made their first Las Vegas trip together in 2014 costing taxpayers €7,716, it was a visit to ‘Sin City’ in 2018 which has landed them in hot water and exposed a clear breach of ethics at both the MFSA and the MGA.
Cuschieri admitted that in May 2018, just a month after he was given his new €150,000 a year job to head the MFSA, he had travelled on a private visit to Las Vegas on a trip financed by Yorgen Fenech who now stands accused of commissioning the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Cuschieri said he did not breach any ethics as he had just left the MGA and was giving ‘free’ private consultancy to Fenech, which is prohibited according to MFSA rules.
Although he did not disclose who travelled to the US with him, The Shift had revealed that it was Licari, at the time the General Counsel of the MGA. As an official of the MGA, Licari was prohibited from receiving any gifts from businessmen, particularly the owner of a casino licenced by the same MGA.
The Shift had also revealed that a few weeks after this ‘private’ trip, Licari had resigned her post at the MGA to take an identical post at the MFSA where Cuschieri had become CEO.
Licari’s interview for a €100,000 job at the financial services regulator followed just one short interview, conducted by Cuschieri himself accompanied by the chairman of the MFSA Prof John Mamo.
The information tabled in parliament at the request of PN MP Ryan Callus shows that Licari was the only official accompanying Cuschieri on his trips overseas on a number of occasions.
A breakdown of the costs for flights, hotels and hospitality shows that Cuschieri was quite extravagant when travelling on business matters.
For two nights in Madrid in 2015, the MGA forked out almost €3,000 a night, while five days in the exotic Philippines in 2016 set taxpayers back almost €13,000. During the same year, a night in Rome and another in Milan cost taxpayers a staggering €6,000 in flights, accommodation and hospitality.
Following press revelations about the close ties between the two highest officials of the MFSA and Fenech, the two “self-suspended” themselves until an investigation is carried out. The MFSA refused to answer questions about whether the two were still receiving their salary.
The MFSA governors requested a two-member ‘independent’ inquiry board, headed by former Chief Justice Joe Azzopardi, to investigate the conduct of both Cuschieri and Licari and decide their future.
MFSA rules make it clear that employees, particularly senior members of the organisation, cannot accept any gifts which “give the impression that they can be influenced by considerations of personal gain in the performance and functions of their duties”.
Revelations about Cuschieri and Licari came at a crucial time when Malta is trying to avoid being greylisted by Moneyval, which would have severe repercussions on the financial services industry.