Malta’s financial regulator, the MFSA, has put up a wall of silence over its former top official, blocking information relating to his tenure at the helm of the organisation.
Citing “confidentiality” and “data protection rules”, the MFSA blocked a Freedom of Information request by The Shift to publish details on attendees of meetings of the Board of Governors and the remuneration given to each member.
Although the governors are all appointed by the government and paid through taxpayer funds, the MFSA has insisted on not publishing any details: “In view of data protection and confidentiality obligations, the MFSA is prohibited from disclosing any personal data of the attendees in relation to Board meetings.”
The Shift asked the MFSA to reconsider its decision as legal sources insisted that the financial regulator is in breach of freedom of information rules.
Investigations by The Shift show that apart from his €140, 000 annual financial package, Cuschieri was also drawing the ‘honorarium’ earmarked for MFSA governors to attend Board meetings.
Since Cuschieri had to attend these meetings in his capacity as CEO, he was not entitled to the additional remuneration. It was being paid without the Board’s knowledge or authorisation.
“When we discovered that Mr Cuschieri, behind our backs, was also claiming the honorarium, we realised that he had been doing so for about a year,” a member of the MFSA’s board of governors told The Shift on condition of anonymity.
“We could not believe that Mr Cuschieri was cashing-in thousands of euro over and above his salary. There was no authorisation by the Board for this and we put an immediate stop to it,” the governor added.
The Shift asked the MFSA to state how much Cuschieri received in unauthorised payments and whether he was asked to refund it. The MFSA did not address the questions.
The Shift is informed that the only member of the MFSA Board who knew about the extra payment was its current chairman, Prof John Mamo, who is very close to Cuschieri. This could not be independently confirmed.
For his non-executive role, Mamo is paid €30,000 a year.
Last month, Cuschieri, together with Edwina Licari, General Counsel of the MFSA, “self-suspended” themselves after revelations that they had travelled together to Las Vegas in 2018 on a trip paid by Yorgen Fenech, accused of commissioning the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galiza.
He resigned today, according to a statement by the Department of Information.
While Cuscheiri was already the CEO of the financial regulator, appointed by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Licari was still the General counsel of the Malta Gaming Authority which regulates casinos, two of which are owned by Fenech.
Later, Licari joined the MFSA after being recruited by Cuschieri and given a €100,000 financial package.
The Code of Ethics of both the MFSA and the MGA clearly prohibited Cuschieri and Licari from receiving such gifts. They both failed to declare such conflicts of interests to their respective organisations.
Despite clear rules, the MFSA has so far refrained from sacking the two officials and instead appointed a two-member disciplinary board, headed by former Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi, to decide their fate.
Three weeks after their appointment, the Board has not yet given a final decision.
Asked whether Cuschieri and Licari, who went on overseas missions together on 38 trips in the last five years, were still being paid while on “self-suspension”, a spokesperson for the MFSA declined to reply.