Joseph Cuschieri, the former chief executive of the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) who resigned last week after it emerged that he had travelled to Las Vegas on a trip financed by Yorgen Fenech, signed off on more than €12 million in direct orders during his two years at the helm of the regulator.
The Shift is informed that Cuschieri occasionally even dished out direct orders before obtaining the obligatory green light from the Finance Ministry.
An analysis carried out on the dozens of direct orders issued while Cuschieri led the Authority shows that a US consultancy firm, which the MFSA engaged to provide consultancy services, was repeatedly given lucrative direct orders – in one instance to the tune of almost €2 million.
The firm, FTI Consulting, which was paid €3.4 million in direct orders, was recently the focus of international news for dubious consulting services and “ethical red flags”.
According to a New York Times investigation, FTI Consulting has run a number of operations for international oil groups, including creating a fake Facebook profile to monitor activists’ plans and running industry-backed pro-fossil fuel campaigns like “Texans for Natural Gas”.
The authoritative newspaper said these campaigns were meant to deceive the public into appearing to be grassroots community initiatives set up by concerned citizens.
FTI Consulting is providing the MFSA with anti-money laundering services, sources have told The Shift. It downplayed the New York Times report, saying it had “grossly mischaracterised the services it provides to the oil sector”.
Yet, FTI clients are reconsidering their relationship with the firm, according to a follow-up by The Financial Times.
Meanwhile, local auditing firms were among the major beneficiaries of Cuschieri’s direct orders.
Grant Thornton, a firm in which one of the senior partners is the son of the President of Malta and Cuschieri’s brother in law, was given €156,000 in direct orders.
Price Waterhouse Coopers was given €200,000 in direct orders. Ernst & Young, a firm that had previously employed Cuschieri, also received substantial handouts.
Law firm Camilleri Preziosi received €126,000 in direct orders.
Cuschieri also paid over €100,000 for the MFSA’s participation in the local Delta Summit.
Mainstream media companies also received direct orders while Cuschieri was at the helm.
Malta Today was paid €24,000 for ‘advertising services’ in direct orders. Its counterparts, The Times of Malta and The Malta Independent received €12,000 each for the same services.
At the same time, the former editor of The Malta Independent, Rachel Attard, was recruited through a direct order by Cuschieri to provide “legal and management consultancy” for €43,200 a year a few weeks after resigning from her editorial role. Yet she stayed on as a consultant influencing editorial content at The Malta Independent.
Meanwhile, the conclusions of the investigative report conducted by an independent board led by former Chief Justice Joe Azzopardi and which led to Cuschieri’s resignation has not been published yet.
The Board also investigated the conduct of Edwina Licari, the MFSA’s General Counsel, who accompanied Cuschieri on the trip to Las Vegas. In her case, the Board did not find any breach of ethics because, at the time, Licari was not an MFSA employee. She joined Cuschieri at the MFSA a few weeks later.
She was still working for the Malta Gaming Authority at the time, on a trip funded by Fenech, the owner of casinos in Malta.
In parliament, newly-appointed Finance Minister Clyde Caruana refused to provide any details in a reply to a question put by PN MP Karol Aquilina.
“Since the MFSA is an independent authority it was not his competence to provide such report,” Caruana said.
Both the Board of Governors of the MFSA and its former CEO were all directly appointed by the government.