Ryan Pace, a young lawyer who works with the private legal firm of Prime Minister Robert Abela, has been appointed chairman of the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) – the regulator of one of Malta’s main economic pillars.
Obtaining his warrant in 2018, Pace, a Labour Party activist, has no experience whatsoever in the gaming industry and never worked in the sector.
The lawyer, still in his late 20s, was made deputy chairman of the Authority only last June, shortly after Abela became prime minister. He soon found himself at the helm of the Authority after CEO Heathcliff Farrugia resigned over yet another scandal hitting the gaming regulator.
Farrugia is now facing criminal charges over alleged trading in influence with Yorgen Fenech, the former owner of the Portomaso and Oracle Casinos and currently facing charges for the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Gaming industry sources described the selection of Pace as the new MGA chairman as another indication that the government is not taking the industry seriously, saying such choices continue to undermine its reputation.
“The appointment of someone who is a young graduate and has no experience in gaming does not increase the international respect that our jurisdiction has gained over the years,” a veteran gaming operator told The Shift.
“After leaving this important position vacant for more than six months, the best the government could come up with is an inexperienced young party loyalist. Surely, competence and knowledge of the industry were not the criteria used for this selection. Unfortunately, our industry is already under attack, and these partisan appointments are not getting us anywhere,” another operator said.
The Opposition members on the Public Appointments Committee, MPs Claudette Buttigieg, Karol Aquilina and Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici voted against Pace’s appointment.
Ryan Pace has been working for Abela and his wife Lydia, a partner is his firm, since 2015 when he was still a university student.
Graduating at the end of 2017, he was immediately recruited as one of two other lawyers at Abela Advocates, apart from the Abela couple.
Since Abela replaced former disgraced prime minister Joseph Muscat, Pace has become active in various government positions funded by taxpayers.
In three months, between May and August 2020, Pace was appointed to serve as board secretary of Mediterranean Offshore Bunkering Limited and Engineering Resources Ltd – two government companies – and was appointed to serve as deputy chairman of Arms Ltd and the Malta Gaming Authority.
He was also appointed as Data Protection Supervisor at the Malta Tourism Authority and on a government task force related to human trafficking reform.
According to the latest data, the gaming sector in Malta, regulated by the MGA, accounts for 10% of the economy and employs thousands.
During the past years, the sector has caught the attention of a number of international organisations, as well as the EU, due to cases of alleged money laundering activities and international mafia infiltrations in the lucrative sector.
The two former chairmen of the MGA, appointed by Labour, left their actions were put into question.
While Heathcliff Farrugia is facing criminal charges, his predecessor, disgraced MFSA CEO Joseph Cuschieri, was outed by the media of having travelled with Yorgen Fenech to Las Vegas on a trip financed by the mogul.
Cuschieri, for years the MGA boss, was accompanied on this trip by Edwina Licari, at the time the chief lawyer of the MGA, supposedly overseeing gaming licence holders.
Cuschieri, at the time of the revelations, was CEO of financial services regulator MFSA. He was forced to resign from the post.