The government agency tasked with managing more than half a billion euros in the national portfolio of assets derived from the highly controversial sale of passports faces more criticism as it emerges that Prime Minister Robert Abela has turned its Board of Governors into a Party club.
Chaired up to the beginning of last year by David Curmi – a former President of the Malta Chamber of Commerce – Prime Minister Abela has now passed the reins of the National Development and Social Fund (NDSF) to Jonathan Cardona, one of disgraced Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s closest aides.
Additionally, most of the seats on the supposedly ‘autonomous’ NDSF Board of Governors and its advisory board are occupied by known Labour Party activists and nominees, notable because of the various institutional posts they’ve occupied over the past few years.
By the end of 2020, the cash-for-passports fund administered some €600 million in assets, including various investments managed by the Central Bank and Bank of Valletta. It had equity in Lombard Bank and spent €1.5 million to buy a Mattia Preti work of art during a Sotheby’s auction in New York.
Asked by The Shift to provide information on who nominated the board members, how the members of the advisory board were selected and how much the individual board members and advisors are paid out of taxpayers’ funds, the CEO of the fund, Raymond Ellul, declined to reply.
The Shift is informed that among the advisors selected by the board are former disgraced police chief Peter Paul Zammit, sacked after a year, the former Chairman of Malta Industrial Parks and Labour advisor Joshua Zammit, and Gozitan lawyer Kevin Mompalao, a close associate and consultant of Labour Minister Anton Refalo.
The Board of Governors also appears to have been filled with Labour apparatchiks, although the fund is supposed to be a national one and above partisan politics.
Sitting on the board deciding how to spend millions of euros in national assets are former Labour MP and fervent supporter of Dom Mintoff, Maria Camilleri, as well as Joseph Zrinzo, the father of the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for EU Funds, Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi. Zrinzo senior was dismissed from the Board of Directors of Bank of Valletta a few years ago after failing a ‘fit-and-proper’ test by the European Banking Authority.
The board, which now falls under the political remit of Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat, a former deputy chief of staff to Joseph Muscat, also includes Monica Farrugia, a member of the Labour Party executive and close associate of Jonathan Cardona at the Community Malta Agency, and James Grech, who served as chief of staff to Alex Muscat up to a few months ago.
Sources familiar with the situation told The Shift that Grech is known to have had a very close relationship with former OPM chief of staff, Keith Schembri, who is now facing criminal charges of fraud and money laundering.
Cardona and his double role
According to a report in The Times of Malta last year, Jonathan Cardona was seeking new pastures after the European Commission indicated the start of infringement procedures over Malta’s cash-for-passports scheme, however, instead Cardona has been gifted a double government role.
Still retaining his position as CEO of Community Malta – the agency set up by Muscat to handle the lucrative sale of passports – the prime minister has also named him Chairman of the NDSF – the agency responsible for spending the funds.
In addition, The Shift last year reported that Cardona – Malta’s chief passport salesman – spent some €300,000 in travel and hotel accommodation in four years, attending conferences and pitching Maltese passports to millionaires across the globe.
Spending weeks abroad, Cardona was often accompanied by Monica Farrugia, his COO at the passport sales agency, in whirlwind tours to myriad destinations including the US, Brazil, Vietnam, Thailand and Australia.
Cardona, a St Aloysius classmate of both Muscat’s and Schembri’s, also served as Muscat’s special envoy for the EU through most of the disgraced Prime Minister’s administration.
The article previously referred to Joshua Ellul instead of Joshua Zammit. We regret any inconvenience caused.