Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Anton Refalo has given a ministry position, on the taxpayer’s payroll, to the lawyer who last year took over the management of his private legal practice after his return to cabinet, The Shift can reveal.
Chiara Camilleri, who graduated in 2017, first began working for Refalo at his legal office, Refalo & Associates, in Victoria, Gozo. Then, after Prime Minister Robert Abela named Refalo Agriculture Minister in January 2020, Camilleri took over Refalo’s practice, including his office’s litigation caseload, and started managing it on his behalf.
However, according to people familiar with the situation, it now appears that Camilleri has also been recruited as a full time legal officer at the Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries, headed by Refalo, and assigned to an office in Marsa.
Legal sources told The Shift that it is not known when Camilleri attends her Malta office to perform her full time duties as a government employee because she is seen frequently, almost daily, at the Gozo courts, defending cases on behalf of Refalo’s practice and seeing clients at his Victoria office.
The government has ignored requests for details of Camilleri’s recruitment process, including how the young lawyer was given a full-time job, whether she was a person of trust and what is the relationship between Camilleri and Minister Refalo.
Questions sent by The Shift several weeks ago to both the Minister’s communications officer Martina Grech and to Chiara Camilleri herself have been ignored, despite various reminders.
Veteran MP Anton Refalo became the first Labour Minister for Gozo soon after Labour returned to power in 2013. He has been accused of creating a system of ‘institutionalised’ nepotism which saw the alleged placing of hundreds of Gozitans on the public payroll in the run-up to the 2017 general elections. This meant that between 2013 and 2017 Refalo was able to expand his support significantly, and this resulted in Gozo “turning red” for the first time since Malta’s independence.
Refalo was replaced as Minister for Gozo by Justyne Caruana in 2017 and then spent several years on the backbenches until Prime Minister Abela appointed him Agriculture Minister last year – after Caruana was forced to resign as a result of her husband’s connections to accused murderer Yorgen Fenech. Clint Camilleri was named Minister for Gozo at the same time.
Refalo is alleged to have continued working along the same lines as he’d done in the Gozo Ministry prior to 2017. According to people familiar with the situation, he still spends most of his time in Gozo taking ‘care’ of his constituency – spending much more time there than on his Ministerial responsibilities, according to the sources.
Since January 2020 when Refalo took over as Minister, the Agriculture and Fisheries Ministry and all its related satellite departments have taken on large numbers of Gozitan workers, mostly employed through contracts of service and direct orders.
Gozitans employed via direct orders are allegedly now also manning the fish market in Valletta and the vegetable market, known as the Pitkalija, in Ta’ Qali, the sources said.
The Agriculture Ministry’s Gozo offices have also seen an influx of unprecedented manpower, the sources said. Many of the Gozitans employed via the Ministry to work in Malta are being called up ostensibly to carry out duties in Gozo – meaning they avoid having to commute between the two islands every day.