Rosianne Cutajar acted as a broker in a €3.1 million property deal and took a commission from a man accused of being involved in the corruption of high-ranking members of government in return for her part in the deal. This is what the whole sleazy scandal is about, and not about whether or not she declared that commission to the taxman.
The tax implications are a peripheral issue that must be tackled by the relevant authorities, but it’s not the reason Standards Commissioner George Hyzler was asked to probe Cutajar.
After his lengthy investigation into whether she’d broken rules and contravened the ethical obligations imposed on ministers and MPs, Hyzler concluded that she had. She had indeed coordinated the property sale and accepted a cash fee for doing so.
It’s important to keep these facts in mind when reading news reports or, indeed, following the live feed from the meetings themselves. Because Rosianne and her filibustering lieutenants, Glenn Bedingfield and Edward Zammit Lewis – supported by the worst, most spineless speaker Malta’s parliament has ever had – are trying very hard to shift public attention away from the serious malfeasance Hyzler reported and directing it instead toward something they believe many people will judge less harshly: non-declaration, or late declaration, of taxable income.
They’re doing this by insisting to the point of hysteria that the main issue is whether she declared that money or not – and trying to claim that even if she did not, it’s hardly a mortal sin. After all, they banged on, the leader of the Opposition himself did exactly the same thing, if not worse, and he’s not being hauled in front of the committee or publicly crucified for it.
But whether Cutajar declared the cash to the taxman or not is not the issue. Her problems stem from her decision to get involved in a property deal and to approach a man known for doling out expensive gifts, favours and holidays to key government figures and officials, and to then accept cash from this individual as well as from the seller, and to then consistently and blatantly lie about it.
In addition, when the deal eventually fell through and the seller wanted back the €90,000 he’d paid to her and her partner in this crime as a brokerage fee, they both refused point blank to return the money.
While Cutajar’s acceptance of money from the seller is a large part of the accusations against her, her relationship with and payments from accused murderer and former casino boss Yorgen Fenech are alarming on a different level.
Fenech, currently in jail charged with masterminding the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the owner of 17 Black – a vehicle for money-laundering and the payment of illegal kickbacks to corrupt politicians – gave Cutajar an envelope full of cash, which included a €9,000 euro “gift” for herself.
Most newspapers refer to this sum as a “birthday present” but it was not a birthday present. Her response to him, according to the exchange of texts that was discussed, was “you didn’t have to give me that, you could have just bought me a birthday present”.
Those words make it clear it wasn’t a birthday present. It was a “gift” with a very different purpose, one that Fenech appears to have made after a conversation in which Cutajar bitched about her supposedly close associate Charles Farrugia being a “pig” and not wanting to share his cut with her.
And even if it had been a birthday present, the rules are very clear. Ministers aren’t allowed to accept gifts, even if they declare them or, indeed, leave them to the state, as disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat apparently said he would do with the €20,000 Bvlgari watch and bottles of Chateau Petrus wine he got from the very same Fenech. Muscat too, was found by Hyzler to be in breach of the code of ethics for having accepted those gifts.
Fenech has been named in a host of trading in influence scandals featuring ministers or government officials. For example, former Malta Gaming Authority CEO Heathcliff Farrugia, who has been charged with colluding with Fenech to cover up alleged money laundering breaches in the latter’s casino operations.
And former Planning Authority Chairman and current Head of the Malta Tourism Authority Johann Buttigieg, who was exposed as having private WhatsApp chats with Fenech about doing business together.
Plus former chairman of the Malta Financial Services Authority Joseph Cuschieri, who resigned ahead of an investigation into a free trip to Las Vegas he took with Fenech in 2018. Edwina Licari, then a senior official at the MGA and now working at the MFSA, accompanied them too, as did Charlene Bianco Farrugia, then personal assistant of disgraced former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.
And let’s not forget former deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta, who went on football jaunts with Fenech and is accused of stymying investigations into Caruana Galizia’s murder in order to protect Fenech, as well as with leaking confidential police intelligence about the probe to the actual suspect himself.
Most of the above, as well as Muscat, Schembri and a host of other government ministers and officials, were available on tap to Yorgen Fenech throughout, exchanging WhatsApp messages, going to cosy Sunday lunches at his “ranch” and finding it “hard to say no” to him.
This is a man known to bribe politicians: his Dubai company 17 Black was set up specifically to channel kickbacks in the corrupt Electrogas deal to companies owned by former minister Konrad Mizzi and Schembri himself.
So, when we see the yelling and posturing by Bedingfield and Zammit Lewis, the over-emphasis on the tax aspect of the whole sordid matter – which after all, will be investigated by the tax chief Marvin Gaerty as a separate matter – it’s becomes clear that this was very deliberate, designed to deceive the public into focusing on a peripheral misdeed in order to divert attention away from the grave wrongdoing at its heart.
Bribery and corruption have been considered crimes in western societies since as far back as the Roman Empire. The shenanigans of Bedingfield, Zammit Lewis and their accomplice, Speaker Anglu Farrugia, are intended to muddy the waters and bamboozle the public into “missing” the corruption aspect of Cutajar’s misdeeds.
Indeed, if there was ever the slightest doubt about it, this week’s Parliamentary Committee on Standards in Public Life meetings proved that Malta is being governed by a gaggle of delinquents who seem to have been raised in a sewer, devoid of anything remotely resembling honesty, integrity or even the most basic civility.
The sinister implications of this inexplicable, though predictable, defence of such a serious breach of standards are truly alarming. The villains of this piece go beyond Cutajar and her seedy little sidekick, who now claims all the commission money was paid to him alone and that he will pay all the taxes due on it – despite opening himself up to potential perjury charges by doing so.
By blocking Hyzler’s report, despite clear evidence of Cutajar’s misconduct, muddying the waters around what Cutajar’s wrongdoing actually was, and helping her get away with them without censure, Bedingfield, Zammit Lewis and Farrugia have made themselves complicit. Don’t let them get away with trying to deflect the truth.
This is not a quibble about unpaid tax: this is a potential corruption, bribery, trading in influence and cronyism scandal. We’ve long known that this is a government of delinquents: this shameful episode is just another sad reminder that the crooks are still in charge.