A government agency falling under the direct responsibility of Prime Minister Robert Abela has awarded a direct order to a legal firm closely connected to Parliamentary Secretary Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, who is also based at the OPM.
New information published in the government gazette shows that last February Agenzija Servizz.Gov – the former customer care office at the OPM turned into an agency – chose 360 Legal as its service provider, without any form of competition or tender.
Until June, the small firm based in Valletta was already paid €10,000 through taxpayers’ funds.
Investigations by The Shift reveal that 360 Legal is the same firm, operating from an office in Old Bakery Street, where Zrinzo Azzopardi was a senior partner until January 2020.
The firm is now controlled by Alexia Joy Farrugia Zrinzo – the parliamentary secretary’s sister and daughter of Joe Zrinzo – a former Labour Party official given several directorships by the government since 2013.
The OPM’s parliamentary secretary’s latest declaration of assets (2020) shows that he received almost €24,000 in fees from the law firm.
Zrinzo Azzopardi – now responsible for EU funds – also declared that his law firm, at the time called SZA Advocates, “was no longer in operation”. That’s not entirely correct.
‘SZA Advocates’ changed to ‘360 Legal’ – apart from a change in the name, the firm involves the same lawyers, partners and offices used by Zrinzo Azzopardi as a lawyer.
It is not yet known whether Zrinzo Azzopardi is still receiving payments from his sister’s firm, which used to be his own until he became a member of Cabinet.
Regardless, 360 Legal’s close association with a parliamentary secretary at the OPM should have raised the alarm. The parliamentary secretary or his family cannot be seen to be cashing in on government handouts issued by the same public office in which he works.
SZA Advocates changed its name after a massive data breach involving C-Planet IT Solutions Ltd – the database contained hundreds of thousands of personal records, including names, addresses, ID cards and phone numbers. The database, suspected of having been sourced from Labour Party records, also included personal information of clients of SZA Advocates.
The IT company suspected of the data breach is owned by Philip Farrugia – a former Labour Party employee and the brother-in-law of the parliamentary secretary.
Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi had served as the president of the Labour Party for a number of years, with direct access to the database the Party held containing the personal information of voters.
It has not yet been established how this database ended up in the possession of Zrinzo Azzopardi’s brother-in-law. Citizens still remain without remedy after a massive breach of personal data.