PM cancelled Bogdanovic contract in knee-jerk reaction to contain media ‘hype’ – Justyne Caruana

Standards Commissioner's report highlights multiple occasions the Education Minister backtracked on previous statements

 

Education Minister Justyne Caruana, who has refused to step down despite evidence she breached the ministerial code of ethics, described Prime Minister Robert Abela’s intervention to cancel a 15,000 contract she gave to her ‘friend’ Daniel Bogdanovic, as a knee-jerk reaction to put to rest the media ‘hype’ about the affair.

“I don’t blame the prime minister as there was too much hype in the media and he had to do something to contain the situation,” Caruana told Standards Commissioner George Hyzler during his investigation, which concluded that the minister had breached the code of ethics.

The Shift has previously reported that in December 2020, although the close friendship between Caruana and Bogdanovic was already an open secret in Gozo, the OPM – through its Chief of Staff Glenn Micallef – approved the recruitment of the footballer to Caruana’s private secretariat on the same day the request was submitted.

It was only the news became public that Abela announced that he would cancel the contract the minister had awarded to Bogdanovic. He was still paid €5,900 soon after the contract was signed, according to the commissioner’s report.

The standards commissioner’s findings have made it clear that the minister abused her power and taxpayers’ funds and breached the code of ethics, though Abela has failed to take any disciplinary action against her and is instead awaiting “the conclusion of the process”.

Minister contradicts herself during two interviews and a written declaration

Transcripts of interviews conducted with Justyne Caruana by the commissioner during the investigation demonstrate clearly that the minister changed her version of the story several times when faced with contradictory evidence.

Having insisted that she was not conducting an intimate relationship with the Għajnsielem footballer and that theirs’ was just a “good friendship,” she later admitted, when faced with evidence, that she used to go to the player’s residence frequently, even during the night.

Caruana said that these visits were all work-related. She told the standards commissioner that, as a politician, she has to work all the hours of the day, including at night. “I am a politician. Apart from my work as a minister, I also have my constituency work. Should I not go to people’s homes?” she asked Hyzler when faced with evidence of her frequent visits to the player’s residence late at night.

Hiring Bogdanovic in her private secretariat

Caruana testified under oath that although she had known the footballer for years, she started her friendly meetings with him when she resigned from her role as Gozo minister, in the same period that she also separated from her husband, disgraced former deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta. 

Caruana said she used to discuss her political strategy with Bogdanovic, and as soon as she was reintegrated into Prime Minister Abela’s Cabinet, he showed interest in joining her personal staff. The footballer later lost interest in the idea, Caruana said.

Caruana denied that an official request had been made to the OPM to recruit the footballer into her secretariat. Yet later, when Hyzler told her that he had found out that there was indeed an official request, Caruana backtracked and said,  “that could be the case, but she would not be involved personally in that”.

Special permit to watch her ‘friend’ play football

Caruana was also asked about an incident reported to the commissioner in which Caruana was said to have obtained a special pass to go to watch Bogdanovic play, during the Covid lockdown, when spectators were banned from watching matches in stadiums. Caruana denied this had happened.

“I never went to watch a football game in my life. But on that occasion, since I was under a lot of stress, due to family reasons, I accepted an invitation by a friend to go and watch football to relax a bit. It was not true that I insisted to get a special pass due to Covid,” she told Hyzler.

The minister’s version was contradicted by Samuel Azzopardi, the president of the Gozo Football Association.

In March 2021, when the incident happened, Azzopardi had told The Shift that Caruana had requested and received a special pass to watch Għajnsielem FC (Bogdanovic’s team) play.

“I can confirm that Minister Justyne Caruana has attended one game organised by the GFA at the Gozo Stadium.  A politician can attend the games and there is a designated area in the VIP stand, this is on a first come first served basis due to limitations of space for the Covid protocol to be adhered to,” he said.

It takes a thief to catch a thief

Delving into the commissioning of a 15,000 report on the National Sports School, awarded to Bodganovic via a direct order, Caruana insisted that the player was suggested by both the President of the MFA Bjorn Vassallo and the President of the ASA Joe Caruana Curran. 

“When I discussed with them the problems at the National Sports School, they told me don’t be stupid…..you need to put a thief to catch a thief in the sense that you need someone with an inside perspective and not some usual consultancy firm to conduct such an exercise,” Caruana testified. 

She said that this was how the name of Bogdanovic came up.

During later interviews with the commissioner, both Vassallo and Caruana Curran denied that they had suggested Bogdanovic.

Caruana insisted with Hyzler that the report was entirely researched, compiled, and written by the player, with no assistance from anyone.

When she was confronted with email evidence uncovered by the commissioner, proving that the bulk of the report had been authored by her consultant Paul Debattista, the Education Minister once again, changed her version.

“In this case, it was like a student writing his thesis,” the minister explained.

“I assigned my consultant (Paul Debattista) to act as his tutor and to supervise him. As a supervisor, he was also involved in discussions, collation of information, research and all that is required,” Caruana added.

The commissioner’s investigation concluded that the report was almost entirely written by Debattista. 

Emails were found with chapters of the report written by Debattista, sent to Bogdanovic and copied to the minister.

Hyzler concluded that the minister was fully aware of what was going on and that nothing had been done behind her back.

Debattista even created the invoice with which Bogdanovic was paid 5,900 from taxpayers’ funds before compiling the report, he said.

The commissioner concluded that Bogdanovic had lied to him when he insisted that he authored the report, and said it was evident that he did not have the competence to do such a study. 

                           
                               
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Simon Oosterman
Simon Oosterman
4 months ago

Deny, delay, ignore, start over!

Paul Pullicino
Paul Pullicino
4 months ago

They once had good cover-ups. Cover-ups that worked for a couple of years till the ceiling finally fell in. But now the circus clowns have become too arrogant, too sure of themselves, too careless….well, I think Edward Zammit Lewis put it best in a whatsapp message to his mate Yorgen.

slm
slm
4 months ago

l ewwel kellha lil Valletta l Ohxon u issa bil footballer is sinjura!! expensive il footballer hey……mal 5,000 fix xahar. bilmod Ronaldo!!

Last edited 4 months ago by slm
Lxe
Lxe
4 months ago
Reply to  slm

Qed tassumi li kollox fuq il football skills. Forsi €5000 mhux ghax qisu Ronaldo imma forsi ghax qisu Siffredi. Ma nafx, hi tista’ tghid.

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