The former aide of disgraced ex-minister Chris Cardona, teacher-turned-lawyer Joe Gerada, is attempting to block The Shift’s efforts to gain public interest information by claiming to a tribunal that Freedom of Information requests for details about his own government contracts amount to “harassment” and “intimidation” of public officials.
Gerada, while acting on behalf of one of his government clients, Malta Strategic Partnership Projects – better known as Projects Malta – has filed a request in his personal name and in his own interests before the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal, asking it to stop The Shift from filing any Freedom of Information (FOI) requests about the disbursement of public funds, in order to block any possible story about any contracts and funds he is receiving from State coffers.
The serial government appointee, who only graduated as a lawyer in 2014, is now seeking to block any questions from The Shift about his relationship with the PL administration, by asking the tribunal to ban The Shift from filing FOI requests even before they’re considered by the Data Protection Commissioner, let alone the Tribunal.
Gerada, who’s been on the State payroll since 2013, first came to public attention when he filed multiple libel suits against assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galiza after she claimed that he accompanied shamed former minister Chris Cardona to a German brothel in 2017 while on government business.
The extraordinary request was made during an ongoing appeal that’s completely unrelated to Gerada’s own demands. He complained to the Appeals Tribunal that is deciding on at least 29 appeals by government entities to challenge a decision by the Data Protection Commissioner to grant The Shift information requested through the Freedom of Information Act on payments made through public funds to Media Today co-owner Saviour Balzan.
The Shift reported yesterday how, one by one, 29 government entities (and counting) filed virtually identical appeals pushing back on the Commissioner’s decision to grant the information in the public interest regarding the use of public funds.
Joe Gerada’s claims
In his unprecedented request to the Tribunal, Gerada – current head of the government’s Family Business Office – claimed that while he was engaged as a legal consultant to Projects Malta, The Shift sent a number of FOI requests asking about his own contractual relationship with various government entities, including ministries, and seeking information about payments he is receiving for his legal services.
Claiming that this information is “of a personal nature,” Gerada told the Tribunal that if divulged, this information could cause him harm in the execution of his profession. He further argued that this information is “not of any public interest”.
Gerada told the Tribunal that the filing of FOI requests about him and ‘his clients’ is intended to “harass” him and his government clients in the execution of his profession, and “intimidate” FOI representatives in the course of their work.
In a reply, already filed, The Shift insisted that all the requests made are according to the FOI law, which is intended to strengthen accountability, transparency, and good governance in a democratic society.
The Shift said Gerada’s claims are totally unfounded, they are unrelated to the ongoing procedures and they are asking the Tribunal to decide on issues completely outside of its own legal jurisdiction.
What questions about Gerada?
Originally, The Shift filed an FOI request to the economy ministry – now headed by Silvio Schembri – for a copy of government contracts given to Joe Gerada, through direct orders, since 2013.
Though it’s widely-known that Gerada acted as a consultant to the ministry, Silvio Schembri turned down the request, claiming that his ministry has no such documents – this despite the fact that Gerada was the policy coordinator of Schembri’s predecessor, Chris Cardona, from 2013, through a ‘position of trust’ contract.
The Shift then addressed the same questions to Energy Minister Miriam Dalli, because she took over some of the responsibilities previously falling under Cardona’s former ministry.
Surprisingly, the energy ministry also replied that it had no such contracts and the only document it could provide was a 2019 appointment letter, signed by Cardona, appointing Gerada as a ‘regulator’ of the Family Business Office to be paid €18,000 annually from public funds, up to June 2022.
Further questions were then sent to Malta Strategic Partnership Projects (Projects Malta), which was also asked about contracts awarded to Gerada’s legal associates, Labour MP Jonathan Attard, as well as Charlon Gouder. The latter was turned down by the government agency, which claimed that the information was excluded from the scope of the law.
Gerada and Cardona
Gerada, a former teacher, was recruited as disgraced former minister Chris Cardona’s aide a few weeks after Labour was returned to power in 2013, although he hadn’t yet completed his university law course.
Hired as Cardona’s policy coordinator, Gerada was concurrently also put on MIMCOL’s payroll as a legal advisor.
In January 2017, Cardona and Gerada denied claims by Daphne Caruana Galizia that the pair were seen at the FKK Acapulco brothel in Velbert during an official visit to Germany to participate in a forum on the digitisation of European industry.
Caruana Galizia reported that the minister had been spotted at the club in the company of an unidentified “short and bald” man, subsequently identified as Gerada.
Cardona and Gerada both filed multiple libel suits against Caruana Galizia accompanied by garnishee orders blocking the journalist’s assets. However, they later dropped all their cases against the assassinated journalist after a judge ordered telecommunication providers Vodafone and GO to preserve triangular data showing the whereabouts of the two men in Germany at the time of the claims.
Following this decision, Gerada’s own wife – now estranged – asked the court in separation proceedings to preserve his geolocation mobile data for the dates it was alleged that he was at the German brothel with Cardona.
The court turned down the request.
Apart from serving for years as one of Cardona’s closest aides, in 2019 Gerada was also to serve as a member of another government body – Start Up Malta Foundation – now under the remit of Energy Minister Miriam Dalli.
It is not known whether Gerada is also receiving government remuneration for this position.