Film Commissioner Johann Grech has been forced to admit there is no contract to back his line that Australian actor and celebrity Russell Crowe acted as a consultant to the Malta Film Commission, despite a social media PR blitz in July accompanied by the public broadcaster’s news reports.
A month ago, Grech, who chairs the Commission, posed with the Oscar-winning actor while he was in Malta for a ‘surprise’ 48-hour visit, telling TVM news that Crowe was working as a consultant to the Malta Film Commission.
TVM reported Grech stating that he had discussed his vision of the future of the Malta film industry with Crowe and that the Australian actor was “acting as a consultant in ongoing work to boost the film industry”.
Barely a month after his public declaration accompanied by pictures of Grech posing and dining with Crowe, the Malta Film Commission has now admitted that Crowe has no consultancy work with the public entity.
In reply to a Freedom of Information request by The Shift, the Commission replied: “No such contract exists between Crowe and the Malta Film Commission.”
The Commission also said that Grech’s meeting with Crowe last July, reported as news by TVM, happened during a lunch in a Valletta restaurant, to which Grech was a guest.
Grech has not explained why he told TVM that Crowe was working as ‘his’ commission’s consultant.
Grech has become a controversial figure since leaving his government post as a marketing manager for disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat to take over the stewardship of the Film Commission through a political appointment.
He has made a name for himself for his extravagant spending of taxpayer funds, with the most recent case occurring just a few weeks before the last general elections in March when he spent €1.3 million on Malta Film Week.
Grech, backed by Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo, refuses to provide information on how these funds were disbursed.
Some of the contractors given direct orders by Grech to provide services for the Malta Film Week were, weeks later, providing several similar services to the Labour Party during its electoral campaign.
After refusing to provide any account of how these public funds were spent, even to parliamentary questions, The Shift has filed a Freedom of Information request asking for all the invoices issued for Malta Film Week.
Turning down the request, the Film Commissioner said his entity “follows the Public Procurement Regulations, particularly para. 111(2) of the same rules and regulations, and hence all invoices will be made public as per normal good governance procedures.”
Most of the €1.3 million spent were given out through direct orders, defying public procurement rules.
The Shift has asked for an investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner, arguing that Grech’s refusal to be transparent and accountable runs contrary to good governance rules and against the spirit of the FOI Act.