While much is being said about the extraordinary €11,000-a-month special handover agreement crafted for the Malta Financial Services Authority’s last chief executive officer Joseph Gavin, it turns out his predecessor Joseph Cuschieri had provided no such handover at all given his particular “circumstances”.
Finance Minister Clyde Caruana confirmed in Parliament on Wednesday in reply to a question tabled by Opposition MP Jerome Caruana Cilia that Cuschieri “had resigned immediately from his position in November 2020 and given the circumstances, there was no handover before or after the resignation.”
The MFSA’s experiment in appointing CEOs – of which it has had only two, Cuschieri and Gavin – has not been an altogether pleasant one, with both appointments having ended up in ruins.
Cuschieri resigned from his role at the financial regulator’s helm following ethics breaches when he travelled to Las Vegas on a trip financed by Yorgen Fenech, the person accused of commissioning journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
Appointed as the MFSA’s first CEO on the recommendation of the Office of the Prime Minister, Cuschieri’s contract made him one of the country’s highest-paid public officials.
He had an annual salary, including performance bonuses, up to over €140,000, an all-expenses-paid car, a smartphone and tablet as well as generous travel, subsistence and hospitality expenses.
Edwina Licari, who accompanied Cuschieri on the casino owner-sponsored trip to Vegas when she was still working at the Malta Gaming Authority – before following Cuschieri to the MFSA where she was paid €100,000 as an international affairs lawyer and appointed to the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit’s board – also suspended herself when the scandal broke.
During their times at the MGA and MFSA, Cuschieri and Licari took regular business trips together. But it has never been made clear what she was doing for the MFSA or the FIAU on the Las Vegas trip, which also included disgraced former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri’s former personal assistant Charlene Bianco Farrugia.
Cuschieri stepped down just before an investigative report drawn up by former Chief Justice Joe Azzopardi was about to be delivered. As opposed to Cuschieri, the report had not recommended action against Licari and she retained her position.
Cuschieri’s successor, former general counsel for the Central Bank of Ireland Joseph Gavin, didn’t fare much better, but for different reasons.
The MFSA last summer formally announced the early retirement of its Irish CEO, who had been in the position for less than a year. Without elaborating, the MFSA simply stated that Gavin had “decided to retire early” following a long absence from his place of work “due to medical reasons”.
The Shift has revealed how Gavin, who had stepped down from the MFSA’s top spot after being absent from work for over a month, is still being paid some €11,000 a month by the financial services regulator by way of a handover agreement.
That contract will expire on 31 March 2023, by which time Gavin will have been paid close to €65,000 over six months for his handover services.
The Shift recently reported how neither the MFSA nor the finance ministry is in a position to publish this most recent arrangement, with data protection being cited.
Stating that his original contract had been terminated by the MFSA, the authority informed The Shift that it had entered into a back-to-back service agreement with the retired CEO “to provide advisory services in relation to the statutory functions of the Authority and in order to provide an orderly handover and conclusions of various initiatives”.
For that task, which is part and parcel of his original assignment as CEO, Gavin is receiving €11,000 a month, around €2,000 a month less than what he was being paid when he was on the job full-time before retiring.
The Shift is reliably informed that the new arrangement had been demanded by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana to force Gavin out of the position.
Following Cuschieri’s November 2020 resignation, the MFSA named Christopher Buttigieg as acting CEO. Buttigieg was, however, never made a fully-fledged CEO and Gavin was instead engaged on a €162,000-a-year contract, which included a €30,000 allowance for his accommodation in Malta.
This time around, in Gavin’s wake, senior and long-serving MFSA employee Michelle Mizzi Buontempo has been named acting CEO.
The MFSA is still to publish a notice to fill the vacant CEO position.