Malta’s financial services regulator is paying €420 an hour for the services of a US legal firm while at the same time engaging around 10 other firms at fees of between €50 to €220 an hour, in addition to employing full-time lawyers, some on salaries of over €120,000 a year.
According to information submitted in Parliament, the US Sheehan Phinney law firm was engaged in 2021. While the specific services it provides are not publicly known, sources said it is involved in the Pilatus Bank debacle.
For many years, particularly when the Malta Financial Services Authority was under the direction of Prof Joe Bannister and disgraced former CEO Joseph Cuschieri, Pilatus Bank had been left unsupervised. Keith Schembri, the right hand of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, and former EU Commissioner John Dalli held accounts at this bank.
The bank was knee-deep in allegations of money laundering, particularly for politicians and families close to the Azerbaijani regime.
It was only following the intervention of the European Banking Authority and political pressure from the Opposition that the MFSA took action and closed the bank down.
In reply to parliamentary questions by Opposition MP Paula Mifsud Bonnici, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana said other local law firms were also being engaged by the MFSA.
These include well-connected firms such as Ganado Advocates (€250 per hour), Camilleri Preziosi (€250 an hour), Refalo Advocates (€150 an hour), Mamo TCV (€150 an hour) and VB Advocates (€220 an hour).
Meanwhile, several other law firms have been given direct orders from the Finance Ministry in recent years.
Air Malta, currently deep in the red and facing closure, uses three different law firms while the Office of the Commissioner for Revenue engages five different lawyers, some on €50,000-a-year retainers.
Lawyer Mark Simiana has been engaged through a direct order by the Office of the Commissioner for Revenue on a €23,000-a-year retainer.
Tax Commissioner Joseph Caruana is yet to explain why task tax inspectors were not tasked with valuing a sprawling villa the Prime Minister purchased in Zejtun. Despite having a market value of over €2 million, Abela declared its value for tax purposes at just €600,000, which should have triggered an immediate investigation.
The full list can be seen here.