Updated | Former Labour justice minister says MFSA golden handshake scandal shames country

Financial services authority board member, former justice minister and veteran lawyer Joe Brincat has sent a judicial letter to the agency's CEO over a golden handshake given to an employee

Former Labour Justice Minister Joe Brincat
Former Labour Justice Minister Joe Brincat

The Malta Financial Services Authority is facing flak from one of its board members after a golden handshake awarded to an employee has raised eyebrows.

But the situation is embarrassing for the government because the board member is none other than veteran lawyer and former Labour justice minister and deputy leader, Joe Brincat.

In a judicial letter to Joseph Cuschieri, the authority’s CEO, Brincat claims that the payment was a breach of the rule of law that brought shame upon the government’s administration of the country.

It was believed that the protest was a reaction to the recent retirement and re-recruitment of George Spiteri, the MFSA's former human resources director, who earlier this month was paid over €150,000 to retire, only to be re-employed in the same position by an offshoot of the financial services regulator. In comments to sections of the press however, Brincat said that the protest did not refer to this case, but another.

In the protest, filed before the First Hall of the Civil Court this morning, Brincat states that if a member of the Board becomes aware of a future crime, he is obliged to do everything in his power to stop it – or face criminal liability himself.

Part of the MFSA’s funding comes from the Consolidated Fund, the allocation of which is subject to specific votes in parliament, said Brincat. Consequently, nobody has the right to contradict the will of Parliament or its authorisation and utilise the funds in a manner different to that authorised by the Parliament.

“It was recently made public knowledge that you offered payment of a golden handshake to an employee of MFSA (apart from the fact that that the system of early retirement has nothing to do with the case at hand)…and are attempting to arrive at an agreement on the basis of paying a golden handshake and ending the employment relationship,” reads the judicial protest.

“But there is no vote passed through Parliament and neither was there provided that this payment for termination of employment would happen.”

In order for such a payment to take place, money must be redirected from other projects, said the lawyer, arguing that “this is a crime because the money that was entrusted to use should be used for specific purposes and were not a ‘blank cheque’ in your hands.”

Article 294 of the Criminal Code makes it an aggravated offence to misappropriate funds “entrusted or delivered to the offender by reason of his profession, trade, business, management, office or service…” and is prosecutable ex officio (without the need for a report to be filed). It is punishable by imprisonment for a term from seven months to two years.

The judicial protest calls on MFSA CEO Joseph Cuschieri personally and in his capacity as a representative of the authority to desist from paying the golden handshake, admonishing him that “this is certainly not a private sector or personal business of yours.”

The control of public spending was a basic principle of the rule of law, said the lawyer, arguing that if the administration felt unbound by regulation, "it would destroy every principle of regulated conviviality in a society, aside from bringing shame on the governmental administration".

The action had opened up the government to attacks from the press and political rivals “when you know that no member of government is to blame,” Brincat added. The responsibility for this fell upon the shoulders of the CEO who did not stick his neck out, he said in comments to the MaltaToday.

As a parting shot, the lawyer said that besides Cuschieri and the Attorney General, he had also notified the Auditor General “to exercise his duties before public funds are spent without any legal control or authorisation, as well as examining monies spent by the Consolidated Fund in general over the last few months.”

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