Standards report calls for criminal investigation into €15,000 Bogdanovic contract

Standards Commissioner report finds Education Minister Justyne Caruana Caruana used her discretion in a way that ‘constitutes abuse of power’

Education Minister Justyne Caruana
Education Minister Justyne Caruana

A Standards Commissioner report on the Education Minister Justyne Caruana’s decision to gift her boyfriend a €5,000-per-month sports contract has concluded that a criminal investigation should be launched into the deal.

The Times of Malta has claimed the Standards Commissioner George Hyzler recommends the report be released and referred to police over the potential violation of the criminal code.

“It is my understanding that Minister Justyne Caruana used her discretion in a way that constitutes abuse of power, and broke with the ministerial code of ethics, by giving preferential treatment to Daniel Bogdanovic, and in particular by giving Bogdanovic a contract by direct order that he was neither qualified for or competent to carry out,” the report concludes.

The investigation was requested by independent candidate Arnold Cassola after MaltaToday revealed how Caruana gifted former footballer Daniel Bogdanovic a three-month contract worth €15,000 to review the national sports curriculum.

Bogdanovic is Caruana’s boyfriend and has no pedagogical training. The information that Hyzler concluded the probe and passed on the report to the committee was communicated by Cassola.

In his report, Hyzler explains how the minister abused her power in awarding Bogdanovic the contract, saying there was a “concerted effort to hide Bogdanovic’s incompetence”.

It also details how he was paid despite the work being carried out by one of Caruana’s consultants, Paul Debattista.

The minister and Bogdanovic also denied their intimate relationship with one another, preferring to use the term “friendship”.

The report also raises questions about the former footballer’s other roles within the ministry, with testimonies by officials showing he was responsible for technical work, photocopies. He also took visitors’ temperatures as part of coronavirus protocols.

One of the main points of contention in the report was the contract awarded to Bogdanovic to draft a report on how the National Sport School could be improved.

The contract, which was signed off by permanent secretary Frank Fabri, is for Bogdanovic to assess the standards of academic and sports curriculum at the school; evaluate students’ selection criteria; carry out a survey with past and present students on their school experience; compare academic and sports curricula in the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Cyprus with the Maltese; and issue recommendations to the Maltese ministry.

When questioned by Hyzler, Fabri refused to say whether it was Caruana who put forward Bogdanovic’s name, but Paul Debatista confirmed it was the minister who proposed him for the study.

The minister also said she had consulted with MFA President Bjorn Vassallo and Aquatic Sports Association President Joe Caruana, and that it was during these meetings that Bogdanovic’s name was floated. In their testimonies, the two gave contrasting versions.

The report also shows how Bogdanovic had presented a hard copy of the study, rather than an electronic one, with the commissioner describing this as “suspicious”.

“I am old school and prefer to see everything in front of me,” Bogdanovic said in his testimony.

The commissioner explained how the former footballer had insisted the report was drafted by himself, and that no major assistance was received, but content showed otherwise.

He also failed to explain lengthy references to international organisations despite claiming it was his own research.

Bogdanovic later said he had a USB pen drive with the electronic documents, which proved to be unreliable, as one of them had no electronic information, and the other being a word document who electronic data appeared to be deleted.

Unable to rely on Bogdanovic’s testimony, Hyzler requested access to his government e-mails and was given limited access by the State IT agency, MITA.

From these e-mails, Hyzler found that the report Bogdanovic claimed to have authored had in fact almost entirely been written by ministry consultant Debattista.

“In fact, there is almost no proof of Bogdanovic’s involvement,” Hyzler says. “In the best hypothesis, Bogdanovic made a very small contribution to this report.”

Reacting to the report, independent candidate Arnold Cassola said the report “highlights blatant lies and multiple attempts at covering up the truth by manipulating the details of the soft copies on computer.”

“Are now Glenn Bedingfield and Edward Zammit Lewis going to continue in their usual job of covering up for, defending and protecting the pigsty behaviour of another minister? Or are Robert Abela and Anglu Farrugia going to open up parliament with urgency tomorrow, a public holiday, to ensure the PAC committee condemns all this ministerial muck?” he said.