Michael Farrugia breached ethics when he gave wrong information on Mrieħel high-rise decision

Ethics probe clears Michael Farrugia of lying on Yorgen Fenech meeting but finds he should have verified information before telling reporter how Mrieħel was added to high-rise zones

Standards Commissioner finds Michael Farrugia (pictured) breached ethics when he gave wrong information as to how Mrieħel was included as a high-rise zone in a new policy drafted in 2014
Standards Commissioner finds Michael Farrugia (pictured) breached ethics when he gave wrong information as to how Mrieħel was included as a high-rise zone in a new policy drafted in 2014

Michael Farrugia breached ethical standards when he gave incorrect information on how Mrieħel was included as a high-rise zone, the Standards Commissioner has concluded.

The investigation prompted by independent election candidate Arnold Cassola in 2020 was concluded this week and the findings passed on to parliament’s ethics committee.

The report is not yet public but sources privy to the findings have told MaltaToday Farrugia was exonerated from accusations that he lied about his meeting with Yorgen Fenech at Castille in 2014.

However, Standards Commissioner Joseph Azzopardi found that Farrugia “did not say the truth” when attributing the decision to include Mrieħel as a high-rise zone to a committee evaluating public feedback on a new policy that was being drafted in 2014.

The ethics probe kicked off three years ago following comments Farrugia gave to the Times of Malta after information emerged on a meeting with Fenech that took place in March 2014. In 2014, Farrugia was parliamentary secretary for planning within the Office of the Prime Minister.

Farrugia tried to defend himself by claiming that he was referring to an inter-ministerial committee that gave policy direction but the sources said the Standards Commissioner did not buy into this explanation.

While noting that six years had passed between the 2014 meeting and Farrugia’s comments to TOM, the commissioner said the MP should have verified matters before replying.

MaltaToday understands that Azzopardi also emphasised the need to have a regulated system of lobbying.

Parliament’s ethics committee is expected to meet on Thursday to decide whether to make the report public.

The Castille meeting

The 2014 meeting with Fenech took place on the day that Farrugia informed the Planning Authority CEO on government’s direction to include Mrieħel as a high-rise zone.

At the time a new policy defining areas where high-rise buildings could go up was being drafted and it came into force in May of 2014.

Fenech’s family company, Tumas Group, had an interest in the Mrieħel zone and subsequently was involved in a joint venture project with the Gasan Group to develop the high-rise Quad Towers.

The implication is that Mrieħel’s inclusion as a high-rise zone came about after the meeting in Castille.

However, Farrugia and then PA CEO Johann Buttigieg, who was also present for the meeting, both denied the Mrieħel issue had been discussed.

The sources said Buttigieg testified in the ethics probe that the Castille meeting with Fenech was about land reclamation. The government had issued an expression of interest for land reclamation projects and was meeting with investors to understand their plans.

Farrugia’s comments in 2020

Referring to Farrugia’s comment to the Times six years later that he did not have “such a meeting” with Fenech, the Standards Commissioner said the MP did not lie because his words implied that he did not meet Fenech on the Mrieħel issue and not that he never met Fenech.

But the commissioner does not appear to have bought into Farrugia’s explanation that he was referring to an inter-ministerial committee when he told the Times the Mrieħel suggestion emanated from a committee evaluating public feedback.

The ethics probe suggests Farrugia had been clear enough in his comments to TOM three years ago that he was referring to the committee that had been evaluating public feedback and not an inter-ministerial committee.

Cassola had pointed out in his complaint that the public feedback committee had not recommended the inclusion of Mrieħel and so the minister was lying.

MaltaToday understands that the commissioner concluded that Farrugia had misled Cassola and other readers by his comments, even if they came six years after the meeting had taken place.

Fenech’s government connections

A list of meetings that Yorgen Fenech had at Castille between 2013 and 2017 was presented as evidence during the public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Most of these meetings were with Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri but there had also been a meeting on 5 March 2014 with Michael Farrugia.

Fenech was in 2019 charged with masterminding Caruana Galizia’s murder and is currently awaiting trial.

Fenech was an integral part of the Electrogas consortium that was awarded the tender in late 2013 to build and operate a new gas power station and liquefied natural gas terminal at Delimara.

Fenech was later identified as the owner of Dubai company 17 Black, which had as its target clients the two Panama companies owned by Schembri and Mizzi.

Fenech’s connections with former government functionaries and the deals he was involved in are subject to several magisterial inquiries.

Schembri is facing separate proceedings on money laundering, corruption and fraud.