Maltese government refutes allegations made in French TV programme

IIP regulator tasked to investigate passport agent’s files after claims that ‘eyes are closed’

The government has had to respond to claims of favouritism made by an IIP agent to undercover French journalists
The government has had to respond to claims of favouritism made by an IIP agent to undercover French journalists

A claim made by a passport agent that “eyes are closed” during the processing of IIP applications is “completely unfounded”, the government has said.

In a point-by-point reaction, the Maltese government has refuted several allegations made in a French TV programme broadcast on Sunday.

An undercover interview with passport agent Chetcuti Cauchi Advisors, one of the firm’s representatives is heard bragging about his connections with the Prime Minister, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli.

The advisor also told the journalists, who were posing as clients, that “eyes are closed”.

But in its statement the government said the Malta Individual Investor Programme Agency had with immediate effect suspended the agent licenses of the firm on the basis that it disseminated “misleading information”.

The IIP agency has also asked the passport scheme regulator to review all the files submitted by the agent and has put all pending applications on hold.

“The firm will now be able to resort to a due process… Claims that ‘eyes are closed’ at any stage of the Malta Individual Investor Programme process are completely unfounded,” the government said.

READ ALSO: Malta IIP agency suspends licence of passport agent who bragged about connections to ministers

The golden passport programme, the government insisted, is designed in a way wherein holders of political office cannot interfere with applications.

“The rigorous system has a full transparent audit trail, which is thoroughly scrutinised by the independent MIIP Regulator. The agency runs a four-tier due diligence on each and every applicant and their dependants, irrespective of data submitted by the agent,” the statement said.

The agency then presents a list of files with recommendations for rejection and approval to the responsible minister.

“Any impression that any agent enjoys special treatment is completely misleading. The said firm [Chetcuti Cauchi] claimed to having a 100% approval rate. Checks in this regard have shown that the said firm in fact had 19% of its applications refused,” the government said.

Familiarity with ministers

The government also refuted claims that Justice Minister Owen Bonnici had been an associate of the law firm Chetcuti Cauchi. “The minister was never in employment or an associate of the firm.”

Likewise, the Prime Minister and Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli have no relationship whatsoever with the firm.

 “Any reference to Farrugia Portelli’s acquaintance with a partner of the firm dates back to 32 years ago when the Parliamentary Secretary, then 10 years old, used the same primary school transport, and was in the same class with a student who is today a partner of the firm,” the statement said.

In the undercover footage, the company representative boasted how his wife was a friend of Farrugia Portelli, and how he knew the Prime Minister.

The government statement said that Muscat attended the same school and shared school transport with the person interviewed and members of his family.

However, the government said that last month, French journalists requested an interview with Maltese government officials claiming that a partner in a law firm had made claims of association with members of government.

“An interview was granted with Parliamentary Secretary Farrugia Portelli. During the 16-minute interview, the Parliamentary Secretary was not asked any question about this allegation, when journalists had all the opportunity to pose such a question, which was the reason why they asked for the interview,” the statement said.

Beach concession

On claims of influence made by Paceville impresario Luke Chetcuti over a beach concession in St George’s Bay, the government insisted that Economy Minister Chris Cardona has countless meetings with potential investors, established enterprises, and all relevant stakeholders.

“Due process is always followed in all cases,” the government said.

It was referring to part of the documentary where Chetcuti, who presumably was not aware of the French journalist’s intention, was heard talking about a lunch he had with Cardona, during which he complained about a beach concession at St George’s Bay. Chetcuti alleges that Cardona messaged Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi on the matter.

The only beach concession at St George’s Bay was awarded to the Intercontinental Hotel by the previous administration.

“In so far as any suggestion of political influence relating to a beach concession at St George’s Bay, such is totally unfounded since the Tourism Ministry does not award land concessions,” the government said.

It also welcomed any investigations by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler on any of the claims. Hyzler was asked to investigate by independent candidate Arnold Cassola.

 

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