The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

Passport agent who bragged about connections to government has licence suspended

Monday, 23 September 2019, 14:30 Last update: about 23 days ago

The Malta Individual Investor Programme Agency has suspended the licences of Chetcuti Cauchi Advisors Ltd, holders of licences IIP 001 and IIP 124, until further notice, the agency announced on its website.

The suspension comes after one of its representatives was caught boasting of his friendly relations with both the Prime Minister and the parliamentary secretary for citizenship.

The Chetcuti Cauchi law firm were one of the first agents to be granted authorisation to sell Maltese citizenship.

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The comments were made to a journalist from French TV channel M6, who was posing as a representative of African clients seeking a Maltese passport.

“The [former] minister Owen Bonnici was a lawyer here. Julia Farrugia, the parliamentary secretary in charge of the programme, is a childhood friend of my wife. It’s good to have a wife with similar friends," an agent was filmed saying.

“It’s a small island… I was at school with the prime minister – my father drove us to school and we would be invited to each other’s parties. We understand each other.”

Reacting, the government refuted “allegations made by third parties.”

It said the MMIPA had suspended the agent's licences “given the dissemination of misleading information.” The firm will now be able to resort to a due process, it said.

Claims that “eyes are closed” at any stage of the MIIP process are completely unfounded, the government said. 

“The Malta Individual Investor Programme is designed in a way wherein political office holders cannot interfere with applications. The rigorous system has a full transparent audit trail, which is thoroughly scrutinised by the independent MIIP Regulator. The MIIPA runs a 4-tier due diligence on each and every applicant and their dependants, irrespective of data submitted by the agent. The MIIPA then presents a list of files with recommendations for rejection and/or approval to the responsible Minister. The recommendations are solely based on the due diligence reports and findings.”

Any impression that any agent enjoys a special treatment is completely misleading, the statement continued. “The said firm 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 MIIPA has asked the IIP Regulator to review into all the files submitted by the said agent and has put all pending applications on hold.

“As to claims regarding Minister Owen Bonnici that he was an associate of the said law firm, it should be pointed out that this is false since the minister was never in employment or an associate of the firm. Likewise, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli have no relationship whatsoever with the firm.”

“Any reference to Parliamentary Secretary 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 same applies to any reference made to Prime Minister, who attended the same school and shared school transport with the person interviewed and members of his family.”

The government said the French journalists had asked for an interview over the claims. They interviewed PS Farrugia Portelli but she “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.”

It also denied suggestions of inappropriate conduct by the Ministry for the Economy, Investment and Small Businesses.

“Insofar as any suggestion of political influence relating to a beach concession at St George’s Bay, such is totally unfounded since the Ministry for Tourism does not award land concessions. The existing concession was awarded by a previous administration.”

The Government said it welcomes any investigations by Commissioner for Standards in Public Life Dr George Hyzler on any of these claims, referring to the request made by independent candidate Arnold Cassola.

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