The Malta Independent 8 December 2022, Thursday
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Updated (3): Las Vegas trip: MFSA CEO, general counsel self-suspend; lawyer quits FIAU board

Neil Camilleri Friday, 30 October 2020, 12:33 Last update: about 3 years ago

Updated at 20:06 with MFSA statement opening an 'assessment' into the case.

MFSA CEO Joe Cuschieri and general counsel Edwina Licari have suspended themselves in order to allow the board look into revelations that they travelled to Las Vegas with Yorgen Fenech in 2018.

Licari has also resigned as member of the board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, the Finance Ministry has confirmed.

At the time of the trip, in 2018, Cuschieri was transitioning from the Malta Gaming Authority to the financial services watchdog. Licari was still employed as legal advisor to the gaming authority.

A fourth person – Keith Schembri’s former personal assistant, Charlene Bianco Farrugia – also attended the trip.

Cuschieri said he had been asked by Fenech, who had been interested in an investment in the US, to give regulatory advice. He told The Malta Independent that he had not been paid for his service but would not go into detail about the advice he had given to Fenech.

Fenech paid for the flights and the accommodation was covered by the hotel – Caesar’s Palace.

In a statement on Friday evening, the MFSA said that the Board of Governors had "decided to initiate an assessment of the facts reported to safeguard the interests of the Authority."

"The review is to be conducted in the most transparent and ethical manner", the MFSA said before confirming that both Cuschieri and Licari had suspended themselves.

Christopher Buttigieg meanwhile has been appointed as acting CEO of the authority.

Speaking on TVM on Thursday night, Prime Minister Robert Abela defended Cuschieri and said that, from what he has seen so far, no conflict of interest exists.

He also asked whether this was a personal attack against Cuschieri or one against the financial services industry.

In a statement, the Parliamentary Secretariat for Financial Services and Digital Economy said that, in keeping with the principles of good governance, Cuschieri had voluntarily suspended himself from his duties with immediate effect.

"This to allow the same Authority to carry out any verifications necessary in relation to events reported in the media in recent days."

Edwina Licari has also suspended herself from her duties with immediate effect to allow the same Authority to conduct any verifications deemed necessary, it said.

The Parliamentary Secretariat reiterated that it shall remain focused on the implementation of the MFSA’s vision and strategy.

A similar statement was issued by the MFSA, which said Cuschieri had voluntarily suspended himself from his duties to allow the Board of Governors to carry out any verifications necessary in relation to events reported in the media in recent days.

The MFSA’s General Counsel, Edwina Licari, who, at the time of the events, was not yet in the Authority’s employ, has similarly suspended herself for the Board to conduct its due process.

The MFSA’s management and staff shall, of course, remain focused on the implementation of the Authority’s vision and strategy, the authority said.

In a separate statement, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna said on Thursday he contacted Licari to discuss her position as Member of the Board of the FIAU.

On Friday morning, the minister received her letter of resignation, which he has accepted with immediate effect. Minister Scicluna thanked Dr Licari for her services to the institution.

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