The Malta Independent 6 December 2023, Wednesday
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Updated: Passport agent subject of French TV sting cleared by Commission against Corruption

Monday, 20 November 2023, 10:48 Last update: about 15 days ago

No evidence was found which could prove beyond reasonable doubt that lawyer Jean-Philippe Chetcuti or any public official or minister were guilty of wrongdoing in regards to the awarding of passports, the Permanent Commission Against Corruption (PCAC) declared, after investigating a situation brought about by the contents of a French TV programme.

"The Commission did not find any proof of this type or any other documentary evidence that could lead to any proof 'beyond reasonable doubt'," it said. "Therefore the commission rules that in this case there is no evidence of any act of corruption committed by any public official or any minister," the report concluded.

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The Commission investigated the details of a situation covered by a French programme known as Enquete Esklusive.

In 2019, Chetcuti's consulting firm was suspended from being able to sell passports after the French Programme aired. The French programme's coverage alleged that the lawyer bragged about his ties to members of the Maltese government and how said ties allowed him to secure certain clients. Chetcuti had said that the excerpts of the conversation aired were edited and taken out of context, and the PCAC, in its decision, has found discrepancies between what was actually said, and what was claimed to have been said in the programme. 

"The members (of this Commission) viewed the recordings presented by Dr Chetcuti during his first testimony, together with all documents presented, including those provided to the Commission when he testified the second time before the Commission. It results without any doubt that Chetcuti is taking steps in France due to the damage he suffered after the report by the foreign journalists. There is a difference between what is seen in the full film and what is shown in the snippets, as well as discrepancies between what was actually said, and what it claimed was said," the PCAC said.

Included within the programme's coverage were allegations that Chetcuti had ties to Ministers Julia Farrugia Portelli and Owen Bonnici, both of whome were previously responsible for the 'Residence by Investment' programme which the government operates. Both Ministers were interviewed by the PCAC and denied ever interfering with the passport application process. 

Chetcuti had told the watchdog that excerpts of the conversation aired by the French televisions tation in the broadcast were edited and taken out of context. He detailed his battle in France to gain access to the unedited footage and in his legal fight against the media house as he sued for damages.

Bonnici also denied that he had ever worked for Chetcuti’s firm, saying that his interactions with the lawyer were limted to when they happened to meet inside the courtrooms back when Bonnici still worked as a lawyer himself.

Writing about the matter on Facebook, Bonnici said that the decision reached by the PCAC is indicative of the allegations brought forward being "another lie among a series of other lies". He continued that the French news programme had fabricated a story to say that Chetcuti's firm was getting preferential treatment in its operations and that he remembers how many people "took this story as gospel".

He said that the PCAC report, which was requested by third parties, clearly concluded that the allegations were not true and that the firm was not given any preferential treatment. He also said that the report concluded that the analysis process before granting citizenship is a very rigorous one consisting of multiple stages.

Commenting on his alleged relation to Chetcuti, Bonnici said that the PCAC report showed "clearly and roundly that the alleged friendships were minimal" and that he simply knew him due to being a practicing lawyer as others were.

The Local Government Minister said that when people see that "they cannot defeat us" thanks to popular support, "they resort to the worst personal attacks". He said that these personal attacks target everyone who is connected to them in some way without any regard for the truth and what is right.

"First they try to convince us of what they have and accuse us of being corrupt. When at the end of the day, after several years, you are proven right once, twice, three times by the institutions, then they change course and watch your every action so that with the first little mistake they try to paint you as if you are brainless or stupid," Bonnici said.

Bonnici concluded by saying that episodes such as this fill him with more energy and that this is what "establishments which claim that they have a divine right to govern" in our country do "in order to advance their interests".

In a statement later on Monday, Jean-Philippe Chetcuti also said that Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates has won its case before the Court of Criminal Appeal in a defamation case "representing senior partner Jean-Philippe Chetcuti and immigration consulting firm CC Advisors Ltd, in a 4- year legal battle against the Chairman of Group M6, a French media group, and against the CEO of the French production company Ligne de Front that produces the investigative series Inquiète Exclusif."

His statement read that in October 2023, "the French Court of Criminal Appeal concluded unequivocally that the journalists' allegations were lacking in evidence, detrimental to honour and reputation, and characterised dishonest behaviour publishable under criminal law."


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