Malta Gaming Authority CEO Heathcliff Farrugia was working on setting up his own business as an industry provider in the months leading up to his resignation, raising major concerns over conflicts of interest within the state body.
Farrugia is setting up the business with another major MGA employee and his right-hand man, Chief Officer of Authorisations Karl Brincat Peplow. An industry provider assists the sector in a number of ways against major fees whether that’s navigating the legal, communications, or processing sphere.
Their time at the MGA would have proven useful to the pair, who would have benefitted from the extensive network their official roles afforded them.
Lovin Malta recently revealed that Farrugia was interrogated by police over his relationship with Yorgen Fenech, focusing on several WhatsApp exchanges between the pair. Sources said that Farrugia was also questioned on a wider number of issues regarding the sector and other industries
Details on their content are yet to be revealed, however, sources suggested that there could be suspicions of trading-in-influence.
Some have downplayed the gravity of the interrogations, insisting that it is standard practice for CEOs and gaming industry stakeholders to be in regular communication with the authorities. However, others have dismissed it as spin, saying regulators should never be in intimate contact with operators.
Still, major questions remain over whether Farrugia was able to start dipping his hands into the private sector while still regulator. Being the regulator granted Farrugia major access to the MGA’s database, which includes a wealth of information about his soon-to-be competitors.
Pressure surrounding Farrugia and his role at the MGA has softened with the sudden revelations that his predecessor, Joe Cusciehri, and an MGA official Edwina Licari travelled with Daphne Caruana Galizia main suspect Yorgen Fenech in May 2018.
Both have paid the price and have been suspended from their roles. Farrugia, on the other hand, has been able to saunter on into the private sector with little concern for his questionable relationship with Fenech that brought the attention of officers. Neither Cuschieri or Licari have been questioned by police.
Malta’s gaming sector is facing major challenges with a crucial Moneyval test looming large. Sources have suggested that the issues raised above were behind the sudden resignation, however, Farrugia has resoundingly rejected such assertions.
Farrugia’s WhatsApp communications follow the latest in a long line of exchanges between Fenech and Malta’s top officials. The contents of the WhatsApp messages were lifted off Fenech’s phone by Europol, who was handed the device immediately after Fenech’s arrest in November 2019. They will be exhibited in court when experts are called to testify.
Fenech shared over 700 messages with Malta’s Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis between January 2019 and October 2019. There are also roughly 800 messages between Fenech and former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s right-hand man, Keith Schembri, who remains under investigation for his potential role in the crime.
It has also been confirmed by inspectors that Muscat, Schembri, and Fenech had a shared WhatsApp group between themselves. Meanwhile, former PN Leader Adrian Delia has also been confirmed to have exchanged messages with the businessman.
It has suggested that many key political figures, including Zammit Lewis and potential other cabinet members, could pay the price for the questionable communication.
Whatever happens, it has become clear that there is a systemic issue with government officials being far too comfortable in blurring the lines between their official and public roles.
Conflicts of interest are far too common in Malta and government officials are being allowed to navigate these situations without any suitable checks and balances being enforced. Action must be taken.
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