Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli has ordered a private passport-selling firm to remove any of the promotional videos in which she features, after the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life declared that “she crossed the line” when allowing it to happen.
Farrugia Portelli, who was then Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and responsible for the scheme, and Auberge de Castille provided the stellar backdrop in a promotional video for Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates, the firm that vehemently denied links to an alleged trading of influence scandal.
Farrugia Portelli appeared in three videos for the firm.
An investigation by Commissioner George Hyzler was opened. He’s concluded that this may have given an improper advantage to the firm because the videos gave the impression that it was well connected with the authorities.
“There is a fine line between promoting a Government scheme and giving preferential treatment to a particular agent. In my opinion, this line has been crossed in the case under consideration,” he said.
“This case was the result not of bad faith but of lack of thought on her part, as well as a failure to act promptly to have the videos removed once she became aware of the effects of her actions,” he continued.
Removing the videos was a sufficient remedy in the circumstances, the Commissioner declared making it clear that Minister should not be giving improper advantages to private operators.
Activist group Repubblika, who requested the investigation, is calling for Farrugia Portelli’s resignation insisting that the incident amounted to an abuse of power. They also raised concerns that police are yet to open an investigation into the case.
It remains to be seen how Prime Minister Robert Abela will respond. Justyne Caruana was booted out of the Gozo Ministry for her husband’s misgivings. However, Education Minister Owen Bonnici has retained his post despite having breached the constitution.
Comment by Chetcuti Cauchi:
“As licensed citizenship agent we were not only entitled to but obliged to promote the IIP and to seek the MIIP Agency’s prior consent before publishing any IIP-related promotion.”
“The video in question was a result of research conducted by the firm comparing the due diligence standards of the IIP with that of other programmes represented by the firm.”
“Apart from the logos of the firm on the video, the firm’s representative made objective statements of fact about the sectoral investment Malta was attracting and made no direct reference to the services of the firm. “
“With hindsight, the firm agrees with the recommendations made on the choice of filming location and explains the decision was intended to avoid the impression of preferential treatment that would have arisen had it filmed at its own offices as the firm does for all legal updates it releases.