Raw footage of a Maltese lawyer’s informal chat to an undercover journalist posing as the lawyer of potential citizenship clients has been published.
The footage of Jean-Philippe Chetcuti Cauchi, managing partner of Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates, was originally published last month by French TV programme Enquête Exclusive with French dubbing but has now been released in its original English format to the video streaming site Rutube.
Lovin Malta later met with the managing partner of Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates, Jean Phillippe Chetcuti, in January 2020 to look at a full hour-long video clip of the encounter. Chetcuti says that the raw, unedited footage completely exonerates him.
The Investment Migration Council has found no breach in its code of ethics during an investigation.
It starts with Chetcuti Cauchi, whose face is blurred out, telling the journalist that he has a big boardroom in his office “which we use to celebrate [what] we call passport parties”.
The footage then jumps to the journalist telling Chetcuti Cauchi to expand on a previous statement that he has a good relationship with a minister.
“Look, the minister responsible for it is [Justice Minister] Owen Bonnici, who used to do our litigation…he was a litigation lawyer,” he said.
“Julia Farrugia Portelli, the parliamentary secretary, so she’s a junior minister., is responsible for the programme,” he then says, before adding that she’s a schoolfriend of his wife.
“It’s good that my wife had friends like that,” he states with a laugh.
Chetcuti Cauchi then adds that he was a school mate of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat but says this is quite common in a country as small as Malta where “we all know each other”.
“We used to attend each other’s birthday parties, we had good times,” he said.
The conversation then jumps to Chetcuti Cauchi’s response to an unaired question by the journalist which, according to Enquête Exclusive, was about the fact that his ‘client’ interested in purchasing Maltese citizenship has a criminal record.
“There are limited cases where we are able to fight for a reconsideration but the odds are against you,” the lawyer states. “With a first-level rejection, there is no guarantee, there is no appeals mechanism. In fact, for me it’s just lobbying. You know, I keep on friendly terms. I don’t tell the minister you’ve done a bad job or you’ve made a mistake.”
“I say, look, with some more information we can have a fuller picture and sometimes…because they can’t tell me what the reason is…they can wink when I suggest certain things and therefore it helps me submit information to contradict that.”
Since the recording was published, the government’s IIP agency has suspended Chetcuti Cauchi’s license to sell citizenship and has passed on all the firm’s past and present files to the IIP regulator for investigation.
A separate investigation by Standards Commissioner George Hyzler is also underway into potential trading in influence.
Chetcuti Cauchi has denied ever using his political influence to obtain any sort of illegal advantage for his clients and said his firm has always acted professionally, ethically and with utmost diligence.
Owen Bonnici has denied that he was ever in employment or an associate of the law firm, while Julia Farrugia Portelli has said her relationship with the lawyer’s wife was limited to sharing a school bus and classroom.
It was later revealed that Chetcuti Cauchi used the halls of Castille as a backdrop in a video promoting its services as agents of the Individual Investor Programme. However, the parliamentary secretary said yesterday that she hadn’t even been informed that the law firm had filmed inside Castille.
“I found out later that the agent filmed inside Castille. I don’t agree with it, it was an administrative error. I was not part of it, I was not even consulted,” she said on Xtra.
She went on to claim that the iconic halls of Castille were only used in the advert because there was “scaffolding” outside the building and more “scaffolding” inside her office.