Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has denied enjoying a close relationship with a lawyer who was recently filmed by a French TV crew boasting about his relationship with the Prime Minister when talking about the sale-of-citizenship scheme.
In a statement, the government said that Muscat’s relationship with the lawyer from Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates, whose identity was concealed by Enquête Exclusive, doesn’t extend beyond their childhood days when they attended the same school and shared school transport.
Similarly, parliamentary secretary for reforms and citizenship Julia Farrugia Portelli denied the lawyer’s leaked claims that she enjoys a close relationship with his wife.
“Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli have no relationship whatsoever with the firm,” the government statement read.
“Any reference to Parliamentary Secretary Farrugia Portelli’s acquaintance with a partner of the firm dates back to 32 years ago when the Parliamentary Secretary, then 10 years old, used the same primary school transport, and was in the same class with a student who is today a partner of the firm.”
“The same applies to any reference made to Prime Minister, who attended the same school and shared school transport with the person interviewed and members of his family.”
The statement added that the French TV team had last month requested an interview with Maltese government officials claiming that a partner in a law firm had made claims of association with members of government.
“An interview was granted with Parliamentary Secretary Farrugia Portelli,” it said. “During the 16-minute interview, the Parliamentary Secretary was not asked any question about this allegation, when journalists had all the opportunity to pose such a question, which was the reason why they asked for the interview.”
Lawyers from Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates met up with the French TV crew on the assumption that they were the legal representatives of African clients who were interested in purchasing Maltese citizenship through the Individual Investor Programme.
After boasting about their closeness with top government officials, the journalist tested the lawyer by warning that one of his ‘clients’ interested in purchasing Maltese citizenship may have a criminal record.
The lawyer responded that the authorities can reject applications without giving a reason but they can also “close an eye” and that he could provide them with further information that would benefit the client.
Following the publication of the video, the Malta Individual Investor Programme Agency (MIIPA) suspended Chetcuti Cauchi’s license to act as an IIP agent.
“Claims that “eyes are closed” at any stage of the MIIP process are completely unfounded,” the government said.
“The Malta Individual Investor Programme is designed in a way wherein political office holders cannot interfere with applications. The rigorous system has a full transparent audit trail, which is thoroughly scrutinised by the independent MIIP Regulator. The MIIPA runs a 4-tier due diligence on each and every applicant and their dependants, irrespective of data submitted by the agent.”
“The MIIPA then presents a list of files with recommendations for rejection and/or approval to the responsible Minister. The recommendations are solely based on the due diligence reports and findings.”
“Any impression that any agent enjoys a special treatment is completely misleading. The said firm claimed to having a 100% approval rate. Checks in this regard have shown that the said firm in fact had 19% of its applications refused.”
“The MIIPA has asked the IIP Regulator to review into all the files submitted by the said agent and has put all pending applications on hold.”