Malta MFSA in chaos: CEO and Legal Counsel out after paid-for Vegas trip
Malta, the EU’s smallest country, has found itself with some very big problems – at least regarding the reputation of its financial regulator, the MFSA.
The MFSA’s CEO Joseph Cuschieri and General Counsel Edwina Licari have “suspended themselves voluntarily” after media reports surfaced in the country that Mr. Cuschieri and Ms. Licari accompanied prominent Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech on all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas, staying at the Caesars Palace hotel and casino.
In the interim, the MFSA has appointed senior officer Dr. Christopher Buttigieg as acting CEO of the Authority. No replacement was named as yet for Ms. Licari.
At the time the reported Las Vegas trip was taken in 2018, Mr. Cuschieri was just a month into his job heading the MFSA, and Ms. Licari was still with the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA), which oversees the country’s gambling businesses and establishments. Mr. Cuschieri was Chairman and CEO of the MGA before moving to head the MFSA.
The trip in question as noted was taken with and paid for by Yorgen Fenech, who is in the hotels and casinos business in Malta. Mr. Cuschieri apparently claims that his going on that trip (and having the costs covered by Mr. Fenech) were not improper and do not present a conflict of interest, since he was no longer heading the gaming regulator. He explained his presence on the trip as an advisor to Mr. Fenech on a possible casino-related investment in the US.
The story gets a little dicier, in that Mr. Fenech is now a murder suspect in the 2017 killing of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Ms. Galizia was killed in a car bomb attack near her home, in what The Institute of Maltese Journalists called a direct attack on freedom of expression and a “black day for democracy” in the country. The day after the arrest of a suspected middleman in the murder in November 2019, Mr. Fenech attempted to leave Malta on his private yacht, but was intercepted and arrested by the Armed Forces of Malta in open water. An indictment was subsequently filed against Mr. Fenech, but he has pleaded not guilty. The case is still ongoing.
However this shakes out, the episode has shaken the authority and reputation of the MFSA, which has tried to position itself and the country as a safe, secure, and well regulated place to do business from within the EU.
Malta is a popular home for Retail FX and CFD brokers, with the country third only to the UK and Cyprus regarding the number of licensed firms within Europe.
The MFSA put out two brief statements on the matter on Friday, full text of each follows:
OCTOBER 30, 2020
In keeping with the principles of good governance, the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) is hereby giving notice that the Chief Executive Officer, Joseph Cuschieri, has, earlier on today, advised that he is voluntarily suspending himself from his duties to allow the Board of Governors to carry out any verifications necessary in relation to events reported in the media in recent days.
The MFSA’s General Counsel, Edwina Licari, who, at the time of the events, was not yet in the Authority’s employ, has similarly suspended herself for the Board to conduct its due process.
The MFSA’s management and staff shall, of course, remain focused on the implementation of the Authority’s vision and strategy.
OCTOBER 30, 2020
The MFSA Board of Governors discussed the facts reported in the Maltese media relating to the CEO Joseph Cuschieri and the General Counsel Dr Edwina Licari. The Board, fully aware of its responsibility, has decided to initiate an assessment of the facts reported to safeguard the interests of the Authority. The review is to be conducted in the most transparent and ethical manner. Meanwhile, both Mr Joseph Cuschieri and General Counsel Dr Edwina Licari have suspended themselves voluntarily until all the necessary assessments are concluded and a final decision is taken on both cases. Ad interim, the MFSA Board has unanimously appointed Dr Christopher Buttigieg as acting CEO of the Authority.