UPDATED: Chetcuti Cauchi licenses for Citizenship Investment Programme suspended
The Government has categorically denied a number of allegations that were broadcast on a French television station featuring extensively Malta’s citizen investment programme. The allegations are based on a feature by a journalist meeting representatives of a Maltese legal firm while posing as a representative agent of a number of African clients seeking to invest in the scheme.
The licences of the legal firm Chetcuti Cauchi as agents in this sector were suspended with immediacy by the Agency that regulates the citizenship programme while the Government declared it is ready to undergo any investigation into the case.
The suspension of the licences held by Chetcuti Cauchi was announced on the day following the transmission on the French television channel M6.
During the programme in which a French journalist posed as an agent for African clients and met a representative from Chetcuti Cauchi the representative was heard boasting of his friendship with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and with the Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship, Julia Farrugia Portelli. The representative also said that Justice Minister Owen Bonnici was one of the legal firm’s lawyers.
It was also stated that the firm Chetcuti Cauchi has a unique success in being the only firm with a 100% record of success in citizenship applications.
The Nationalist Party has called for the citizenship programme to be suspended immediately and that an Inquiry be opened to investigate the sale of passports processed by the firm that boasted it has a friendship and influence over the prime Minister and various Government Ministers.
Opposition Spokesperson, Carol Aquilina, said the suspension of the legal firm’s operating licences in the sphere are too little and have happened too late. He called the affair a scandal and Dr Aquilina said that Malta’s reputation has been damaged and appears to be continuing to be damaged.
MPs Godfrey and Marlene Farrugia have written to the Auditor General, the Commissioner of Police, and the Chairperson of the Permanent Commission against Corruption to investigate the allegations. On his part, Arnold Cassola has written to the Commissioner for Standards to launch an investigation.
The Government has denied all allegations including that there are people ready to close one eye regarding the Citizenship Investment Scheme as alleged during the programme. The Government further stated the whole citizenship programme was designed specifically to ensure that no political influence may be exercised.
The Government further denied that the legal firm Chetcuti Cauchi was ever given any preferential treatment or that it had a 100% success rate and in fact 19% of the applications filed by them had been rejected.
Also denied were allegations that Minister Owen Bonnici had once been an employee of the firm or associated in any way with the firm. In a further clarification, the Prime Minister and Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli stated they had never had any ties or association with the firm except that of friendships as young children.
The Government noted that PS Farrugia Portelli had been interviewed by the French television station a month earlier and none of the allegations were made as questions to her even though the station had the full opportunity to ask them.
The Government said it was ready to meet any investigation by the Commissioner for Standards into the allegations.