Posted on: March 22, 2021, 12:38h.
Last updated on: March 22, 2021, 01:04h.
A Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) official helped the casino owner accused of masterminding the murder of a prominent Maltese journalist to draft a letter to get a gaming license extension, The Times of Malta reports.
This is the latest allegation of collusion between Malta’s gaming regulator and Yorgen Fenech, who was the biggest casino owner in the Mediterranean nation until his 2019 arrest in connection with the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Emails seen by the Times show that in 2015, Edwina Licari, the MGA’s legal counsel, ghostwrote a letter for Fenech requesting a license extension for the Portomaso casino, owned by Fenech’s Tumas Gaming Group. The letter was then printed off on a Tumas Gaming letterhead, signed by Fenech, and sent to Licari’s boss, then MGA chief executive Joseph Cuschieri.
Cuschieri was fully aware Licari was the real author, because he had been cc’d in on the email thread between Licari and Fenech. Weeks later, Cuschieri wrote to Fenech to say the license would be renewed.
The decision was controversial. In 2017, a rival casino operator, Dragonara Gaming, sued the MGA, claiming the extension was illegal because there should have been a competitive process allowing additional parties to bid for the license.
When contacted by the Times this week, Cuschieri denied there had been any collusion between himself and Fenech, adding that the letter in question had no bearing on the license renewal.
In May 2018, both Cuschieri and Licari enjoyed an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas with Fenech to advise him on “regulatory matters,” the Times discovered.
Cuschieri has also admitted having lunch on board Fenech’s yacht in August 2019, three months before his arrest.
Fenech is alleged to have organized Galizia’s 2017 car bomb killing via a middleman, Melvin Theuma. It was done possibly to prevent her exposing that a government contract to build a power station in Malta may have been corruptly awarded to Fenech’s company.
Fenech’s arrest ultimately brought down the government. Revelations that a company Fenech controlled had been preparing to make large payments into shell accounts owned by Malta’s former energy minister and the prime minister’s chief of staff triggered resignations, including that of then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.
The trial of Fenech and three others accused of Galizia’s murder is ongoing.
Earlier this month, the Times revealed that Cuschieri’s successor, Heathcliff Farrugia, had quietly resigned last January after he was accused of trading in influence with Fenech.
Police investigating Galizia’s murder found incriminating conversations on Fenech’s phone. Those indicated Farrugia had provided Fenech with commercially sensitive information concerning rival casino operators. Farrugia also leaked details of an anti-money laundering investigation that was being carried out on the Portomaso Casino, according to the Times.