The former boss of the Malta Gaming Authority, Heathcliff Farrugia, is facing trading in influence criminal charges after an investigation by Maltese police discovered that he had links with businessman Yorgen Fenech, the man believed to have commissioned the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Farrugia joined the MGA in 2014 as the regulator’s Chief Operations Officer. He was appointed as its Chief Executive Officer in 2018 to replace long-time incumbent Joseph Cuschieri.
He stepped down from his role in October 2020. His resignation came shortly after he was questioned by police over his alleged links to Fenech.
A property, energy, and gaming tycoon, Fenech is charged with being the mastermind behind the murder of Malta’s top investigative reporter, Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Caruana Galizia was killed in October 2017 when a bomb was planted and remotely detonated underneath her car. She was best known for her regular stories on political corruption in Malta and Fenech was one of the main subjects of her investigations.
He served as CEO of Tumas Gaming Group and Malta’s Portomaso Casino, among other business ventures. He was arrested in 2019 onboard his yacht while he was trying to flee Malta. His involvement in Caruana Galizia’s murder and his links to leading figures from the nation’s political circles threw Malta into a state of great turmoil and cast an international spotlight on the country.
Farrugia’s Association with the Businessman
As mentioned earlier, the former MGA chief quit the job after police interrogated him about his alleged association with the business tycoon.
Police sources told local news outlet the Times of Malta that Farrugia was found to have communicated with the Caruana Galizia murder suspect “at some length.” His communication with Fenech reportedly involved disclosing commercially sensitive information about rival casino operators.
In addition, the two are believed to have discussed an anti-money laundering probe that was carried out on Portomaso Casino.
The information about Farrugia’s links to Fenech emerged after investigators conducted a thorough analysis of the businessman’s phone, which police seized along with other personal belongings when he was arrested.
Sources said the investigation and the court action against the former MGA boss were kept under wraps and that his association with Fenech threw particularly bad light on Malta’s gambling industry, which already has been embroiled in a different scandal, but one of equally huge proportions.
Italian investigators looking into the matter for nearly a decade discovered that the island nation’s exploding digital gambling sector has for years been exploited by mafia organizations which have used it to launder large amounts of money.
The MGA has been criticized by Italian police for failing to implement effective oversight and prevent repeated instances of criminal infiltration.
Source: “Former gaming CEO charged over Yorgen Fenech contact”, Times of Malta, March 8, 2021