A top official of the Malta Gaming Authority helped Yorgen Fenech draft a letter to her then boss Joe Cuschieri, setting out the case for extending Fenech’s casino licence.

Edwina Licari was at the time legal counsel of the MGA, which, as regulator of the gaming sector, is charged with monitoring casino operations and issuing licences.

In this case, Fenech, as CEO of Tumas Gaming, was lobbying for an extension of Portomaso casino’s licence – with Licari and Cuschieri’s help.

Licari, who now holds an equivalent position at the Malta Financial Services Authority, sent the draft to Fenech using a private e-mail account rather than her official MGA one, in September 2015. 

The drafting on Fenech’s behalf was done with Cuschieri’s full knowledge, as he was copied into the correspondence on his non-MGA e-mail account, documents show.

“Attached please find redraft as per discussion for you to consider,” Licari wrote in the e-mail to Fenech, copied to Cuschieri.

The ghost-written letter laid out why the Portomaso licence should be renewed by the MGA.

It asked the MGA to address a “licensing issue” Tumas Gaming would be facing in 2016, asking Cuschieri for clarity on whether the authority intended renewing the Portomaso licence.

The letter also highlighted the need to tackle the licensing issue “as expediently as possible, so as to give both sides [Tumas Gaming and the MGA] adequate time to make the necessary arrangements”.

In a later exchange that Cuschieri was not party to, Licari told Fenech the MGA would then reply with “a sort of letter of intent, hope it suffices :)”.

A replica of Licari’s draft letter was then transferred to Tumas Gaming’s letterhead, signed by Fenech and officially sent to Cuschieri.

In his official MGA reply a week later, Cuschieri “applauded” the Tumas Gaming investment initiatives outlined in the letter, which he had already seen.

Cuschieri assured Fenech the MGA would renew the Portomaso licence upon expiry in August 2016, subject to continued regulatory compliance.

Tumas Gaming rivals Dragonara Gaming filed a lawsuit against the MGA in February 2017 over the renewal.

We will reply with letter of intent, hope it suffices :)

They claimed in the suit that the extension of the Portmaso licence had “illegally” resulted in the extension of Tumas Gaming’s concession to run the same casino, without a competitive process via a public call.

Dragonara Gaming claimed in the lawsuit that two months prior to the licence renewal, they had flagged their suspicions to Cuschieri that the MGA was going to renew the licence without the government first issuing a public call for bids for the Portomaso casino government concession.

‘No collusion’ – Cuschieri

Contacted by Times of Malta, Cuschieri denied any collusive behaviour between himself, Licari and Fenech.

Cuschieri said the letter issued by the MGA in October 2015 was not a renewal letter but merely a conditional letter of comfort which Tumas Gaming had requested from the regulator in view of planned investment.

He said the letter had no bearing whatsoever on the licence renewal which took place a year later, once the MGA was satisfied all the legal, regulatory and due diligence requirements for renewal were met, including the obligations tied to the government concession issued to Tumas Gaming in 2006.

On the assurances given by Licari about the MGA issuing of a “sort of letter of intent” for the licence renewal, which was in fact issued by himself days later, Cuschieri denied this amounted to a promise the licence would be renewed.

He said Licari had no power or competence in matters relating to licensing, and the letter of comfort was not legally binding or a guarantee of renewal.

“The issuing and/or renewal of licences was the competence of the authorisations and compliance teams of the MGA.

“From what I can recall, Dr Licari as general counsel to the MGA simply suggested changes to the draft letter of comfort sent by Mr Fenech (on behalf of Tumas Gaming Ltd) following his request for guidance and preliminary discussions to ensure that the wording was faithfully reflecting the legal requirements and conditions set out in the respective legal provisions,” Cuschieri said.

Contacted by Times of Malta, Licari failed to explain her use of a private e-mail account, nor did she say whether it was normal for her to draft letters and give such assurances to entities the MGA was supposed to be regulating. Neither did she reply if she ever received any gifts from Fenech.

She said that while she had absolutely no difficulty in replying to questions, as no wrongdoing had been committed, she was not in a position to answer due to a court order prohibiting leaks and publication of certain data.

Cuschieri and Licari found themselves in hot water last year after Times of Malta revealed they had gone on an all-expenses paid trip with Fenech to Las Vegas in May 2018, to advise him on “regulatory matters” related to gaming.

At the time, Cuschieri had just shifted to the Malta Financial Services Authority while Licari was still an MGA employee.

Cuschieri resigned the day before an internal inquiry into the trip was presented to the MFSA board, while Licari escaped sanction following a brief “self-suspension” from the financial regulator, which she joined a few months after Cuschieri in 2018. 

She, however, resigned from the FIAU’s board of governors.

The former MFSA CEO told the public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination last year that he had no idea Fenech owned 17 Black at the time of the trip.

He admitted to Times of Malta on Thursday that he had attended a lunch on Fenech’s boat in August 2019, eight months after the newspaper had exposed the businessman as 17 Black’s owner.

Times of Malta revealed last week how Cuschieri’s successor at the MGA, Heathcliff Farrugia, conspired with Fenech to hide the findings of anti-money laundering breaches at Fenech’s casino during a joint MGA/FIAU inspection.

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