Malta’s spending on its Eurovision Song Contest effort is under investigation following concerns that taxpayer funds were used to boost Destiny’s odds with bookmakers.
Minister Carmelo Abela has ordered an audit of expenditure into the annual contest after he received reports that part of the budget allocated to Malta’s Eurovision team had been used to place bets on performer Destiny, inflating her odds with bookmakers.
Money was also spent on overseas social media influencers, who published promotional content backing Destiny.
It is understood that the audit, which will begin on Monday, will look into how that money was spent.
The issue of possible financial mismanagement was flagged to Abela by the board of public broadcaster PBS, which falls within his ministerial portfolio.
Sources said there had already been an informal admission from one PBS insider that part of the Eurovision marketing budget had been spent on financing foreign nationals' bets on Destiny to win the competition.
The Malta Tourism Authority also spent around €350,000 on promoting Malta’s entry to the song festival.
Malta’s 18-year-old Destiny Chukunyere was set to make a strong showing in the competition representing Malta with her song Je Me Casse, ranking third-favourite with bookmakers for a win before heading into the final on Saturday night.
But despite winning her semi-final and placing third in the final jury vote, Malta lagged behind with audiences and received a disappointing 47 votes from European viewers during the televoting round.
Destiny's seventh-placed finish is Malta's best performance since 2005 but something of a disappointment for a singer who ranked among the favourites.
Italy, the bookmakers' favourite going into Saturday's final in Rotterdam, emerged victorious on the night with the song Zitti e Buoni by Maneskin after securing a massive jump of 318 points in the public vote.
This is not the first time concerns have been raised about spending on the festival.
In 2016, Times of Malta had filed a Freedom of Information request seeking a full breakdown of all spending by PBS and other government departments on the Eurovision. That FOI request was turned down.
The request had been filed after reports of a “limitless” budget allocation in the hope of boosting singer Ira Losco’s chances.
At the time leaked documents had shown expenses exceeding €200,000, though the final figure was known to be substantially higher.
Abela must resign - David Thake
Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Nationalist MP David Thake said that it was ‘ironic’ that Abela had ordered the audit when a report by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, George Hyzler, had found that adverts featuring large images of the minister did not provide any “information of value”.
“Minister Abela is investigating the misuse of public funding, as he should, but the question arises, will he be giving the €7,000 back to the public?”
Abela has previously defended the adverts.
Thake also noted that Abela is being questioned by the police over allegations that he was involved in a HSBC bank heist back in June 2010.
“The minister has very serious allegations against him, and the case for his resignation is one that should be ‘opened and shut’. In any other democratic country in Europe, any minister in his position would have immediately resigned, but Abela is a minister in Malta and not in any other European country.”
Thake said that Abela’s innocence or otherwise did not matter. “What matters is his political responsibility.