Updated at 10.35am with reaction
A civil servant who had a central role in the Valletta property scandal that led to the resignation of a parliamentary secretary has been given an executive position at the Lands Authority, the Times of Malta has learnt.
Charles Camilleri, who the Auditor General had found “colluded” with Mark Gaffarena in the shady Old Mint Street property deal, was appointed acting chief officer for estate management, according to a Lands Authority staff circular issued by CEO James Piscopo.
This is the same office he managed prior to his resignation in the wake of the Gaffarena scandal.
Mr Gaffarena had acquired €3.4 million in land and cash from the government for the expropriation of half a building valued at about €900,000.
Mr Piscopo said in the circular the appointment formed part of a new team “capable of anticipating future demands and challenges”.
In a report issued by the National Audit Office in 2016, Mr Camilleri was identified as one of the main trio of participants that led to “irregularities” that were “in clear breach of the fundamental principles of good governance, transparency and fairness”.
The Auditor General said Mr Camilleri was at “the centre of negotiations”, with Mr Gaffarena making frequent visits to his office almost on a weekly basis.
“The NAO arrived at the understanding that it was the director estate management, Charles Camilleri, who assumed the primary role of negotiating with Mr Gaffarena; however, it must be stated that the conclusions of these negotiations would not have been possible without the endorsement of the DG (director general Ray Camilleri) and the final authorisation by Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon,” the report had said.
Same office he managed prior to his resignation
After stepping down, Mr Camilleri had issued an affidavit and told Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee he acted the way he did as he felt pressured and threatened by Mr Gaffarena and Clint Scerri, Dr Falzon’s liaison with the then Land Department, to expedite and conclude negotiations on the Valletta property.
A Lands Authority spokesman justified Mr Camilleri’s new role saying he “was never charged with any wrongdoing regarding the Gaffarena case”.
When the NAO report was published, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had said he expected other resignations apart from that of Dr Falzon and Mr Camilleri.
This newspaper is informed that Mr Piscopo, a former Labour Party CEO, informed the Lands Authority board a few weeks ago about the new appointments, which also included Marisa Grech and Karen Zerafa as acting chief officers.
No call for applications was issued.
Asked whether he had approved the appointments, Nationalist MP Ryan Callus, who sits on the board of directors, distanced himself from the issue.
He said he found the whole exercise unacceptable and an excuse to directly appoint chief officers without providing an opportunity to other well-talented officials.
“While these new appointments were selected directly by Piscopo, calls for other positions are being issued as we speak, proving that this was nothing more than an excuse.
“Rather than who was selected, the issue revolves around meritocracy, which was never respected, in spite it being a central pledge by the Labour government,” Mr Callus said.
“To that effect, I formally objected to this decision during the board meeting.”
Charles Camilleri reaction
In a reaction, Mr Camilleri told Times of Malta on Wednesday:
"The facts of the case remain that immediately after the NAO published its findings, I personally questioned these findings through an affidavit outlining my strong reservations.
"Eventually I was summoned to appear before the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament where I have given my full collaboration and testimony. I was also questioned by the Police for several hours where again I offered my total collaboration outlining the facts as they were.
Neither the Public Accounts Committee or the Police recommended any action against me- Charles Camilleri
"Neither the Public Accounts Committee or the Police recommended any action against me. In the process I had, on my own initiative, resigned from the post I held at the Government Property Division at the time to be in a position to defend myself with integrity."
Mr Camilleri said he has been employed with the government and at the Lands Department for almost 40 years.
"I have progressed on my merit, promoted under different governments and different Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries. I have done my job loyally and diligently for all these years and I will continue to discharge my duties responsibly. The case you are referring to almost destroyed my career, and me personally having to go through serious health issues. My family has suffered with me in silence," he said.
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