Updated 3.50pm, adds PN statement
Chief financial regulator Joe Cuschieri travelled abroad to gambling haven Las Vegas on the invitation of Daphne Caruana Galizia murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.
Cuschieri, the chief executive of the Malta Financial Service Authority, travelled with Fenech and stayed at the luxury casino hotel Caesars Palace in May 2018, sources said.
Fenech paid for the flights with accommodation covered by the casino hotel, which had invited Fenech, who is a casino owner in his own right.
The trip came one month after Cuschieri had moved on from the Malta Gaming Authority, where he served as chairman and chief executive, to take up the role in the MFSA, which oversees all financial services.
Contacted on Wednesday, Cuschieri confirmed he had gone on a trip to "one of the world's leading casino hotels", but insisted there was no conflict of interest or ethical breach.
He said the trip in question had happened at a time when he had left the MGA.
"I was invited by Mr Fenech to attend this trip as the former regulator of the gaming sector," Cuscheri said of his Las Vegas trip.
"At the time Mr Fenech was considering undertaking an investment and I was invited to advise on regulatory matters,” Cuschieri said.
He added that since he no longer served as the head of the gaming regulator at the time of the trip, he saw no conflict of interest in it. Cuschieri said that at the time of the trip, Fenech had not been implicated in any wrongdoing and he had no reason to suspect otherwise.
Fenech, a major business leader and casino owner, stands charged with conspiracy in the 2017 assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The issue had briefly been raised in Parliament earlier this year, although no specifics emerged.
Back in July, Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi had asked about a trip abroad to Las Vegas, financed by a casino operator, which included officials from Malta’s regulators.
MGA head resigns
Earlier on Wednesday, Times of Malta reported that Cuschieri's successor at the gaming authority, Heathcliff Farrugia, was recently questioned by police over communication he had with Fenech.
Police sources told Times of Malta that Farrugia was called in for questioning in recent months after he was found to have communicated “at some length” with Fenech, with sources saying investigators had flagged "suspicious communication" between the two men.
The information emerges from an in-depth analysis of Fenech’s phone, which was seized by police when he was arrested back in 2019.
Farrugia, who was questioned by investigators from the Financial Crime Investigation Department, effectively resigned from the MGA on Tuesday.
Farrugia was questioned by investigators from the Financial Crime Investigation Department over what sources described as “suspicious communication” with Fenech.
Contacted on Wednesday, Farrugia confirmed he had been spoken to by the police, but insisted there was nothing untoward about his exchanges with Fenech.
PN calls for dismissal
In a statement later, the Nationalist Party called on the prime minister to dismiss the MFSA chairman following the relevations, which, the party said, were another slap in the face for the country.
"The last thing the financial services sector in Malta needs is a shadow over the regulator," it said. It added that Cuschieri was one of the people placed in a public position by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and confirmed in their place by Robert Abela.
The PN called on Abela to immediately declare when he had learnt of Cuschieri’s trip with Fenech and request chairmen of public entities to publicly declare all cases of conflict of interest which could impede them in their functions.