Updated 7.50pm, adds appointment of acting CEO
Chief financial regulator Joseph Cuschieri and the MFSA's general counsel Edwina Licari have suspended themselves from the authority over a Las Vegas trip paid for by murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.
Licari has also resigned as a member of the board of governors of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, the Finance Ministry said on Friday.
The MFSA confirmed that Cuschieri and Licari were suspending themselves through a statement issued on Friday afternoon.
In another statement in the evening, it said that in the meantime it has appointed Christopher Buttigieg acting CEO.
Their self-suspension follows pressure for Cuschieri, the head of the MFSA, to resign over conflict of interest concerns about the 2018 trip to the Caesars Palace casino and hotel which was funded by Fenech. Times of Malta broke the news of the trip on Wednesday.
Fenech stands accused of conspiring to murder journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a car bomb in October 2017.
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.
He has defended the all-expenses paid trip, paid by casino owner Fenech, saying there was no conflict of interest or ethical breach.
Licari, who also went on the trip, was the Malta Gaming Authority's general counsel at the time. She has not responded to requests for comment.
In a statement on Friday, the government said Licari had spoken to Finance minister Edward Scicluna on Thursday evening, and the following morning he had received her letter of resignation from the FIAU board. Scicluna thanked her for her service.
A fourth person, a former official at the Office of the Prime Minister, Charlene Bianco Farrugia, was also on the holiday.
In a statement, the Nationalist Party said that after it called for Cuschieri’s dismissal on Thursday, he was on Friday suspended from the MFSA pending an investigation.
The party noted, however, that Prime Minister Robert Abela had defended Cuschieri on the state broadcaster on Thursday clearly showing that he was repeating Joseph Muscat’s mistake when he sacrificed the financial services sector to defend Keith Schembri, Brian Tonna and Konrad Mizzi.
This, the PN said, was a delicate period for the sector and there could be no shadows on its regulator.
It asked why had Abela defended Cuschieri, and why, in contrast to this, had the MFSA made Cuschieri suspend himself or requested him to do so. It asked who would be leading investigations, whether an independent board was to be appointed, and who were its members to be.
The PN again asked Abela to say when he got to know of the trip and immediately request chairpersons of public entities to publicly declare any conflict of interest they may have.
Abela, the PN said, should shoulder responsibility for defending an indefensible behaviour to the detriment of the country’s reputation and placing thousands of jobs in danger.