A company in which Economy Minister Chris Cardona and his chief of staff are shareholders has not presented its annual accounts to the MFSA for the past seven years, The Sunday Times of Malta has learnt.

However, when questioned over this issue, Dr Cardona, whose portfolio also includes small businesses, said he was aware of the situation and was soliciting the company’s directors, including his chief of staff, Mario Azzopardi, “to present the audited accounts to the Malta Financial Services Authority”.

Meanwhile, when asked whether it was ethical for Dr Cardona to employ his business partner as chief of staff at the Economy Ministry, the Office of the Prime Minister said that the minister had not breached the ministerial code of ethics.

“(Dr) Cardona resigned his directorship when he became a minister and made all necessary declarations in his annual declaration of assets,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.

“This means minister Dr Cardona’s position is in line with the ministerial code of ethics,” the spokesman said.

Sapmac Company Ltd, involved in real estate development, was formed in March 2004 with equal shareholding among four partners, Dr Cardona, his chief of staff, Carmelo Penza and Stuart Azzopardi.

However, although according to the Companies Act the company is obliged to present its annual accounts to the MFSA every year, it has done so only until 2008 and has not met its legal obligations since.

The company is still active and the only change since the election was the resignation of Dr Cardona as one of its directors. However, he still kept his shareholding while his chief of staff remains a shareholder and director.

The company’s registered address is also the same – at the minister’s political constituency office in Birkirkara. A spokesman for Dr Cardona confirmed to The Sunday Times of Malta that although he resigned from the board of directors, the minister is still a shareholder in the company together with his chief of staff.

Asked whether this could pose a conflict of interest, particularly in that a senior official at the Economy Ministry is also the minister’s business partner, Dr Cardona’s spokesman did not respond.

“The minister is not in breach of the code of ethics, since he resigned as a director of the company as soon as he took office as a minister,” Dr Cardona’s spokesman said.

However, he declined to say whether Dr Cardona had sought the Prime Minister’s permission to appoint his business partner in Sapmac Ltd as his chief of staff.

According to the revised ministerial code of ethics, issued in February 2015, ministers should avoid any conflict of interest between their public duties and their private interests.

“It is the minster’s personal responsibility to decide on what actions to take to avoid any type of conflict of interest,” the code states.

“If in doubt, the minister should ask for the direction of the Prime Minster. The latter’s decision is final,” the code adds.

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