The national orchestra has refused to shed light on its deals with a big-spending foundation set up by a Russian-Armenian national.

A freedom of information request by the Times of Malta was turned down by the orchestra on grounds of commercial sensitivity.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the orchestra’s CEO Sigmund Mifsud downplayed the European Foundation for Support of Culture links with Russia and refused to cut ties with it.

Times of Malta had flagged in 2020 how the foundation, presided over by Russian-Armenian Konstantin Ishkhanov, built strong links of influence among Maltese officials, as part of a €12 million budget to organise music events in Malta and abroad.

The foundation’s registered office used to be based at the Russian Cultural Centre. The centre is one of a sprawling network of 97 offices dotted around the world and run by Rossotrudnichestvo, a cultural exchange agency set up by a Russian presidential decree in 2008.

The European Council on Foreign Relations, a pan-European think tank, had warned how Russian intelligence bodies often work with the agency to increase Russia’s influence in European countries and covertly infiltrate societies there.

Former culture minister José Herrera had put a halt to the orchestra’s collaboration with the foundation in March 2020, after Times of Malta raised questions about the source of the foundation’s funding and its links to Rossotrudnichestvo.

The orchestra has gone on tours of Europe, the US and Moscow funded by the foundation, including a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York

However, seven months later, Herrera gave the orchestra the all-clear to continue working with the foundation.

Herrera’s ministry had said a due diligence report had given the foundation a clean bill of health. The due diligence report was never published, despite a request by Times of Malta to be given a copy.

The orchestra has gone on tours of Europe, the US and Moscow funded by the foundation, including a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Ishkhanov is a graduate of the Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas. He first appeared on the local cultural scene in 2012, after moving to Malta. His generous financial backing of the arts scene was rewarded with an honorary award by the Malta Arts Council for his “exceptional contribution” to culture in Malta.

Meanwhile, Sigmund Mifsud was recently arrested and briefly imprisoned after prosecutors said he tried to cover up a sexual harassment scandal at the orchestra. He denies the charges and has been suspended as the orchestra’s CEO pending the outcome of the court case.

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