An anti-corruption watchdog said it was unable to find any evidence of wrongdoing by a passport agent who got caught up in a French TV sting.
In a report tabled in parliament this week, the Permanent Commission Against Corruption said it could find no evidence that could prove beyond reasonable doubt that lawyer Jean-Philippe Chetcuti or any government officials were involved in wrongdoing.
Consulting firm Chetcuti Cauchi Advisors Ltd had its licence to sell passports suspended in 2019, after a French journalist secretly filmed Chetcuti speaking about the application process. The ensuing documentary, broadcast on French TV, gave the impression that Chetcuti had bragged about his ties with cabinet members Owen Bonnici and Julia Farrugia Portelli, and given the impression that this could help with applications from rich passport buyers.
Chetcuti had also told the journalist that he was an old school friend of ex-prime minister Joseph Muscat.
However, Chetcuti says the excerpts of the conversation aired in the broadcast were edited and taken out of context.
The PCAC acknowledged in its report that there were “differences” in the snippets aired in the documentary, and the original unedited footage, as well as “discrepancies” between what was reported to have been said during the conversation, and what was actually said.
Bonnici, Farrugia Portelli denied ever interfering in process
Bonnici and Farrugia Portelli were both interviewed by the PCAC, and denied ever interfering in the passport application process, or fast-tracking any applications.
Bonnici also denied a claim that he used to work for Chetcuti’s law firm.
Chetcuti too denied wrongdoing when interviewed by the PCAC and detailed his battles in France to gain access to the unedited footage.
The excerpts of the conversation aired in the broadcast were edited and taken out of context- Jean-Philippe Chetcuti
After the documentary was aired in 2019, Chetcuti petitioned a French court to obtain a full version of the conversation recorded by the French journalist.
An inquiry into potential trading in influence, which is separate from the PCAC’s probe, was triggered by rule of law NGO Repubblika.
The outcome of the inquiry, or whether it has even been concluded, is not known.
An investigation by the passport scheme’s regulator Carmel De Gabriele following the claims did not uncover any “red flags” in the passport applications by Chetcuti Cauchi Advisors Ltd.
Clarification: An earlier version incorrectly stated that the Chetcuti Cauchi law firm rather than the consultancy firm Chetcuti Cauchi Advisors Ltd had its licence suspended.