25 Mar 2020

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has said that when ministers support initiatives by private operators, they should be careful to avoid crossing the line between providing appropriate official assistance and giving an improper advantage.

The Standards Commissioner came to this conclusion after considering a complaint by the NGO Repubblika against Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli for appearing in a promotional video produced by the law firm Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates. The video was shot in the Auberge de Castille.

The Commissioner found that Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates produced three videos to promote the citizenship by investment and residential visa schemes. Minister Farrugia Portelli, who at the time was a Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for these schemes, appeared in all three videos together with officials from the government agencies that administer the schemes and representatives of the law firm itself. All three videos were shot in Castille.

The Commissioner concluded that this may have given an improper advantage to the firm because the videos gave the impression that it was well connected with the authorities. He said: “there is a fine line between promoting a Government scheme and giving preferential treatment to a particular agent. In my opinion, this line has been crossed in the case under consideration.”

However, the Commissioner also found that Parliamentary Secretary Farrugia Portelli had not been directly involved in the production of the videos, other than through her own appearance. This case was the result not of bad faith but of lack of thought on her part, as well as a failure to act promptly to have the videos removed once she became aware of the effects of her actions.

After the Commissioner held meetings with Ms Farrugia Portelli and Dr Jean Philippe Chetcuti of Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates, Ms Farrugia Portelli instructed the firm to remove the videos from its web pages. The Commissioner felt that this action, together with his own report, were a sufficient remedy in the circumstances. He therefore closed the case in terms of article 22(5) of the Standards in Public Life Act.

The Commissioner’s report on this case can be downloaded from here.