Former Maltese PM faces media scrutiny over casino lease

Dragonara Gaming
Dragonara Gaming

Local media reports that Joseph Muscat received a monthly consultancy contract after the Dragonara Casino deal.

Malta.- The relationship between Maltese politics and the gambling sector has again come under scrutiny amid claims that former prime minister Joseph Muscat received an €11,800 a month consultancy contract from a company linked to the Dragonara Casino.

The Times of Malta has revealed that Muscat received the contract from a loss-making company called Organicum that lists its business as breeding exotic birds but is owned by Dragonara Casino managing director and shareholder Johann Schembri. It paid Muscat €141,600 a year despite declaring income of just €20,000 in 2020 and €13,000 in 2021.

The media outlet reports that the payments started in April 2020, three months after Muscat stepped down as PM and nine months after Muscat’s government approved a 64-year extension of the casino’s property lease that cut its ground rent payments from €1.2m to €500,000 for 15 years.

Dragonara Gaming secured an initial 10-year lease to operate the casino in 2010 through a competitive tender. The lease was extended in July 2019, following a parliamentary motion from then economy minister Chris Cardona. No public tender was held, leading rival operators to criticise the deal. Cardona justified the lack of a tender saying that the deal involved no public procurement.

Muscat denies any wrongdoing, noting that he had withdrawn from politics before retirement age. The company itself says the consultancy contract was not related to the Dragonara Casino concession. It said: “The company that holds the Dragonara Casino concession, Dragonara Gaming Limited, has never paid any consultancy fees to Dr Joseph Muscat.”

Muscat is already facing a corruption investigation related to an unconnected consultancy contract with a Swiss company, which is alleged to be connected to a hospital contract.

Last year, Schembri’s umbrella company IZI Group was awarded the tender to run Malta’s national lottery.

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gambling regulation Land-based casinos