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This is part one of a broader investigation. Click to read: explainer piece | part two | part three

The key figures in International World Services Ltd, from left to right: police inspector turned lawyer Frankie Sammut, IWS’ regional manager for North Africa Mazin Ibrahim Hassan Sewar Eldhab, disgraced former economy minister and current co-shareholder of IWS Group Chris Cardona, and CEO and founder of IWS Group Matthias Vidergold.

Towards the end of August of this year, disgraced former economy minister Chris Cardona took over half of the shareholdings of International World Services (IWS) Ltd, a company that sells citizenship services for Malta, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Cardona’s share transfer agreement on the company’s profile on the Malta Business Registry (MBR) indicates that he formally took over half the company on 31 August. In May, he’d just become the director of the same company. The company was set up on 24 December 2014, a year after the governing Labour Party swept to power. According to the company’s own website, its office in Malta is on the first floor of The Junction Business Centre in Swieqi. The company has not filed accounts at the MBR for the past three years. Besides Malta, the company’s website also lists two offices in Dubai and one in Macedonia.

In spite of the fact that Cardona owns half the company, he only lists himself as a director in his bio on IWS’ website. The disgraced former minister for the economy omits any mention of the cloud of suspicion and scandal that consistently hung over him throughout his career as a member of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s Cabinet. Instead, he talks up his “instrumental” role in the process of “restructuring the ministry and all the authorities that fall under its remit to achieve exponential growth” in foreign direct investment.

A screengrab of disgraced former economy minister Chris Cardona’s bio on IWS’ website.

The other half of the company is owned by its founder and CEO, Matthias Vidergold. Unlike Cardona – who used his Instagram profile to promote the company – Vidergold’s digital footprint is almost invisible. The only traceable online reference to Vidergold is, in fact, IWS’ own website. His bio does not refer to any past history, and his LinkedIn profile is restricted.

However, a closer look at IWS’ documentation on the MBR shows that Vidergold was previously known as Matthias Saliba. His ID card number is listed on both current and past documentation within the company, with the surname changing from Saliba to Vidergold. Up until 2016, Matthias Vidergold/Saliba registered to a matching address which was also listed in an edition of the Government Gazette as someone who had applied for a private security guard license.

An image showing three of the key figures behind IWS Group.

Besides being one of two shareholders in IWS, Vidergold/Saliba is also listed as one of two shareholders in Recruitment Portals Ltd, a Malta-based company that was set up in January 2020. The other shareholder is Christopher Raymond Debono, a police sergeant who in September 2014 was charged with alleged corrupt practices but was acquitted by the court in May of this year due to a lack of evidence proving the crimes he was accused of.

Another company – owned by UAE nationals – Chemie Tech Malta Ltd, a Malta-based subsidiary of an engineering, procurement, and construction firm named Chemie Tech, has its office listed at the same address in Siggiewi that Vidergold/Saliba lists as his personal address.

The company’s website also lists the name of its regional manager for North Africa, Mazin Ibrahim Hassan Sewar Eldhab. According to Sewar Eldhab’s LinkedIn profile, he is also the CEO of Caribbean Investment Consultants. The company Sewar Eldhab heads operates in the Dominican jurisdiction, the same jurisdiction that was recently the subject of a major OCCRP investigation.

Prosecuting fake passports, selling real ones

Sammut, who had previously mounted a failed bid to become police commissioner but was pipped to the post by current commissioner Angelo Gafa’, moonlights as IWS’ head of legal and compliance. Besides working for IWS, Sammut is also a corporate lawyer at LexMalta Advocates, according to his LinkedIn profile. Curiously, he does not list his role as head of legal and compliance at IWS on his LinkedIn profile.

A screengrab of Frankie Sammut’s LinkedIn profile.

Sammut spends a significant chunk of his time as a police officer prosecuting individuals working the fake passport circuit. While this would be par for the course if Sammut were solely fulfilling his policing duties, it is highly unusual for an immigration unit inspector to be in a position to both prosecute individuals who acquire fake passports while facilitating the sale of golden ones to wealthy individuals involved in Malta’s extremely questionable IIP scheme.

Perhaps the best example of just how jarring Sammut’s conflict of interest is can be seen in his testimony in the court case against former Labour Party treasurer and candidate Joe Sammut, who in 2015 was charged in court with helping Libyans set up companies in Malta to obtain fraudulent residence permits, fake copies of the same residence permits that inspector Sammut now sells.

Attempts were made to reach Cardona before the publication of this story to ask the disgraced former minister about whether he believes it is justifiable to sell Maltese citizenship when the Maltese government – the same government that he was previously a member of Cabinet in – is currently facing legal proceedings instituted by the European Commission due to Malta’s stubborn refusal to stop selling a passport that grants its buyer far-reaching access to every member state.

A phone call to IWS’ office in Malta did not yield any responses, so an email was sent directly to the company’s generic info address with an urgent request for comment from Cardona, Vidergold/Saliba, and Sammut. No responses were received by the time this article was published.

A comment was also requested from the police force’s official spokesperson about the involvement of one of its senior immigration police inspectors in a company that sells passports through a scheme which the European Commission describes as “incompatible with the principle of sincere cooperation” within the EU.

The police force’s official spokesperson acknowledged receipt of questions and was drafting a response on behalf of the force at the time of publication.

Cardona’s alleged links with Daphne’s murder

Cardona was forced to resign in disgrace from Parliament in April 2020 and his role as deputy leader of the governing Labour Party in June of that same year, after one of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s killers testified that he had met the former minister to discuss an abandoned parallel plot to kill the journalist. Shortly after his resignation, he provided advisory services to a luxury credit card company that was fined by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) for a raft of anti-money laundering protocol failures.

Cardona’s predilection for dubious enterprises and even more dubious associates predates – and had practically precipitated – his exit from politics. Daphne Caruana Galizia was instrumental in exposing the disgraced minister’s intimate ties with prominent businessmen and figures associated with criminal elements, and had famously published a story about Cardona’s visit to a brothel in Germany while on official government business.

Cardona had sued Caruana Galizia for libel only to then fail to show up in court just before his phone’s location data was to be examined.

Claims about an alleged parallel hit on Daphne involving Cardona were not only made in local courts, but were also mentioned yet again in official whistleblower disclosure filings with the US’ Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC).

A recent investigation about the hospitals concession scandal published by OCCRP, Times of Malta, and The Shift News included information about how Ram Tumuluri, the fraudulent frontman for Vitals Global Healthcare, told US authorities that he had handed over the concession over fears that government agents had implied that he would “end up like Daphne Caruana Galizia” if he did not do so.

Among Tumuluri’s extensive list of wild claims, one of them features Cardona’s name in connection with what seems to be yet another aborted plot to murder Daphne Caruana Galizia.

As per The Shift’s report, one of the former VGH frontman’s claims was about an alleged April 2017 meeting at the office of the prime minister with disgraced former chief of staff Keith Schembri, disgraced former health minister Konrad Mizzi, and Asad Ali (the son of one of the key players in the concession deal, Shaukat Ali).

Tumuluri claimed that during this meeting, Schembri told him about how Cardona had paid the Sicilian mafia €10,000 to assassinate the journalist, only to then cancel the order after having second thoughts.

This is part one of a broader investigation. Click to read: explainer piece | part two


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