Insurance boss claims MFSA official badgered him to sell out to competitors

LifeStar accuses MFSA of undue interference, and of badgering owner to sell to competitor

LifeStar Insurance owner Paolo Catalfamo
LifeStar Insurance owner Paolo Catalfamo

The owner of major insurance company LifeStar, formerly Global Capital, has taken the Malta Financial Services Authority to court claiming “arbitrary and capricious treatment” and accused a top MFSA official of pressuring him to sell his company to a competitor.

LifeStar Insurance, whose majority shareholder is Italian financier Paolo Catalfamo, initiated judicial proceedings against the regulator, alleging undue interference by Christopher Buttigieg, the MFSA’s Chief Officer Supervision.

In his submissions, Catalfamo claims Buttigieg actively pushed him to sell his company to a competitor, IVAlife Insurance.

LifeStar Insurance operates a network of insurance intermediaries and as GlobalCapital, has been present in Malta for 60 years as country representative for Bupa – the leading global health insurance principal – since 1971.

Catalfamo is claiming that on more than one occasion, starting at a meeting in May 2020, Buttigieg asked why he (Catalfamo) would not sell LifeStar Insurance to IVAlife, if only to avoid making his life miserable having to deal with the MFSA.

LifeStar insurance said in its submissions that Buttigieg went as far as to remind Catalfamo of his health issues, asking him “why he would not enjoy life instead of making himself miserable”.

Catalfamo also accuses the MFSA of “arbitrary and capricious treatment” and insists LifeStar Insurance continues to be “subject to unjust pressure by the Authority” even after its direction to proceed with an initial public offering and subordinated bond issue, despite misgivings.

Lifestar claims Buttigieg raised the sale of LifeStar Insurance to IVAlife again in a subsequent meeting with Catalfamo and two of the company’s advisors.

They say that LifeStar never received a reasonable purchase offer from IVAlife or any of its subsidiaries. Sources said LifeStar Insurance was valued at €40 million by PWC following a significant restructuring.

IVAlife was eventually issued with a license as an insurance undertaking in 2021.

Catalfamo serves as chairman of LifeStar Holding and is the founder of Investar, with offices in Malta, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the US. He previously served as deputy chairman and CEO for the Italy and Southern Europe division of Franklin Templeton, the world’s third largest independent asset management group.

IVAlife Insurance was set up in December 2019 by four leading companies in the financial services industry – APS Bank, Atlas Insurance, GasanMamo Insurance, and MaltaPost.

Michael Gatt, former CEO of Atlas Insurance, is chairman of IVAlife, which also counts among its directors MaltaPost chairman Joseph Said, APS Bank CEO Marcel Cassar and GasanMamo Insurance managing director Julian J. Mamo. Its CEO is Reuben Zammit, formerly Chief Financial Officer at GO and CEO of GlobalCapital

Court action

In its court application, the company claims that a series of regulatory actions triggered by the MFSA and Buttigieg could easily be attributed to trying to force it to sell to IVAlife.

When contacted, MFSA CEO Joseph M. Gavin said the authority was duty bound by law to ensure proper compliance with regulatory requirements by entities such as Lifestar Insurance, notwithstanding any external pressures levelled against the authority and its officers by regulated entities, including Lifestar.

“To the extent of any allegations mentioned in your email, including that any officer of the authority has unduly interfered or actively tried to push the sale of LifeStar from its current owners to others, these are completely gratuitous allegations that have absolutely no grounding in fact and will be strongly rebutted in court in due course,” he said.

Gavin said the MFSA could not comment on its work or relationship with operators, especially if the matter was the subject of a court case.

“The authority will of course make its position clear in court, as and when the time comes to do so in accordance with the processes and procedures required of it in that forum,” he said.