Joseph Muscat goes to court demanding removal of magistrate in hospitals inquiry

Former prime minister Joseph Muscat requests hospitals inquiry be halted until his request for the recusal of the inquiring magistrate is decided by the constitutional court

Former PM Joseph Muscat (Photo: James Bianchi/mediatoday)
Former PM Joseph Muscat (Photo: James Bianchi/mediatoday)

Former prime minister Joseph Muscat has asked a court of constitutional jurisdiction to urgently order a halt to the magisterial inquiry into the hospitals concession.

Musca’s lawyers have requested the inquiry be halted until a decision on his request for the removal of the magistrate conducting the inquiry into the hospitals privatisation deal be taken.

He made the request as part of a constitutional application filed on his behalf by lawyer Charlon Gouder this morning, following the inquiring magistrate’s refusal of his application requesting her recusal.

In it, he asks the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction to declare that the section of the Criminal Code which allows a private citizen to request a magisterial inquiry, as breaching his right to a fair trial.

This particular section of the law did not offer the constitutional guarantees and procedural safeguards that are given to persons who are investigated following a police report, said Muscat’s lawyer, which creates inequality between the original suspects in the inquiry and Muscat, who became a suspect during the course of the inquiry. The application requests the court to declare that the fact that Muscat was not notified in the same way breached his fair trial rights.

He also took issue with the fact that recusal requests are decided by the same member of the judiciary whose recusal is being requested, saying this too, breached his fair trial rights.

The application requests the court to declare Muscat as having suffered a breach of his fundamental rights and immediately assign the inquiry to another magistrate.

Muscat’s lawyer had originally argued that the inquiring magistrate should recuse herself because her father and brother had shared Facebook posts by Repubblika in 2019 and it had been Repubblika that filed the initial report which had led to the inquiry. Another family member had also “written against the party (Labour), which many times is synonymous with the leader (“mexxej”) and associates them with the dodgy dealings (“taħwid”) relating to the hospitals,” reads the application.

The application also stressed that before she was elevated to the Bench, Magistrate Vella had practised law at her father’s law firm, together with her brother. This meant that this meant her relationship to these two of his detractors “was closer than simply blood ties.”

Case law in this respect was clear, argued Muscat’s lawyer: “there must be peace of mind that, not only had the evidence been collected and preserved in the best possible manner, but also that what had been done before the person is accused cannot affect, to his prejudice, what could happen afterwards, in a way that, because of what has been done before, he cannot be given a fair hearing.”

He also requested her to step aside because she had not sent for him to testify or exhibit evidence before the inquiry, prior to his filing the recusal request, and what he described as “constant leaks” from the inquiry.

The application adds that prominent Repubblika activists had indicated that they had prior knowledge of the fact that the police were going to search his residence.

Subsequent news reports had indicated that “information was leaking from everywhere,” said Muscat, pointing to the fact that an online article about the investigation, published by OCCRP, had stated that “investigators spoke on condition of anonymity since they were not officially allowed to comment, but their information was corroborated by official documents obtained by OCCRP.”

The application requests an urgent interim measure, halting the inquiry until the constitutional case about Muscat’s fair hearing complaint is decided.

Payments were for “above board” consultancy work – Muscat

Muscat does not deny having received tens of thousands of euros in what are described as “consultancy fees" from Swiss companies that received millions from US company Steward Healthcare, during the firm’s takeover of the Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) hospitals deal.

Steward Healthcare transferred a total €3.6 million to Accutor AG, €2.49 million of which were transferred on the same day that Steward published a statement declaring the conclusion of the public-private partnership, taking over the running of three hospitals from VGH. It had paid the bulk of them – €2.49 million – on February 20, 2018.

This was the same day that the American healthcare company issued a statement declaring it had finalised the public-private partnership to take over the running of three of Malta’s hospitals from Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH).

Muscat claims the payments were for work that was documented, fully invoiced, declared and paid in Malta.

The Times of Malta recently reported that the former prime minister was paid a total of €60,000 last year, in four payments -two from Accutor AG and two from Spring X Media, the first payment taking place just two months after he stepped down.

Both Accutor AG and Spring X Media were reportedly run by lawyer Wasay Bhatti and share an address in Switzerland.