Robert Abela, Bernard Grech in court as government intervenes in PN-filed Vitals case

Abela, together with ministers Jonathan Attard and Byron Camilleri attended the first sitting in the case, which was held today before Mr. Justice Giovanni Grixti

Prime Minister Robert Abela and Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech were both present in court on Monday as a judge began hearing the case filed by Grech and his predecessor Adrian Delia in the wake of the Vitals Global Healthcare scandal.

Grech and Delia filed the case last December in a bid to force the State to take action to recoup the millions of taxpayer euros lost as a result of the 2015 hospitals privatisation deal, which was annulled in February last year, on the grounds of fraud on the part of VGH and Steward Healthcare.

Under that agreement, Vitals was handed St Luke’s Hospital, Karin Grech Hospital and the Gozo General Hospital. Less than two years after being granted the concession, Vitals sold it on to Steward Healthcare, together with €55 million in debts accrued by VGH, for the nominal price of €1.

Abela, together with ministers Jonathan Attard and Byron Camilleri attended the first sitting in the case, which was held today before Mr. Justice Giovanni Grixti. The plaintiffs, Grech and Delia, also attended. 

It emerged today that the Government and Cabinet had filed an application in court, on January 4, requesting they be admitted as parties to the suit. Debono informed the court that his clients had not been properly notified with a copy of this application, but said that they were opposing it.

In a written reply filed on behalf of Grech and Delia later on Monday, it was argued that the Cabinet of Ministers did not have the required juridical interest in the outcome to be admitted as a party to the case. “Here we do not have a case against the Cabinet, but one intended to prompt the State Advocate to take action without the authorisation of the executive branch of government against past members of the same executive who had performed criminal and collusive acts with the companies Vitals/Steward, against the national interest.”

It did not make sense for the Government and the Cabinet of Ministers to expect to be allowed to intervene in this case, argued the plaintiffs, pointing out that the case had not been filed against either of them, but against the State Advocate in order for him to be ordered to take action against “all those who participated in the fraudulent, intentionally criminal and collusive acts with third parties.”

The Government and Cabinet were trying to interfere in an issue that did not concern them, but rather the functioning of the Office of the State Advocate. “If they truly believe in the separation of powers, as they insist in their own application, they have no interests that can be safeguarded by the way the Office of the State Advocate functions in this regard and it should be the State Advocate alone to defend this case.”

Debono added that he was duty bound to inform the court that a relative of the judge, Dr. Charles Grixti, who is now deceased, had been appointed by the government to carry out due diligence on the medical aspect of the deal, which was subsequently struck down.

Lawyer James D’Agostino, representing the State Advocate, interjected, arguing that this fact had nothing to do with the case at hand, which prompted Debono to clarify that his clients were not requesting the recusal of the presiding judge.

The parties went on to declare that they had no objection or reservations should the court continue to hear the case, as presided.

Debono asked for permission to exhibit documents, including affidavits, before the court issued its ruling on the request to intervene in the case. The request was, however,  rejected by the court, which pointed out that it was not the correct stage to do so. 

The sitting was adjourned to next week for oral submissions on the intervenor request.

Lawyers Edward Debono and Nicholas Debono are assisting Grech and Delia.

State Advocate Chris Soler, together with lawyers James D’Agostino and Julian Farrugia, represented the Office of the State Advocate, while lawyers Ian Borg, Maurizio Cordina and Chris Cilia represented the Government of Malta and the Cabinet of Ministers.