Criminal charges filed in connection to hospitals inquiry

MaltaToday understands criminal charges have been filed in court against Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi

Updated at 4pm with more details 

The police have issued criminal charges against 19 individuals in connection to the Vitals Global Healthcare inquiry this afternoon.

MaltaToday understands that former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri and former minister Konrad Mizzi are amongst those facing criminal charges. Several top civil servants are also believed to be among those charged.  

A number of sources have told this newspaper that the charges include corruption and fraud to the tune of up to €30 million.

In separate comments to this newspaper, former President of NGO Repubblika, notary Robert Aquilina, also confirmed that criminal charges have been filed against the persons indicated by the inquiring magistrate.

Aquilina said that the NGO was informed by email from the Attorney General’s office on Monday.

In a Facebook post on Monday afternoon, Joseph Muscat said he is ready for the fight against those who want to "seek revenge against the Maltese."

It is understood that at least 19 defendants are to be arraigned by summons and not under arrest. This contrasts with similar cases of money laundering and corruption, such as those involving Keith Schembri and Adrian Hillman in the Progress Press case, when the accused where arraigned under arrest. 

Lawyer Jason Azzopardi, who is representing the NGO in the case, announced on Facebook that charges have been filed against Muscat, Mizzi and Schembri.

“This is a new chapter for our country,” he said.

Magistrate Gabriella Vella, who was investigating the sale of three public hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare, concluded her report and passed it on to the Attorney General last week.

The inquiry was initiated in 2019 on Repubblika’s initiative.

Joseph Muscat had tried to remove the magistrate from the inquiry, insisting she had a conflict because her relatives were publicly critical of him. He also complained of constant leaks from the inquiry and decried the magistrate’s refusal to let him testify before her.

In January 2022, as part of the inquiry, police officers searched Muscat’s Burmarrad home and ceased several electronic devices.

Muscat told reporters on Tuesday that he had no doubt he will be charged as he adopted a defiant tone. He insisted he did nothing wrong and would fight the charges tooth and nail.

NGO Repubblika said on Monday they filed a written request to the AG to pass on the full magisterial inquiry. In a statement later on Monday, they said they were informed by the AG’s office it will not be handed over due to ongoing criminal proceedings.

Revisiting the hospitals deal

Under the 2015 deal, brokered by then minister Konrad Mizzi, Vitals Global Healthcare (later substituted by Steward Healthcare), were entrusted with the running of St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo General hospitals.

That deal was subsequently annulled by a court on the basis of fraud last year, and was later confirmed on appeal. The Court of Appeal judgement went one further and suggested that there had been collusion, as well as fraud.

But in the criminal law sphere, everything hinged on the magisterial inquiry conducted by magistrate Gabriella Vella. Four years after it started, the meticulous evidence collection process was finally concluded, with the recommendation that charges be pressed against a number of individuals and companies, Muscat, Mizzi and Schembri amongst them.

READ ALSO: From Vitals, to where... timeline of a privatisation gone wrong

Political reactions 

A few days before the inquiry was submitted, Prime Minister Robert Abela warned the judiciary not to engage in “political terrorism” in a veiled reference to growing expectations that his predecessor could face criminal charges.

Without mentioning Joseph Muscat, Abela referred to the political earthquake of 2019 and accused “the Nationalist establishment” of trying to impede the government’s progress.

He doubled down on his comments after the submission of the inquiry was made public, pitting what he said was the “establishment” against Labourites. 

The Nationalist leader Bernard Grech on the other hand slammed the PM’s comments, saying it was a “terrorist attack” on the judiciary.

“We are holding you responsible... for every abuse to stop the progress of justice and for the terrorist attack you are launching on our courts,” Grech said.

Last week, MaltaToday reported that Fearne had told the PL parliamentary group that he is ready to resign if his name is mentioned in the hospitals inquiry.

The Deputy Prime Minister was health parliamentary secretary under Konrad Mizzi when the hospitals deal was concluded with Vitals Global Healthcare in 2015 and later health minister when the concession was transferred to Steward Health Care in 2018.

Following MaltaToday’s report, Fearne took to Facebook to say that he was certain of his innocence as he wrote, “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Court will find nothing but my complete innocence. I make it clear that I speak confidently and openly. As a minister and citizen of a democratic and European country, I continue to believe firmly that justice should not look at anyone's face and should appear to be doing just that.”