Adrian Delia: ‘Resignations are not enough, we need a criminal investigation’

Former PN leader Adrian Delia argues that this week’s milestone court ruling was also a timely reminder of what the Nationalist Party has always been about: the ‘fight against injustice’

At this morning’s press conference in Gozo, you called on Prime Minister Robert Abela to ‘shoulder his responsibility’ for the fraudulent Vitals-Steward deal. Abela himself has however denied any personal involvement: arguing that he wasn’t even an MP – let alone Prime Minister – when the deal itself was struck. So first of all: why so much emphasis on Robert Abela (when the ‘real’ architects, so to speak, were Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi, etc.?) And also: what do you mean, exactly, by ‘shouldering responsibility’, in this scenario?

Let’s start by reminding people that, when I filed this case five years ago, I did so in my capacity as an active Member of Parliament: and not as a normal citizen, or private individual. Because this type of legal action could only have been initiated by either an MP – as a representative of the people – or by the Attorney General.

Now, there were a number of parties to this case: starting with Vitals themselves (subsequently, renamed Steward Healthcare); and also the Chief Executive of Malta Industrial Parks; the Chairman of the Board of Governors at the Lands Authority, and – I’m naming him last, even though he was actually first on the list – The Prime Minister of Malta... who was Joseph Muscat, at the time; but then, Robert Abela stepped in to fill his shoes.

So Robert Abela was an intrinsic part of this case, from the moment he became Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, all the defendants first put up a preliminary plea, claiming that I had no ‘business’ (in legal terms, we call it ‘juridical interest’) in actually filing the case... but the judge shot that down, point-blank.

And then – also as a preliminary plea – each of the defendants argued that they were not, themselves, the responsible parties. In legal jargon, we all it ‘legittimu kontradittur’: basically, they all argued that the courts had intimated ‘the wrong person’...

But let me focus only on the Prime Minister, for now. In his case, the judge specifically said: “How can the PM even say that: when these contracts were all granted by the Government of Malta; the properties themselves belonged to the Government of Malta; all the agreements were negotiated, and signed, by the Government of Malta... and at law, the Government of Malta is represented, ‘in primis’, by the Prime Minister himself?”

In other words: the Judge ruled that the Prime Minister WAS, in fact, fully and directly responsible...

From what you’ve said so far, though: if Robert Abela was ‘responsible’, it was only in the sense that he had inherited the office from Joseph Muscat; and not because he had orchestrated the fraud itself....

No: what I’m saying is that Abela’s responsibility goes way beyond just that. For one thing: this case did not begin, and end, under the tenure of Joseph Muscat... with Robert Abela only coming into the picture afterwards.

Insofar as chronology is concerned: Robert Abela became Prime Minister while the case itself was still ongoing; and he could always have chosen to change the direction of his defence strategy.   And yet, until the very last moment, he kept directing his legal counsel to continue defending – not the people of Malta and Gozo – but these foreign companies, and their fraudulent deals.

I also want to point out a particular paragraph (p 502) of the ruling [Note: Delia here reads out the paragraph in full] in which the Judge questions how the government even managed to get itself into a position, whereby it could be ‘pressured’ (or ‘blackmailed’) by Steward’s ‘fraudulent, and possibly criminal’ actions.

What this effectively means is that – apart from the fact that the contracts themselves were drawn up illegally; and that Steward itself was in breach of basically ALL the terms and conditions – the court also ruled that there had been fraudulency, on three counts:

1) Before the contract was even drawn up: because there was  a secret ‘memorandum of understanding’; and therefore, collusion [between government and Vitals];

2) During the evaluation process [when there was no ‘due diligence’ on the investors, etc.]

3) After the contract was awarded: when there was both the ‘non-compliance extension’; and also – to literally ‘rub salt into the wound’ - the infamous E100 million ‘side-agreement’ [between Konrad Mizzi and Steward]: which basically guaranteed that, even if Steward were to be found in breach of contract... they would still get paid a bonus E100 million, in tax-payers’ money...

Sorry to interrupt: but there’s no need to summarise the entire ruling (otherwise, we’ll be here all day)...

OK, but what I was coming to is... quite frankly, it is absolutely unprecedented, that a ruling handed down by the Maltese law-courts would find such clear evidence of ‘fraudulency’ – not to mention ‘possible criminality’ – in any government contract whatsoever... let alone, a government contract of such magnitude.

And yet: what was the Government’s response, to such a damning ruling? Basically, it issued a brief statement – amounting to literally just ‘four lines’ – which simply said that: “the Government is analysing this sentence; and in any eventuality, it will ensure that the national interest is safeguarded.”

[Pause] Sorry, but… this was right after the PM found himself faced with a judgment, which ruled – in no uncertain terms – that his government did NOT ‘safeguard the national interest’. On the contrary: Abela’s government was found to have totally BETRAYED the national interest…

As such, Prime Minister Robert Abela cannot claim that he will now be the one to ‘safeguard the national interest’. Nor can he even claim to be the one who will now ‘rescind the contract’… because there is now a court order, to that effect. The court even appointed a Notary; and gave him three months to actually do it. So even the government fails to implement this ruling… there is someone else, already in place, to implement it instead.

In other words: there is nothing the Prime Minister can do – no matter how much time he takes, to ‘analyse the ruling’ – except… assume responsibility.

But what does ‘assume responsibility’ actually mean, in this context? Are you asking him to resign? Do you expect him to face criminal proceedings? In practical terms; HOW do you expect this responsibility to be shouldered?

Let me put it this way: there is more than one type of responsibility involved, here. There is political responsibility, certainly; but there is also personal responsibility.

May I remind you that Robert Abela’s extended reaction – i.e., beyond that four-line statement – was also to argue that: “I wasn’t there, at the time! I didn’t sign any contracts! I wasn’t even a Member of Parliament…”

Now: I’m not even going to delve into the question of when, precisely, Robert Abela became legal counsel to his predecessor, in Castille. But every single time that there was a Budget vote – after Robert Abela became an MP – both he, and the rest of his parliamentary group, always voted in favour.

Not only that: but – as Prime Minister – Robert Abela actually INCREASED the budgetary allocation to Steward: even when it was flagrantly obvious, that the works themselves had not been completed.

Meanwhile: after Steward themselves had publicly admitted that this contract was fraudulent [in a UK court-case], I actually tabled all the relevant documents in Parliament – to bring them to the attention of all MPs – and together with Dr Bernard Grech, I subsequently filed a Judicial Protest: holding all MPs responsible, for NOT giving them another budgetary allocation.

But sure enough: Prime Minister Robert Abela – and all his Cabinet; and all his MPs – voted once again to give Steward an additional E80 million, of your money…

Once again, however, you are merely repeating what is already common knowledge. But what do you think should actually happen, as a result of this ruling?

I don’t think I should be the one to say what should happen…

With all due respect: you seem reluctant to (for example) ‘call for the Prime Minister’s resignation’. Why is that?

Reluctant? Not at all. It’s just that… personally, I think it should go far beyond ‘resignations’, at this stage. Because ‘resignation’ simply means ‘stepping down’… ‘going away’…  and quite frankly: that’s not going to be anywhere near enough, to assume responsibility for this case.

So let’s break it down a bit further, shall we? If the court concluded that there was certainly ‘fraud’, in these contracts – and also the ‘possibility of criminality’ - doesn’t responsibility also imply that the Commissioner of Police should IMMEDIATELY commence an investigation?

And shouldn’t this criminal investigation also focus on – not just the government officials who were involved – but also every single entity, individual, and government/public authority, that was mentioned in this ruling itself?

But there is more to it, than even that. In the court’s own words; this was a deal which would have cost the country E4 billion; just for the first of three 30-year periods (with the possibility of being further extended.) In other words: the rescission of this contract will certainly save the Maltese taxpayer at least E4 billion, over the next 30 years (and beyond)…

… but what about the E300 million we have already paid: getting absolutely nothing in return? What is government going to do, to ensure that those funds are returned to our country’s coffers? Isn’t that ‘political responsibility’, too? After all: how many times does government tells us that: “We don’t have enough money for this, that, or the other”? Whether it’s pensions; education; alternative energy… or even whether it’s rebuilding those three hospitals, that have been allowed to fall into disrepair as a result of this fraudulent deal.

Because apart from the fact that the Gozo Hospital, Karin Grech and St Luke’s are all still derelict, to this day: even Mater Dei is now under additional pressure… as it has to ‘compensate’, for the failure of those other hospitals to ever materialize.

So… are we going to just let those E300 million go? And does it have to take another MP, like myself, to open yet another court case, to get that money back? Shouldn’t it be the Government of Malta’s responsibility, now, to say to those fraudsters: ‘Listen: you stole 300 million from us… now it’s time to pay it all back?’

This is why I maintain that it’s not enough for Robert Abela to simply say: “Sorry! I screwed up! Now I’m going to resign!”

No: what is needed is – first and foremost – a thorough criminal investigation, into what can only be described as the greatest act of fraud that this country has ever seen; but also, the restitution of ALL the funds, that were stolen from the Maltese taxpayer: down to the very last penny…

Onto other issues now: the same court case has also raised questions of who should take the ‘credit’ for the outcome. You yourself are widely credited with having spearheaded the whole case; yet now, other Opposition members (including the ones who rebelled against your own leadership, in 2020) seem to be eagerly ‘jumping onto your bandwagon’…

I’m really not interested in any of that, myself…

I know you’re not. But our readers are: so I have to at least ask the question. How do you feel, personally, about the fact that people like Jason Azzopardi – who until recently was accusing you yourself of ‘criminality’ – are now trying to take all the credit, for the results of your hard work?

Look: the very last thing I want to do, is reduce something as ‘historic’ as this, into a silly little spat between myself and Jason Azzopardi. Honestly, I think it’s high time we move beyond all that, now….

But to answer your question anyway: first of all, I think it would be very unfair of me, to claim that I did everything ‘alone, and unaided’. As a matter of fact, Jason Azzopardi WAS involved, when I first filed the case; and it’s true that he – among others – DID help out, at the time.

In fact, one of the first things the Judge pointed out, in his ruling, was that: in this case, there were 55 witnesses; over 44 sittings; and over 3,000 pages of documented evidence.  Quite frankly, it is not even possible for any one single individual to do all that, alone. I have my lawyers to thank – especially Edward de Bono: who deserves full credit – but then again: I can’t mention one person, without mentioning all the others… so I’ll stop there, for now.

One last question: this case seems to have ‘re-energised’ the Nationalist Party, at a point when it appeared to be at its lowest-ever ebb. Don’t you find it ironic that – two years after being so acrimoniously ‘deposed’, as PN leader – you yourself are still clearly ‘setting the agenda’, for the PN?

[Very long pause] I don’t think I am ‘setting the PN’s agenda’, myself. If anything, I think it is more the case that the ruling itself – this milestone court judgement: the first of its kind, in our country’s recent political history – is what’s really ‘setting the agenda’. And not just for the PN, either; but for every single citizen in this country.

Because what this ruling actually implies, is that… yes, actually: it IS possible, to defeat corruption.  It’s not just an empty, meaningless slogan, that: ‘Truth and Justice will prevail, in the end’. It is something that can actually happen; that we can MAKE happen…

And as such, it reminds us of what our identity, as a political party, has always been: a ‘fight against injustice’…