Nationalist MP, former ministers hit back at Muscat’s revolving door claims

Former ministers who went through revolving door hit say Joseph Muscat cannot use their track record to defend his choice of unknown Vitals for hospitals privatisation

Former PN minister Austin Gatt (left) with Claudio Grech and former PM Lawrence Gonzi at the Ricasoli industrial estate in 2007
Former PN minister Austin Gatt (left) with Claudio Grech and former PM Lawrence Gonzi at the Ricasoli industrial estate in 2007

Former ministers Austin Gatt and Tonio Fenech have dismissed claims by Joseph Muscat of their revolving doors jobs they got straight after stepping down from their ministerial posts.

The former prime minister invoked this defence over questions raised on his consultancy fees received in March 2020 from a Swiss firm connected to Steward Healthcare, the company entrusted with the privatisation of three hospitals.

Muscat has denied any link between any government project and the consultancies he was paid for, and said he was being judged differently from previous PN ministers who took up paid work after they stepped down from office.

Former infrastructure and transport minister Austin Gatt took up a director’s role at Carmelo Caruana Co. Ltd in April 2013, a month after the election of Labour to power and his resignation as minister. He said Muscat’s claims were ‘nonsense’.

“CCCL is a normal freight forwarding company like tens of others in Malta and has no relationship at all with either government or any authority and is not even regulated by any other governmental authority. I was also director of the holding company that owned CCCL which operated solely as an investment company and again had no relationship whatsoever with government or any authority thereof,” Gatt said.

Gatt was also a director of Melo Hili’s Hili-Salomone Company Ltd.

Nationalist MP Claudio Grech, who as Gatt’s aide was part of the ministry who attracted Dubai’s Tecom to Malta’s Smart City and then switched over to Tecom, said he had been invited to join as CEO.

“My appointment in 2008 was the result of an invitation and approval by both these shareholders to serve as the CEO of the project, based on what I could offer to the project and the vision of transforming Malta into an ICT hub,” Grech said, calling it an “an honour and privilege”.

“Tecom Group were not some BVI-based nominee company with no traceable track record whose ultimate beneficiary owners were not known to government, just as was the case with Vitals Global Healthcare,” Grech said, praising Tecom’s compliance records.

“Unlike the blacked-out agreements with Vitals and then compounded with those with Steward, all the agreements related to SmartCity Malta were tabled in Parliament and approved with no vote against.”

Former finance minister Tonio Fenech, who immersed himself in the financial services world after 2013 as an Opposition MP, said he had never accepted any engagement or acted as a director on a company that had in any way benefited from a public contract or a public concession.

“When I was approached to consider an engagement with a company that had the possibility to benefit from a public contract, I declined this engagement as I felt that this would conflict my role then as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

“All the companies I acted as a director to, were fully disclosed to Parliament for the years I was MP as required by the Code of Ethics including the remuneration made from such engagements.

“Any remuneration that I received for my services for these company passed the AML scrutiny of the Bank holding my only personal accounts in Malta, all where remittances from companies registered in Malta.”

Muscat comments

On Tuesday, Muscat said there had been no protest at former PN ministers taking up paid work, saying Austin Gatt took up roles in a group of companies that has a direct relation with at least two entities that were under his direct responsibility for many years; “Or Tonio Fenech, who was responsible for financial services for many years but then gave services to companies in the financial services sector,” he said, referring to the former minister who also passed through the revolving door. “Or Claudio Grech, who was part of the Ministry which negotiated Smart City on behalf of the Maltese government and then was appointed CEO of Smart City. This to mention only a few, and without going in the realm of legal services.”