PN knew extent of benefits fraud scandal but stayed mum to hide MPs’ involvement

Mosta MP Ivan Bartolo revealed that he had given Secretary General Michael Piccinino details of the extent of the benefits fraud more than seven weeks ago • Piccinino denies prior knowledge of claims PN MPs may be involved

PN Secretary General Michael Piccinino (left) and PN MP Ivan Bartolo (right)
PN Secretary General Michael Piccinino (left) and PN MP Ivan Bartolo (right)

Updated at 11:30am with Michael Piccinino reaction

The Nationalist Party knew the full extent of the benefits fraud scandal some seven weeks ago but did nothing about it because of the possible involvement of a number of its own MPs, MaltaToday has learned. 

Sources within the PN parliamentary group told this newspaper that in Thursday’s parliamentary group meeting at the PN headquarters, Mosta MP Ivan Bartolo revealed that he had given Secretary General Michael Piccinino details of the extent of the benefits fraud more than seven weeks ago. 

It seems Bartolo took umbrage at party leader Bernard Grech calling out MPs for being too reactive and complacent and not being more proactive. 

Sources said Bartolo confronted Grech and insisted that the leader could not throw out such an accusation when he (Bartolo) informed the party of the extent of the benefits fraud involving former Labour MP Silvio Grixti weeks before the details were leaked by the Times of Malta. 

He asked Grech why nothing was done or said about the scandal before the article appeared in the newspaper and why the party sat on the story. 

On 3 September, the Times of Malta reported how family doctor, Silvio Grixti, provided false medical documentation to assist people, often residing in strongholds of the Labour Party, in fraudulently obtaining monthly social benefits meant for severe disabilities they did not actually suffer from. 

The operation enabled claimants to receive monthly payments, averaging around €450, from the social security department 

Some individuals implicated in the scheme during 2019 and 2020 have asserted to police investigators that they were directed to Grixti by various individuals, including a Labour minister, a now-deceased PL MP, ministers' aides, and even customer care officials from the Prime Minister's office. 

But several sources within the PN have told MaltaToday that rumours are rife around the corridors of the Stamperija that a few PN MPs have been identified as having referred people to Grixti. 

That in itself would not be illegal, but the same sources said that Piccinino had hinted within certain circles that a couple of MPs might be included in criminal investigations being carried out by the police’s Financial Crimes Investigations Department. 

When confronted by journalists, Prime Minister Robert Abela last week said that until now some 160 people had been arraigned on charges of receiving severe disability payments they were not entitled to and that more individuals were expected to be charged in the future. 

MaltaToday is informed that the PN parliamentary group meeting on Thursday erupted into near disarray when Bartolo revealed he had informed the secretary general of the extent of the scandal and that the party sat on it. 

Many MPs questioned Grech as to why the party said nothing on the matter until after The Times article was published. Grech is reported to have insisted that the party had no proof to go public with. 

Among the most vocal MPs questioning the administration’s silence on the scandal were Paula Mifsud Bonnici and Claudette Buttigieg. 

MaltaToday reached out to Bartolo who confirmed bringing the matter up in Thursday’s meeting but refused to comment further on the matter.

Piccinino reacts

In a Facebook post on Sunday, PN secretary general Michael Piccinino denied he had any prior knowledge of alleged involvement of Nationalist MPs in the benefit fraud scandal.

He insisted the claims reported by MaltaToday were “a lie” and if anyone has information of wrongdoing should go to the police with it.

He also accused this newspaper of perpetuating the Prime Minister’s “spin”.

Editorial note: It is interesting that Michael Piccinino does not deny that he knew about the extent of the benefit abuse scandal several weeks before details emerged in Times of Malta and sat on the information. MaltaToday stands by its report in its entirety.