No trust in magistrate, says Joseph Muscat over his ‘second Egrant’

Former Labour PM Joseph Muscat claims Magistrate Gabriella Vella preventing police from carrying out independent investigation: ‘I agree with the Opposition... police should carry out its investigation on hospitals’

Joseph Muscat was interviewed on Smash TV by Labour loyalist Manuel Cuschieri
Joseph Muscat was interviewed on Smash TV by Labour loyalist Manuel Cuschieri

Former Labour prime minister Joseph Muscat might be smelling trouble ahead: a magisterial inquiry led by Gabriella Vella on the controversial privatisation of state hospitals to Vitals and Steward could see him face some form of criminal liability.

But Muscat has declared emphatically he has no trust in Vella, having already petitioned for her recusal on the case.

He says the leaks from her inquiry (“there are those who know details in real time”), and her family’s social media commentary, undermine her judiciousness. And he suspects that the inquiry is actually preventing the police from carrying out an independent investigation.

“I have no trust in the way the inquiry is being led... and I agree with the Opposition’s challenge in court for the police to start its own investigations. They have my support. I want the Commissioner of Police to carry out an investigation independent of the magistrate,” Muscat said on Smash TV, interviewed by Labour loyalist Manuel Cuschieri.

Muscat believes that, with his own request to be heard in the ongoing inquiry going ignored, the police has been prevented from carrying out its own criminal investigation.

“I have full trust in the Commissioner of Police... my own challenge is that the police should start investigating now, so that the facts are known.”

And should he be charged in court by the force of the Vella inquiry, Muscat has already dubbed it his ‘second Egrant’ – a political Calvary which, the former Labour leader says, seeks to have him hauled into court “to create instability for Labour, the government, to use the delays in the courts to sow political damage, until it is finally over.”

Confident as usual, Muscat predicts he cannot be found guilty of any charge. “Egrant is no longer mentioned... I’ve testifed in a House committee for some five times now on Electrogas, yet nobody has ever once mentioned Egrant.”

On the Appeals Court judgement that reconfirmed the rescission case against Steward, Muscat now says the courts have misrepresented the nature of the negotiations between his administration and Vitals or Steward. “We were signing waivers and agreements that were meant to keep the discussion on the table, in a bid to make this concession work... the courts have dubbed this ‘collusion’,” Muscat said – naturally, disagreeing with this view of the Appeals Court.

Smart City, Arriva, Palumbo, HSBC... all were controversial privatisations and concessions whose terms had to be either ignored or changed by various administrations, Muscat said, drawing the obvious similarity with Vitals and Steward. He even said Labour’s decision to buy a 49% stake in Lombard Bank – using golden passport cash from the National Development and Social Fund – should also be investigated.

Instead, he once again alluded to a hidden coterie of doctors whose agenda against the privatisation of the hospitals was driven by an interest in maintaining the long waiting lists at State hospitals, because it allows them to cash in by diverting patients to their own private clinics.

Earlier, the interview started with Manuel Cuschieri’s gentle scene-setting. There was praise for Clyde Caruana’s ‘tax-free’ budget – the eighth in Labour’s record of no new taxes. “This government is effectively paying out €1 million on a daily basis to subsidise energy... a far cry from the Nationalist administration’s five light-bulbs during their time.”

There was praise for Labour’s post-pandemic strategy, naturally via the controversial sale of passports. “Had it not been for the citizenship scheme, this administration could not have paid its way out of the pandemic,” Muscat said in another pat on his back.

Praise for Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba, who is tackling head-on the problem of price inflation on imported foodstuffs. Praise for his collaborator, the statistician Vincent Marmarà, and his surveys – and here came a little piece of advice, probably for his successor and his aides in Castille.

“I think there is a growing cohort of people alienated by politics, and of Labour voters parking their vote – not voting PN – but who want the government to keep their eyes on the ball,” he said, calling for caution for those who let themselves be led by surveys. “It’s just a thermometer... it’s not what actually cures the patient.”