Prime Minister denies knowing of medical visas scam before police investigations

Office of the Prime Minister denied reports that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat knew of allegations surrounding medical visas racket before details were reported to the police

The Office of the Prime Minister has denied reports that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had knowledge of the medical visas scam before it was flagged to the police
The Office of the Prime Minister has denied reports that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had knowledge of the medical visas scam before it was flagged to the police

The Office of the Prime Minister has refuted reports that the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had knowledge of the racket involving medical visas before it was reported to the police.

In a statement, the Office of the Prime Minister said the front-page report by the Malta Independent on Sunday – which reported that Muscat “knew of the allegations weeks before they flagged to the police by health minister Chris Fearne” – was a “blatant lie” and intent of “maliciously misleading readers.”

“Whenever the prime minister received any allegations, as is in this case, he always took the appropriate action and passed any information to the relevant authorities. It is simply a vicious spin that in this case he acted differently,” the OPM underlined.

The remarks were made against the backdrop of an alleged racket involving medical visas. Neville Gafa, a health ministry employee and a political appointee, was accused by a Libyan whistleblower of allegedly masterminding the racket, but a police investigation has cleared him of masterminding the racket.

The allegations were raised by Libyan national Khaled Ben Nasan, a Libyan businessman turned whistleblower who had allegedly served as middleman between Neville Gafa and Libyan patients. In a letter to the Ministry for Health last April, Ben Nasan alleged that Gafa had started a new medical visa application process through which Libyans would send over their passports in advance and Gafa would charge varying prices.

For over a year, Gafa allegedly charged Libyans a €2,500 monthly fee to secure medical visas, treatment and accommodation in Malta, as well as an additional €100 charge. However, Ben Nasan told then-health minister Konrad Mizzi in April and his successor Chris Fearne a month later that Gafa had not refunded €38,000 in payments for 42 medical visas that never materialized.

Transcripts from Viber conversations between the two were leaked to the Malta Independent on Wednesday, showing that Ben Nasan had been demanding the return of the €38,000 since January.

Moreover, new transcripts published on Sunday show Ben Nasan insist with Gafa that their next meeting will take place in the Prime Minister’s office if the latter fails to return the monies paid.

The newspaper construed this message as meaning that Ben Nasan was “close” to the Prime Minister – a conclusion, which according to the Office of the Prime Minister, was “nothing short of another deliberate blatant lie by the journalist”.

“The journalist relies on a personal message of Ben Nasan to reach the wrong conclusion that the person is ‘close’ to the Prime Minister and that he was going to meet in the PM’s office,” it said.

The newspaper also reported comments by Muscat who confirmed that he met with Ben Hasan during the Libyan revolution and on becoming prime minister, they met against during a wider outreach programme with foreign communities in Malta.

The prime minister also insisted that Ben Hasan’s requests for further private meetings were turned down as he did not meet the necessary clearance requirements, and that he has never spoken to Gafa about the case.

On Sunday, newspaper Illum reported that an application by Khaled Ben Nasan to obtain a residence permit in Malta was refused twice. The newspaper reports that Syrian-born Ben Nasan, who holds a Libyan passport, had his applications refused by the Security Services and immigration police after failing security checks, and after being declared to have used "unreliable information".

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