Medical visas scandal, not internal conflict, on PN parliamentary group's agenda - Simon Busuttil

PN MPs have been called in for a meeting to discuss bribery allegations surrounding the issuance of medical visas • Muscat claims that meeting was called in light of Busuttil's increasingly precarious' position as PN leader

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, pictured here with deputy leaders Beppe Fenech Adami and Mario de Marco, wants the parliamentary group to discuss the alleged medical visas racket
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, pictured here with deputy leaders Beppe Fenech Adami and Mario de Marco, wants the parliamentary group to discuss the alleged medical visas racket

Members of the PN’s parliamentary group have been called in for a meeting to discuss bribery allegations surrounding the issuance of medical visas

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil will be convening a meeting of the Nationalist Party’s parliamentary group in order to discuss bribery allegations surrounding the issuance of medical visas to Libyan nationals.

“The PN leader has called a meeting of the parliamentary group to discuss the latest in a series of scandals emerging from Castille,” a statement by the PN read. “Joseph Muscat is getting caught up in his own lies and contradicted himself twice in one statement. He first said that he wasn’t aware of the scandal, and then said in the following sentence that he had passed on the information to the police.”

Neville Gafa, a health ministry employee and political appointee, has been accused by a Libyan businessman-turned-whistleblower of masterminding a medical visa racket, but a police investigation has cleared Gafa from criminal behaviour.

Khaled Ben Nasan had allegedly served as middleman between 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 had allegedly charged Libyans a €2,500 monthly fee to secure medical visas, treatment and accommodation in Malta, as well as an additional €100 fee. 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. Gafa allegedly pocketed the money and used it to buy himself a new BMW.

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. New transcripts published on Sunday shows that Ben Nasan had insisted with Gafa that their next meeting will take place in the Prime Minister’s office if the latter failed to return the monies.

On Sunday, Ben Kasan was revealed by newspaper llum to have applied for a Maltese residency permit twice - only for his applications to be turned down by the Security Services and Immigration Police due to 'unreliable information' and for failing security checks.

Busuttil on Sunday claimed that the leaked messages revealed links between criminality and Castille, and that the Prime Minister had been aware of the scandal for over a year because he had flagged the issue at a meeting of the Security Committee. 

Muscat vehemently denied having knowledge of the medical visa racket before it was reported to the police, accusing the Malta Independent of “viciously spinning” the story and “maliciously misleading” its readers.

‘PN meeting is in light of Busuttil’s precarious position’ – Muscat

The Prime Minister claimed that Busuttil summoned an urgent parliamentary group meeting in light of his “increasingly precarious” position as leader of the Nationalist Party.

In a statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister, Muscat argued that Busuttil is the first person in history to go public about details spoken about at top-secret Security Committee meetings. 

"I will not comment on what was spoken about in the meeting, but if Busuttil is correct and the topic of medical visas was brought up, then that will only prove that the government's position is one in which it passes all information in its hands for further investigation," Muscat said. "If Busuttil had to carefully read the government's statements and not get distracted by the internal conflict he's facing, then he wouldn't make such ridiculous mistakes."

Labour news website ONE reported today that Busuttil is facing internal pressure and that he will ask his MPs tomorrow whether they still have faith in him to lead the party.

In a Facebook status, Mosta mayor Edwin Vassallo warned that egoism within the PN could cause the party to suffer a second consecutive election defeat.

“Everybody in the party must get on the same page and forget about his or her own personal interests,” he wrote. “If the PN remains akin to a party club in which everyone only cares about his or her own personal interests, then the situation will not change. I believe that the solution for this country lies in altruism, not in egoism.”

Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi also shared a quote by US pastor Andy Stanley on his Facebook wall, that “leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say”. ONE interpreted Azzopardi’s post as a subtle warning to Simon Busuttil.

Also on Sunday, Labour newspaper Kullhadd reported that Opposition MP Claudio Grech is already being eyed up as a potential successor to Busuttil, claiming that former PN secretary general Joe Saliba and former Transport Ministry official Manuel Delia had recently met up to discuss Grech’s chances.

However, a senior shadow minister who spoke to MaltaToday on condition of anonymity insisted that there was no truth at all in the claim that Busuttil’s position is being questioned.

“This is simply an attempt by the Labour media to deflect attention from issues that Joseph Muscat’s administration has to answer for,” the shadow minister said.

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