Medical visa ‘whistleblower’ says witnesses scared of spilling beans

Ben Nasan says problems with Neville Gafa arose after families who paid for medical visas had their applications rejected, however the money they paid was never returned to them

Alleanza Bidla leader Ivan Grech Mintoff interviewing 'whistleblower' Khaled Ibrahim Ben Nasan
Alleanza Bidla leader Ivan Grech Mintoff interviewing 'whistleblower' Khaled Ibrahim Ben Nasan

An alleged scandal in the issuance of medical visas took yet another twist yesterday when the self-styled leader of eurosceptic formation ‘Alleanza Bidla’, Ivan Grech Mintoff gave journalists a weblink to a recorded interview of him with Libyan whistleblower Khaled Ben Nasan.

Grech Mintoff greeted journalists at the Waterfront Hotel in Gzira, taking questions from the press, many of which were answered with an invitation to watch his video interview.

Ben Nasan is accusing a top government official, Neville Gafa, of siphoning off thousands of euros in exchange for medical visas. His accusations have been rubbished by the authorities, with the police saying they do not have enough evidence to arraign Gafa but the investigation is ongoing. In the past, Ben Nasan has claimed he had served as a mediator for the Maltese government including in the release of a Maltese hostage in 2014.

Yesterday Grech Mintoff claimed that witnesses with information on Gafa, who is alleged to have kept €38,000 for medical visas that were never granted, were “scared” and reluctant in coming forward.   

The witnesses, Grech Mintoff said, had no trust in the Maltese authorities investigating the case.

Grech Mintoff, speaking on behalf of Ben Nasan who he describes as a “whistleblower”, said that at least five, unnamed Libyan “ministers” were willing to reveal details of the alleged racket.

When asked whether there are any Maltese witnesses, Grech Mintoff answered in the affirmative, but stopped short of saying whether these include government officials.

He claimed the Libyan witnesses were scared of having their Maltese visas revoked, while the unnamed Libyan ministers have not been granted access to Malta. “I trust the individuals who are leading the investigations but I do not trust the authorities as a whole,” Grech Mintoff said.

Two weeks ago, the Malta Independent on Sunday reported that Libyan sources were accusing Gafa of making up to €150,000 a month from a visa scam.

Gafa has denied any wrongdoing after Ben Nasan alleged in a letter to the health ministry last April, that he had started a new medical visa application process through which Libyans would send over their passports in advance, for which Gafa would charge varying prices.

Grech Mintoff has clarified that Ben Nasan is technically not a whistleblower, since he would not qualify under the Whistleblowers’ Act, adding that “he did not choose to go through the normal procedures because he does not trust the local authorities.”

Grech Mintoff – who in 2014 ran for MEP and garnered 774 first-count votes – presents a weekly programme on the cable TV station F Living, and said Ben Nasan approached him about the story. He also said Ben Nasan says he received threatening calls from unknown persons.

Grech Mintoff said the Libyan fears he might be abducted, and that a request for police protection by his lawyer was denied. “I have reason to believe that the authorities in Libya are going to call for Ben Nasan’s extradition. I fear that if this happens, he will go to Libya and disappear,” Grech Mintoff said, despite his own claims that Ben Nasan is “backed” by the two rival parliaments and governments in Tripoli and Tobruk, and the UN-backed ‘Government of National Accord’, which is still unrecognised by the warring factions and militias in Libya.


Ben Nasan negotiated release of Maltese hostage

Grech Mintoff’s interview with Ben Nasan was however not aired on his F Living programme after the station’s directors decided against airing it. In the 53-minute interview uploaded on YouTube, Ben Nasan – whose face is blurred – explains how he has been in Malta for 16 years during which time he served as a go-between for Maltese authorities and Libya.

While underlining that he is not in hiding and still lives at home, Ben Nasan said that he received an SMS and phone call in which he and his family were threatened.

Ben Nasan – who enjoys humanitarian protection from the Maltese authorities – said the Maltese government had asked for his assistance when a Maltese oil worker was kidnapped in Libya. “I was called by ambassador Mannie Galea who told me that the government was seeking my assistance in the release of Martin Galea,” he said.

The claim harks back to comments Ben Nasan gave to MaltaToday in July 2014, when he said that Galea had not been abducted in Libya, but taken in for “his own safety” while driving through an area where heavy fighting was taking place.

Ben Nasan, who styled himself as a representative of a Libyan ‘anti-corruption and anti-smuggling committee’, had claimed he had asked a senior military figure, General Ayman al Madani, to find out Galea’s whereabouts.  “The militia in the Wershafana area had in fact taken Galea under their protection to protect him from the serious fighting that had broken out,” he said.

Galea had disappeared about three days before the government became aware that he was missing, and returned to Malta after 11 days in captivity.

On his return to Malta, Galea profusely thanked consul Marisa Farrugia for saving his life.

In the YouTube interview, Grech Mintoff alludes that ransom money was paid “or disappeared” and that high-ranking Libyan military officials were ready to spill the beans on what had happened.

Intervention in visa ‘revolt’

In his interview with Grech Mintoff, Ben Nasan also recounts that Mannie Borg had also asked for his assistance on behalf of the Maltese government when armed Libyans tried to break into the Maltese consulate in Tripoli.

He said that up to 3,000 passports were withheld by the consulate – then led by Marisa Farrugia – for nine months, and claimed that he was instrumental in calming the situation and providing security for the consulate staff members.

MaltaToday has in the past reported how the Tripoli embassy would issue up to 300 visas to Malta each day, leading to investigations – so far inconclusive – into whether Malta’s consul in Tripoli, Marisa Farrugia, was aware of any irregularities.

Farrugia had been recalled back to Malta for urgent police questioning over documented evidence of extensive fraud at the Maltese embassy.

Farrugia had been recalled from Tripoli in May 2014 after police took action in a request by the government over documented evidence of extensive fraud in the Maltese embassy, in the issuing of travel visas for Libyans.

Between 2011 and 2015, almost 75,000 visas were issued by the Maltese embassy in Libya.


Visa rejections open door for corruption

In the interview, Ben Nasan says that in recent months a number of businessmen who have been coming to Malta for years, with some of them purchasing goods worth thousands of euros to export them to Libya were being arbitrarily denied visa applications.
Grech Mintoff and Ben Nasan imply that this is “opening the door for corruption” as people who are desperate will do anything to obtain a visa. 

The same method is being used with students who they said were being denied visas in their fifth year at university.

Moreover, Grech Mintoff and Ben Nasan said people applying for work permits in Malta are having visas issued for the parents but not for the children, “once again pushing people to seek entry from the window since the door is being locked.” 

He also said that a man who had received treatment at the private St James Hospital in Zabbar after being flown in from Tunisia by helicopter was denied a visa for a follow-up visit at the hospital.

Returning to the subject of medical visas, Ben Nasan said problems with Gafa arose after families who paid for medical visas had their applications rejected, however the money they paid was never returned to them. 

He also explained that the Libyan health minister wanted to hold a meeting with his Maltese counterpart but Gafa advised Ben Nasan to have the letter addressed to him.

The unnamed Libyan health minister, Ben Nasan said, wanted to come to Malta to seek explanations over the medical bills which ran into millions and which was thought to be inflated.

He added that after being advised to go to neighbouring Tunis to get a visa, the minister was told that his application was rejected.