The Mario Portelli livestreams are a political sideshow, but concerns mount over his committal

Alliance for Mental Health has requested an investigation into whether the appropriate protocol was followed in admitting former police officer Mario Portelli to Mount Carmel Hospital

Mario Portelli livestream his detention by police officers from his father's home
Mario Portelli livestream his detention by police officers from his father's home

The committal of a former police officer whose testimony in a sensational criminal case had been refuted, has been roundly criticised by Malta’s mental health charities and associations. 

Alliance for Mental Health (A4MH) – which includes Malta’s psychiatrists, psychiatry nurses, the Richmond Foundation and the Mental Health Association – demanded an investigation into the handling of Mario Portelli during his arrest which he livestreamed on Facebook on Friday

“The A4MH refers to the recent distressing images in local media, without wishing to comment on the specific case, of which it does not know the details,” the alliance. “[We are] highly aware of the distress that involuntary admission to a psychiatric hospital can cause, primarily to the person concerned and their families, and also to the professionals that are involved in the case”. 

Portelli can be seen in his livestream shouting at his elderly father, whom he accused of having called the police over to the family home. 

The alliance said that in instances were involuntary hospitalisation was unavoidable, strict procedures, as laid down in the Mental Health Act, needed to be followed.

“These procedures determine that a medical doctor would have reviewed the person and recommended hospitalisation as the only reasonable course of action to preserve life and safety,” A4MH said.

But Portelli, formerly PC 99 – a “star” witness in the criminal case against former police inspector turned lawyer David Gatt – had made his presence clear on social media by alleging he had evidence of the Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat’s ownership of a secret Panamanian company, Egrant. 

Portelli, who in the past had already been hospitalised at Mount Carmel hospital, started making waves on social media by livestreaming Facebook videos of cryptic messages in which he asserts that Muscat owns Egrant – months after a magisterial inquiry decreed that previous claims made by the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia could not be proven and were not evidence-based – and that the minister Chris Cardona was responsible for the murder of the journalist. 

All his claims hark back to previous newspaper reports, including a more recent, and stranger request: to Romeo Bone, a victim of a car bombing in which he survived but lost both his legs. Strange, because Portelli was convinced that Bone had been commissioned to carry out a hit on him. In fact, Bone had been arrested outside Portelli’s house by police surveillance. Bone, then aged 34, was charged with intent to murder Portelli in 2011, ostensibly over Portelli’s claims of Bone’s involvement in a criminal gang. Bone was freed of the charges a year later

Portelli had claimed that Gatt was the mastermind behind the crimes, and that he styled himself on Corleonese mafia boss Totò Rina. But in 2016, the courts lashed out at the decision to charge David Gatt over the HSBC heist solely on the basis of Portelli’s testimony, after Portelli was dismissed fromthe police force over mental health issues in 2014. In 2017 Gatt was acquitted

“Tell police what you know,” Portelli said in one of his livestreams, addressing Romeo Bone. “I called the CID and told them to speak to you. But it seems my request has fallen on deaf ears... my advice to you, is not to fear to say the truth. The State will protect you. I will support you... nobody more than you can say what the truth is.”

Why? Again, what Portelli says is not entirely new: police investigators had hoped that phone data from the mobile phones belonging to the men accused of carrying out the car bomg murder that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia, could also hold clues to the Msida bombing, or maybe more. Bone, 41, had in the past been investigated over the murder of Gozitan businessman Joseph Baldacchino, shot while parking his car in Valletta in November 2010, after a piece of paper with a scrawled note of the victim’s car licence plate number was found in his car.

Mario Portelli (right) in a 2017 photo where he accompanied then PD leader Marlene Farrugia in a visit to former PN leader Simon Busuttil. The same occasion also saw another photo released by Farrugia to mark the official coalition with the PN for the forthcoming election
Mario Portelli (right) in a 2017 photo where he accompanied then PD leader Marlene Farrugia in a visit to former PN leader Simon Busuttil. The same occasion also saw another photo released by Farrugia to mark the official coalition with the PN for the forthcoming election

The past weeks have been marked by Portelli promising a showdown of sorts with Joseph Muscat, ostensibly to say what he knows of Egrant, the mysterious offshore company opened by auditors Nexia BT. To him, it is not case closed, despite a magisterial inquiry finding no proof of the allegations against Muscat.

Portelli’s livestreamed arrest earned support from a former ally of sorts: Godfrey Farrugia, the leader of the Democratic Party. Portelli was at one point associated with the small party, having been photographed accompanying PD MP Marlene Farrugia in a meeting with former PN leader Simon Busuttil. Not just any meeting: but the meeting during which Farrugia and Busuttil sealed an understanding on their Forza Nazzjonali coalition in 2017. 

Godfrey Farrugia questioned whether Portelli’s arrest had followed protocol. His partner Marlene also said she had visited Portelli in hospital: “He seems calm and well cared for,” Farrugia wrote, adding that a lawyer was to visit him later in the afternoon. 

The A4MH expressed concern that Portelli’s mental health should have been reviewed before hospitalisation. “There is also the requirement that either the person’s responsible carer/next of kin, or a specifically-trained Mental Welfare Officer would also have met with the patient in the immediacy and would have agreed that admission would be necessary to protect the individual or others due to the presence of mental illness.” Only at that point, A4MH said, can a person be transported to a psychiatric facility. 

One of a number of posts on Portelli's Facebook profile in which he states his intention to confront the Prime Minister
One of a number of posts on Portelli's Facebook profile in which he states his intention to confront the Prime Minister

Facebook allegations 

Ahead of the arrest, Portelli was uploading numerous photos and cryptic messages during the week. 

For weeks on end, he had been promising to make his big reveal on a Sunday. He livestreamed a video saying he had filed a police report complaining that he was not being allowed to stream his video on the Facebook platform earlier in the day. 

In his most recent video, Portelli insisted that the police had been sent by the prime minister to prevent from “confronting him on Sunday”. 

Portelli’s father can be heard asking him to stop filming because he is “sick”. 

No doctors appeared to be present during the incident, which ended with the police forcefully taking the phone from Portelli’s hands. Questions to the police about the incident were unanswered at the time of writing. 

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