08 May 2024, 15:49

Malta ex-PM charged in sweeping corruption probe

VALLETTA, May 8, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Former Maltese premier Joseph Muscat and 
current Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne are among dozens of people and 
companies charged in a hospital privatisation scandal rocking the 
Mediterranean island nation.

Muscat and one of his ex-ministers, Konrad Mizzi, have been charged with 
accepting bribes, corruption in public office and money laundering, according 
to documents obtained by AFP late on Tuesday.

It is the first time a former premier will be made to answer for criminal 
charges in court.

Muscat's former chief of staff Keith Schembri has also been charged with 
money laundering, soliciting bribes and abuse of office to exact an unlawful 
advantage "through threats or abuse of authority".

Fearne -- previously tipped to be Malta's next European Commissioner -- and 
former finance minister Edward Scicluna, currently governor of Malta's 
Central Bank, were also charged with fraud, misappropriation and fraudulent 

The charges were filed on Monday, the culmination of a long-running 
investigation that has shaken Malta's political establishment to its core.
It dates back to the decision by Muscat's Labour government in 2015 to pass 
management of three public hospitals to a private company, Vitals Global 

The company had no experience in the healthcare industry and after 21 months 
it sold the concession to another company, Steward Health Care, without 
having made any of the investments it had promised.

- 'Lies... fantasies' -
Following a challenge by the opposition Nationalist party, a court last year 
annulled the privatisation deal, finding evidence of fraudulent behaviour.

An appeal court upheld the ruling later in the year -- and also found there 
had been "collusion" between the companies and senior government officials.

Following a request by civil society group Repubblika, a separate criminal 
investigation was launched in 2019 which recommended last month that charges 
be brought.
Muscat -- who resigned in 2019 in the political fall-out over the murder of 
journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia -- has strongly protested his innocence.

"If they weren't so serious, the accusations against me would be laughable," 
he wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

"Without even questioning me, the authorities decided to smear me and accuse 
me of corruption, money laundering, establishing a criminal organisation, and 
even claiming I took 30 million euros."

He added: "It will be my pleasure to dismantle each of these accusations and 
show how they are not built just on fantasies, but also on lies."

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