Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is facing charges in court in connection with the privatisation of a number of state hospitals that saw some €400 million in public funds being spent over a number of years.

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

The criminal charges come after the conclusion of a second magisterial inquiry that was meant to determine any criminal responsibility Dr Muscat and his team may have in relation to the deal, which another magisterial inquiry concluded last year described as “fraudulent”. That inquiry also rescinded the deal, and the hospitals have since come back under state management.

The former prime minister is one of a reported 19 individuals facing charges by Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg. Also facing charges are his former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and former Minister for Health Konrad Mizzi.

It is not yet known whether Chris Fearne, also a former health minister and currently Deputy Prime Minister, is among the individuals named.

Former Chief of Staff of the Office of the Prime Minister Keith Schembri

The latest inquiry, which was completed 10 days ago, has not yet been published, despite calls to do so by civil society organisation Repubblika and the Opposition Nationalist Party.

However, the conclusions are expected to be damning of Dr Muscat’s role, in relation to which his home was searched by police two years ago. last week, soon after the latest inquiry was concluded, he called a press conference where he said he expects to be charged as part of a “political vendetta”.

Current Prime Minister Robert Abela, who previously served as Dr Muscat’s legal advisor, also came out swinging against the inquiry, calling the timing of Magistrate Graziella Vella’s conclusion, so close to an election, “political terrorism”. Elections for European Parliament and for Local Councils are due to take place in June.

Former Minister for Health Konrad Mizzi

Dr Abela has since doubled down on his line of attack, saying that the courts are part of an “establishment” that militates against the Labour Party and galvanising support in Malta’s south – a traditionally Labour stronghold.

The Prime Minister’s attacks on the judiciary have come in for strong criticism.

Next steps

The courts will now assign the case to a magistrate, who will set a date for the arraignment and inform the accused.

The arraignment will reportedly be carried out under summons, not arrest.

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