Robert Abela defensive

Prime Minister Robert Abela has appealed for calm amid bombshell reports that several high-profile people, including former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, former chief of staff Keith Schembri, and former senior minister Konrad Mizzi are facing charges over their involvement in the Vitals scandal.

The Vitals scandal refers to the privatisation of three state hospitals that saw some €400 million in public funds being spent over a number of years. Earlier this year a civil court annulled the concession agreement after finding it was fraudulent, which was first signed between the Government and a company called Vitals, which later sold the concession to Steward Health Care.

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. This second inquiry was launched in May 2019 and was concluded last week.

Former PM Joseph Muscat, amid the revelations that charges have been filed in court against him and that he will be facing a court summons, allegedly without being given the opportunity to provide a statement before the inquiry was concluded, as an “obscenity and [an] abomination”.

“Those who dirtied themselves with this injustice or looked the other way instead of fixing it will be judged harshly by the people in the short-term, justice in the long run and by history forever,” wrote Dr Muscat, in a thinly veiled threat against current PM Robert Abela.

The threat can be interpreted as having taken effect, with Dr Abela appealing for calm, and reminding journalists in attendance that an inquiry is not a court of law, and that in accordance with the law, all involved should be presumed innocent until the judicial procedure is launched and concluded.

Explaining the process behind a magisterial inquiry, he stressed that the appointed magistrate preserves evidence, making recommendations or ordering the police to file charges based on the evidence found. Prime Minister Robert Abela repeatedly stressed that the standard for evidence obtained throughout a magisterial inquiry is not the same as in a court of law, during the course of judicial proceedings.

He also questioned whether it was right for people to face criminal charges without being given the opportunity to provide a statement or defend themselves, seemingly in support of Dr Muscat’s earlier fiery statement.

Dr Abela repeated the controversial claim that that this latest inquiry’s conclusion, five years after it was first ordered, was timed to coincide with the MEP elections, in a bid to hurt the Labour Party. He vociferously refuted that his claim is controversial, saying anybody with some sense in their reasoning skills would be foolish not to question the day, hour and very minute that the inquiry was concluded and sent to the Attorney General. He pointed out that it coincided exactly with the opening of candidate submissions for the MEP elections and local council elections.

The PM, who spoke calmly but appeared shaken by the day’s events, told journalists at a press conference that he fully expects a constitutional challenge to be filed against the inquiry, and this will allow for scrutiny as to how the inquiry was carried out and whether anybody’s rights were breached.

And, despite appealing for calm, he said the upcoming MEP elections on 8th June will be an opportunity for the public to vote in favour or against the magisterial inquiry which led to charges being filed against.

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