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2018: A year of investigations

The Shift News

This has been a busy year for The Shift News. We have exposed Labour’s secret online hate machine and revealed the names of the hidden investors in the scandalous deal on public hospitals, we have revealed the Lands Authority’s massive breach of personal data and we have have shed light on the White Flag environmental ‘scam’ by a Croatian in Malta. The Shift News has shed light on social and environmental issues of concern.  These are the investigations we were most proud of in 2018.

The Vitals Hospital Deal

An investigation into hospitals deal revealed the hidden owners behind the controversial deal that granted a concession to run three public hospitals for up to 99 years. The Shift News published court documents showing the investors knew the details of the project before the call for proposals – the deal shed new light on how commissions are hidden in complex company structures behind shady deals.

For the first six months of the contract in 2016, Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) received some €51 million from taxpayers’ money, The Shift News showed in collaboration with The Sunday Times of Malta. There was nothing to show for it, except debt, and yet the government approved the doubling of funding only one day before the government announced VGH was being sold to Steward.

The Shift News also revealed that VGH was busy signing international contracts while seeking a bailout in Malta. From Oman to the Balkans, VGH rode on the platform given by the Maltese government to secure lucrative deals abroad, even as it failed to meet its commitments in Malta. VGH also signed a hidden agreement with the government of Montenegro, as they did with the government of Malta despite previous denials by VGH.

The Shift News revelations also showed that whilst Vitals Global Healthcare had been taken over by Steward Healthcare, Vitals were very much still in the picture.

Read more here

Ram Tumuluri
VGH director Ram Tumuluri was the face of the scandalous deal on Malta’s public hospitals.

Lands Leak

The Shift News in collaboration with The Sunday Times of Malta revealed a massive data breach of the personal details of citizens who had used the Lands Authority web site for the last year and a half. The breach affected up to 5,000 people, whose passports and ID cards were easily available on Google search engines.

Security experts called the leak “the biggest data breach in Malta” resulting from gross negligence or crass incompetence. The leak puts the Authority in breach of the EU General Data Protection Regulation meaning that steep fines can be imposed by the Data Protection Commissioner as well as giving individuals the right to pursue individual claims for damages.

The Government then tried to limit the damage done by advising the public that an independent chief audit officer was leading the investigation – The Shift News showed the ‘independent’ audit was none other than the Labour Party Mayor of Mqabba, Charlene Muscat, a former One TV reporter who was given the job despite the fact that she had no real audit experience.

As of the time of writing, the Lands Authority has yet to inform those affected by the breach, as required by law.

Read more here

Minister Ian Borg Lands Authority
Minister Ian Borg. Photo: Walter Sargent / DOI

Labour’s Secret Online Hate Groups

A six-month investigation by The Shift News into six of the biggest secret and closed Labour Facebook groups – numbering 60,000 members – found coordinated attacks on anti-corruption activists and Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family, including calls for sexual violence.

Prime Minister and Labour leader Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff, top Ministers and even President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca were members of Facebook groups containing violent comments, including the distribution of anti-corruption activists’ personal details and calls for them to be physically attacked, sexually assaulted, and stalked. The President left the groups after they were made public, and the Prime Minister was forced to leave after pressure in Parliament, but these groups are still operating and the administrators including members of staff of government Ministries, paid by taxpayers.

Posts in the group encourage people to ‘name and shame’ dissidents with the aim of silencing them. The investigation also revealed that they form a key part of (and are used to drive) predictable and coordinated cycles that manipulate the news and push particular pre-defined agendas.

Read more here

White Flag

The placement of a “White Flag” on a beach is meant to denote a ‘plastic free’ beach, but questions have been raised as to whether it is an elaborate scam. Sources that have sponsored White Flag beaches told The Shift News that they paid EUR 25,000 to sponsor a beach with seven Maltese and Gozitan beaches receiving the award so far, despite them being far from plastic free.

Payments go straight into an account in Zagreb, Croatia, while in Malta complaints increase on the lack of maintenance of the White Flag conditions. Some of these flags were sponsored by Ministries using taxpayers’ money, while others were backed by private sponsorship, mostly from igaming companies.

The White Flag International website also claims that The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation is one of the projects “partners” despite not having any kind of cooperation with the project for years. As a result, the Foundation are set to sue White Flag international for slander. In addition to this, the man behind White Flag, a Croatian called Kristijan Curavic has been labelled a “fraudster by former employees and individuals that have been involved in projects in other countries with him and his various organisations.

Read more here

Kristijan Curavić + Herrera + Mark Farrugia
Croatian Kristijan Curavić (left) with Environment Minister Jose Herrera (centre) and Mark Farrugia the right-hand man of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri.

Massage Parlours

Malta’s weak monitoring and enforcement of human trafficking has created a blatantly illegal yet completely public sex industry where sex slaves are hiding and conducting their work in plain sight.

Despite the fact that The Shift News found that a number of massage parlous exhibit all the indications of commercial sex operations Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia told Parliament on 26 June that no reports had been filed of parlours being use as brothels.

Despite Malta being ranked as a Tier 2 Country by the US Department of State, meaning that the government doesn’t meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, there has not been a trafficking conviction since early 2012. The Shift News investigation also showed that even while awaiting sentencing or convicted, massage parlour owners openly selling sex continued to operate with impunity.

The Shift News investigation revealed that over €16 million a year was being generated out of illicit services offered in brothels thinly-veiled as massage parlours. Users of such services communicate brazenly via social media groups and compare notes on the services provided by each establishment (and woman). The Shift News infiltrated these groups to identify locations and services rendered.

The news led to police taking action against a few massage parlour owners, but the action was a drop in the ocean considering the proliferation of parlours since the government relaxed rules.

Read more here

massage parlour women
A typical conversation in the chats used by clients of massage parlours in Malta.

PBS- A Public Disservice

The Shift News analysed the social media data of PBS and found a ‘media blackout on critical stories resulting in a situation where the state-owned platform is failing in its constitutional obligation to impartiality. It was found that the station was repeatedly under-reporting stories that cast the government and the Labour Party in a bad light, following an analysis of PBS social media data.

We also revealed that Angela Azzopardi Agius, a presenter and host on Television Malta (TVM), is on the Labour Party’s national executive despite PBS guidelines prohibiting news presenters associating with political parties. TVM broadcaster and chair of the Institute of Maltese Journalists, Norma Saliba was also appointed to a government advisory board, a position she will retain until 2020

An analysis of 3,200 of PBS’s most recent tweets revealed a consistent under-reporting of major scandals that dominate all other media outlets except Labour Party-owned media outlets. Using the example of the Pilatus Bank scandal, state-owned TVM and Labour Party-owned ONE News’s coverage was 88% lower than independent media sources. Similar conclusions are reached when analysing tweets using the words“corruption” or “korruzzjoni”.

Danske Bank named as OCCRP’s 2019 Corrupt Actor of the Year

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