The first Finance Minister under investigation in the European Union

The EU has not had a Finance Minister under criminal investigation until Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit’s decree yesterday that there was sufficient evidence to launch a magisterial inquiry on three Ministers.

Apart from Edward Scicluna, Ministers Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona also signed off on the Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) deal. Their reaction was to dismiss the magistrate’s decision on the request by NGO Repubblika for a magisterial inquiry filed last May.

The magistrate’s ruling raises all sorts of questions: Will Malta’s Finance Minister continue to have access to confidential EU documents while under investigation? Will the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) debate this? Can it be business as usual when Scicluna, the Finance Minister of an EU Member State, is under criminal investigation?

Usually, EU Ministers resign when they are under criminal investigation, as happened with Romanian Finance Minister Darius Valcov in 2015 after prosecutors opened a criminal investigation against him into suspected abuse of power in a former role as a mayor.

The three Maltese Ministers said immediately they would be appealing the court’s decision, which they dismissed as based on “news reports by politically motivated individuals”.

The magistrate countered that stance with a bold statement: “It’s not possible to ignore or discredit the work of investigative journalists that have a crucial role to play in a democracy as their scrutiny informs Maltese society of issues in the public interest. Therefore, the information they reveal as a result of their serious investigative effort deserves due consideration”.

The Special Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Pieter Omtzigt, also reacted. He pointed out on social media that during the debate on the resolution on his report on the rule of law in Malta, the government made no attempt to defy conclusions of corruption on the VGH deal.

“The overall impression is that (Konrad) Mizzi struck an inadvisable, underhand deal with a questionable group of businessmen who subsequently made inordinate profits at the expense of the Maltese taxpayer through an unbalanced contractual relationship, before proving incapable of meeting their obligations and selling out,” the report reads.

Read: ‘Inadvisable, underhand deal’ on Malta’s public hospitals

Scicluna filed a libel suit against PN MP Simon Busuttil “for saying he was embroiled in a money laundering investigation”. Busuttil hit back by publishing excerpts of the decree stating: “this behaviour…by Minister Scicluna falls under the definition of money laundering”.

VGH transferred the concession to Steward Healthcare, following late night meetings at the Office of the Prime to settle differences among hidden investors.

The concession for the three public hospitals, worth €70 million a year for up to 99 years, was transferred for just €1, while millions changed hands, including a €1.4 million payment to a Dubai company and €1.85 million to a previously undiscovered individual, The Shift News had revealed based on documented evidence.

The hidden owners set up offshore companies in Jersey, discovered by The Shift News. These companies drained management fees and commissions, prior to the takeover. Nine of the offshore companies were put into liquidation last May, suggesting that fees due (as listed in the hidden agreement) had been paid.

The Shift News also revealed that offshore companies held by VGH owners funded the €5 million takeover of Technoline and other suppliers of medical equipment. Before selling off the concession, the owners gave themselves exclusivity of supply on the purchasing of medical equipment for years to come.

The Shift News also found out that VGH, which had no ‘global’ experience in the medical sector, was using the concession in Malta as a selling point to other governments. These countries include Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania and others.

Take a look at the findings on the Vitals deal here.

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