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Ministers’ ‘abusive language’ against journalists in Malta reported as threat

The “abusive language in regard of The Shift News” used by Ministers Edward Scicluna, Chris Cardona, and Konrad Mizzi, in their response filed to the request for a magisterial inquiry on the Vitals Global Healthcare deal, led to an incident report on Malta on Mapping Media Freedom.

The project logs threats against journalists across Europe. It is run by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom and funded by the European Commission.

The database lists four threats against The Shift News in only one year: on cyberattacks, threats of SLAPP lawsuits, and even an attempt by the Speaker of the House Anglu Farrugia to get the news portal to alter the content of reports.

The most recent threat registered refers to the response filed in court by the three Ministers to the request for a magisterial inquiry into the Vitals Global Healthcare deal.

The report states that the three Ministers attempted to “dismiss the scandal on the basis of ‘hate’, ‘mediocrity’, and ‘agendas’”.

It goes on to state that Mizzi is “deeply implicated in alleged financial crime and is mentioned in the Panama Papers” and that Cardona “took a false oath in court” in the case that froze the assets of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Finance Minister Scicluna “has not taken any action in relation to either one of his Cabinet colleagues,” the report states.

The Shift News investigated and reported extensively on the “suspect deal” revealing hidden investors, secret agreements and offshore companies, and the fact that Vitals Global Healthcare sold a concession on three of Malta’S public hospitals worth €70 million per year for only €1.

The Shift News also revealed evidence suggesting the hidden investors used taxpayer money to fund the take over of Technoline and other suppliers. They then they gave themselves exclusive contracts to supply the hospitals, ensuring revenue from the concession for years to come despite abandoning their commitment.

They were pitching their services to other European countries even as they were seeking a bail out in Malta, this news portal also revealed.

Read: Setting the record straight

The evidence published by The Shift News and other independent media led the Special Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to refer to the deal negotiated by Mizzi, and signed off by Cardona and Scicluna, as an “inadvisable, underhand deal”.

Last May, NGO Repubblika filed a request for a magisterial inquiry into whether the Ministers were involved in criminal complicity in the Vitals Global Healthcare deal. The request also refers to Ivan Vassallo, a former salesman at Technoline with a handy €5 million to buy out his boss.

The Ministers’ efforts to undermine the evidence by discrediting The Shift News in their response did not sway Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit, who ruled there were sufficient grounds for an inquiry to preserve and collect evidence on possible criminal behaviour:

“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 Shift News published documentary evidence to back up the extensive revelations on the scandal, the bulk being court documents easily verified.

All three ministers have filed an application to revoke the decree. But Vassallo did not, which means the magistrate’s ruling for an inquiry is applicable to him. Yet, two weeks later, the case has not been assigned.

Repubblika filed a judicial protest on Friday demanding answers, saying in a statement the delay was “unheard of, illegal and abusive”.

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