On rights and abuse

In a video posted online on Saturday, Mario Portelli said he spoke from a confined solitary room at Mount Carmel hospital showing he was once again “arrested and placed in a cell” after stating that Egrant, the third company revealed in the Panama Papers, belonged to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

“I have been arrested and placed in a cell at Mount Carmel hospital because I wrote to (Prime Minister) Joseph Muscat telling him that he has until 8 September to say all he knows about Egrant,” he said in the video, accusing the Prime Minister of ordering his arrest “to silence him”.

This is not the first time that Portelli has been locked up at the mental health hospital following public statements saying he knew the company belonged to the Prime Minister. Six months ago, he was dragged away from his home in the presence of his father, who he has accused of working with Muscat to silence him. This followed another arrest in January on another video post that also landed him at Mount Carmel.

Last Saturday’s video went viral, yet the silence is deafening. Concerns go beyond the validity or veracity of what Portelli is saying on Egrant. The question is whether his rights are being abused because of what he is saying.

It was only the Democratic Party (PD) that took a stand, calling on the Commissioner for Mental Health to safeguard Portelli’s rights. MPs Marlene Farrugia and Godfrey Farrugia had visited him at Mount Carmel when he was last arrested.

“(Mario) Portelli is even more vulnerable as his claims go against the establishment and directly confront the Prime Minister’s doings. His recent published video-clip on facebook  from a confined single room in Mount Carmel Hospital speaks volumes,” PD said in a statement on Sunday.

In February, following Portelli’s arrest linked to a similar social media post, the Commissioner said he would be investigating his case. The following month, he said the investigation was still ongoing. It is unclear whether it has been concluded, as Health Minister Chris Fearne immediately ruled out any findings being published.

“I am locked in here, a hospital where people are regularly found dead and no questions are asked,” Portelli adds.

He states he has evidence to back his claim. If what Portelli is saying is unfounded, then the evidence can simply be disputed. If those accusations are baseless, then the Prime Minister and anyone else around him have the option of resorting to defamation cases.

Those at the highest levels of government have shown their willingness to use these tools – the Prime Minister himself is pursuing a defamation case against journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia almost two years after her assassination.

Portelli refers to Caruana Galizia in the video, saying the government was treating him in this way to avoid taking legal action as they did with the journalist. “Then, they killed her.”

Caruana Galizia had reported that Egrant belonged to the Prime Minister’s wife, Michelle Muscat. A magisterial inquiry, defined by the terms set by the Prime Minister’s lawyers, was concluded. A media blitz by the government followed, reinforcing the government’s assertion that it exonerated the Prime Minister and his wife.

The findings were never published, apart from parts of the conclusion that said no evidence could be found to confirm the link. The journalist who exposed the story had already been assassinated on 16 October 2017.

“If this is my last message to you, you will understand that citizens in this country are in a situation where anyone who speaks out faces all the tools of the State used against him to silence him. You know what happened to Daphne,” he says.

“And in a country of (around) 400,000 people we can’t find the culprit,” he adds in a sarcastic tone.

He describes the situation in Malta as a “democratic disaster” where politicians can say whatever they like while citizens are targeted. He refers to threats by Economy Minister Chris Cardona saying in a speech in 2016, “we will take an axe to those who knife us.” He also refers to former Labour Party Leader, now MEP, Alfred Sant’s warning  of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”.

“They were not arrested for these threats. Yet because my deadline of 8 September was perceived as a threat, you arrested me,” he says addressing the Prime Minister.

“I removed the post but it wasn’t enough,” he adds, indicating he had received orders to do so.

His voice breaks towards the end of the video as he makes an appeal to the public: “This is a desperate situation. One where you allow someone who speaks for to you to be killed, journalists can be killed, and where someone can be locked up in a mental institution to be silenced.”

Attempts to reach Portelli on his mobile phone failed. It is not clear whether he is still in possession of his phone.


Who is Mario Portelli?

Portelli was the chief witness in the trial against former police inspector-turned-lawyer David Gatt, a friend of Economy Minister Chris Cardona and the subject of another of Portelli’s videos who he accused of being linked to the journalist’s assassination. Cardona has denied the claims.

Gatt was accused of being involved in the failed heist of HSBC’s operations centre in Qormi, the theft of more than €1 million from a bank in Balzan in 2007, an attempted robbery of a jewellery shop in Attard and another failed attempt to break into a security van carrying close to €3 million in cash in 2010.

Gatt was cleared of his involvement in the HSBC heists based on the discrediting of Portelli as the main witness by Gatt’s lawyer on “mental health grounds”.

It emerged in the compilation of evidence against the three suspects involved in the assassination of Caruana Galizia that Gatt knew them and that he was often seen at what is known at the potato shed in Marsa – their hangout and the place the police knew they would be at when they arrested the three suspected of planting the bomb.

In January, Portelli had posted a video saying he had evidence of a link between Gatt, the Economy Minister and the assassination of Caruana Galizia. Then, too, he was committed to a mental health hospital in circumstances again where doubts remain on whether proper procedures were followed or whether it was an abuse of power.


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