Robert Abela has stopped short of ruling out allowing Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi or Chris Cardona back into the Labour Party. 

Each case had to be judged on its merits, the prime minister told Andrew Azzopardi, as he avoided a definitive answer. 

Abela was being pressed by Azzopardi, an academic and RTK 103 host, after saying that he saw no reason to “say no” to Joseph Muscat, should his predecessor wish to run as a Labour candidate in the upcoming MEP elections.

Muscat has said that he is considering a bid

Abela has in the past weeks also opened to both Justyne Caruana and Rosianne Cutajar returning to the party. Both those former Labour MPs, first elected under Muscat, were forced out following reports related to fake work they or people close to them were paid for. 

He told Azzopardi that there are “different considerations” to be made when it comes to Schembri, Mizzi and Cardona than Caruana and Cutajar. They had not shown interest in making a return to public life, while Cutajar and Caruana have, he said. 

“But say they had to ask you,” Azzopardi pressed Abela. 

“Every case has different considerations,” the prime minister replied. 

“So you wouldn’t exclude it?” Azzopardi asked again. 

“The considerations I made for Rosianne, for example, were specific. If the three people you mentioned called and said they wanted to come back, those considerations would be different,” Abela said. “Ultimately a decision first has to be made by the parliamentary group and then by the party executive.” 

Schembri, Mizzi and Cardona were forced to resign from their government positions in the wake of mass protests amid revelations in the murder investigation of Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

Schembri is currently facing criminal charges of fraud and money laundering, with a cloud of corruption still hanging around Mizzi and Cardona

Justyne Caruana ‘held back’ 

Weeks after name-dropping former Gozo minister Justyne Caruana as a “loss” to local politics, Abela hinted that her political comeback is being held back because the scandal that forced her 2021 resignation had "landed on the police's doorstep." 

Abela said Caruana had been "cruelly" referred to the police over the ethics breach that led to her resignation, and that "obscene" decision to recommend criminal investigation was now discouraging her from returning to politics.

A 2021 report by former Standards Commissioner George Hyzler recommended a criminal investigation after finding that Caruana had abused her power in awarding a €15,000 contract to her close friend Daniel Bogdanovic, who then lied about having done the work he was paid to do. 

Rosianne Cutajar has asked to return to Labour

The prime minister also revealed that Rosianne Cutajar has formally applied to be readmitted into Labour's parliamentary group. The request has yet to be discussed, he said. 

Abela forced Cutajar out of the party group less than a year ago, at the time saying she would not be allowed back. Since then, the National Audit Office has concluded that a taxpayer-funded consultancy job she took on in 2019 was fraudulent. 

The prime minister denied insinuations that he was seeking to reintegrate former party bigwigs, such as Muscat, in an attempt to endear himself to the Labour grassroots ahead of an election. 

“Every person has their shortcomings, I have mine as well. Those who project themselves to be perfect often find that they have the most imperfections,” Abela said.  “If you pay the price for your shortcomings, should that punishment last forever?” he said. 

Ex-prison boss Alex Dalli was ‘sometimes a bit extreme’ 

Azzopardi asked Abela whether he felt regret about the inordinate number of inmates who died by suicide when the prison was run by Alex Dalli. 

Defending Dalli’s regime, Abela said that he had inherited “an earthquake” at the Corradino Correctional Facility as it was overrun with drug use. However, he did admit that there were perhaps instances in which Dalli’s use of discipline in the prison went overboard. 

“It’s easy to judge someone in that position from behind a desk,” Abela said. 

“You forget the era in prison that was constantly marked by rioting. Alex Dalli was forced to use discipline to bring back balance.”

“I believe in some instances it may have been a bit extreme,” Abela continued. “But if someone is able to do their job perfectly on the first try, I would hand them a medal because I myself cannot achieve that. Alex Dalli did good work in the prison.”

Statistics show that suicides quadrupled in the prison under Dalli’s stewardship, with reports of Dalli urging officers to “teach fear” to inmates and a notorious “punishment chair” in which unruly inmates were strapped to and allegedly left in for hours at a time.

There are also reports of an "inhumane cage" being constructed in a prison cell that was built under Dalli's regime. 

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