Updated 6.31pm with details of the magistrate's decree
A magistrate has upheld a request for an inquiry into the controversial transfer of three public hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare.
The request was made by civil society group Repubblika in a 150-page application in May. The magistrate's decision is to be appealed by the government.
The NGO had requested the probe to establish if there was criminal complicity by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and Economy Minister Chris Cardona in the transfer of St Luke's, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals.
The activists in their application had described the ministers as key facilitators in the “coordinated” act of modern day “piracy”.
They questioned why the three ministers, who played differing roles in the deal, were so willing to give a “disproportionate” financial advantage to a company with no medical experience.
The activists accused Dr Cardona and Dr Mizzi of going through the motions of a public process based on impartiality and value for money to award the contract, while in reality being part of a criminal conspiracy with the winning bidder.
In a reaction to Thursday’s court decision, the three ministers said: "The ministers note that the Court of Magistrates did not pronounce itself on the merits of the case, and has not delved into the facts but only referred the allegations to an inquiring magistrate.
"The ministers contend that the allegations are speculative in nature and were made in bad faith by politically-motivated individuals.
"In terms of law, they therefore intend to make submissions to an appellate court for a revision of the magistrate’s decree."
A MAJOR VICTORY in the fight against corruption!— Simon Busuttil (@SimonBusuttil) July 18, 2019
THREE ministers under criminal investigation for the obscene transfer of THREE public hospitals behind our backs.
And @JosephMuscat_JM is too compromised to remove them, not even until they clear their name.https://t.co/OhBfyvEpFu
In her decree, Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit said the claim by the ministers that the allegations made by the application were based on conjectures made inmedia articles did not hold water in as far as her role was concerned. The allegations would be investigated by the inquiring magistrate in order to establish the truth. Were she to ignore everything that was said in the application and rely solely on what the ministers had said, she would be acting ultra vires as she would be taking the role of the inquiring magistrate.
The magistrate said she could not ignore the useful work of investigative journalists who had a crucial role in a democracy such as Malta's to ensure that there was vigilance on matters which were of public interest. The information gathered by them in a serious manner as part of their investigations should be given the importance it deserved.
Legal requirements for an inquiry satisfied
The legal requirements for the magisterial inquiry had been satisfied and thus the inquiry was to take place so as to preserve all “necessary and material evidence” for the purpose of determining criminal responsibility or otherwise.
The magistrate said that whoever denounced an alleged crime did not have a duty to supply the “material traces” thereo. His duty was to supply all information in his possession about the relevant facts. It was then for the Inquiring Magistrate to “collect, preserve and describe those traces.”
The facts detailed in Repubblika’s application and the number of documents annexed “lent more credibility” to the allegations which thus were to be investigated.
The application requesting the inquiry was signed by Jason Azzopardi.
Read the Magistrate's decree in full in pdf link below.