Updated 1.10pm

A court has dismissed a PN case challenging the State Advocate to recover funds defrauded in the now defunct hospitals' deal. 

Judge Toni Abela ruled that it would undermine democracy if State Advocate Christopher Soler acted independently to recoup €400 million allegedly defrauded through the deal.

The case was filed last year by opposition leader Bernard Grech and PN MP Adrian Delia.

The PN argued that after the courts declared the deal fraudulent, the State Advocate was obligated to act on his own to recover the funds, without waiting for government direction. 

However, Judge Abela disagreed, stating on Thursday that such action could undermine democracy and the rule of law "since every human being is susceptible to some hidden agenda".

Video: Matthew Mirabelli

Political reactions

Outside the court, Bernard Grech accused Prime Minister Robert Abela  of abandoning patients and vowed that the PN will continue to pressure the government to recover the funds.

"We did our utmost - as we felt obliged to do once everyone else had failed the Maltese people - to push the State Advocate, Attorney General and the Police Commissioner [to recoup the funds]," Grech said.

"The Maltese were robbed of millions of euros, some of which were used for frame-ups and bribery."

Grech added that the party would review the judgmenet in detail before deciding on its next steps. He also questioned whether the prime minister could open a case to recover the funds, suggestig he might be "too weak or compromised" to do so. 

Robert Abela gave a press conference at Castille after the ruling. Photo: Matthew MirabelliRobert Abela gave a press conference at Castille after the ruling. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Prime Minister's Response

Abela held a press conference at Castille, accusing Grech of perjury and describng the case as an intimidation tactic aimed at halting the government's work.

"The leader of the Opposition committed a criminal act,” Abela accused. Grech, he said, had persisted with a “slanderous lie” under oath. 

Abela said the case was a personal attack on himself, former health minister Chris Fearne, members of the cabinet and the civil service. 

He claimed the PN wanted to scare members of the civil service from doing their job as they could be sued even if they were acting in good faith. 

Justice Minister Jonathan Attard said the government was engaged in international arbitration to recover the funds from Steward Health Care, although he oculd not disclose specific amounts due to confidentiality. 

He said that the government's legal team, led by the State Advocate and including both local and international experts, was working diligently to recover as much as possible.

Robert Abela outside court on Thursday morning. Photo: Matthew MirabelliRobert Abela outside court on Thursday morning. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Allegations of perjury

Grech challenged the prime minister to take action if he genuinely believed perjury had been committed.

“The police commissioner takes your cue. If you really believe I lied under oath, take action and ask him to investigate me," Grech said during a news conference at PN headquarters.

Detailed judgment

Judge Abela clarified that the State Advocate, while independent and autonomous, was not legally bound to act on his own initiative. 

If that were so, “we would be approaching dangerous territory”, he said.

The court conducted an in-depth analysis of the constitutional role of the State Advocate, comparing it to similar offices in other jurisdictions.

When all was considered, the court observed that the State Advocate did not appear to have carte blanche to act upon his initiative. 

Court argued that no one holding public office was free of judicial discretion, thus ensuring that duties of office were performed according to law. The State Advocate - as an autonomous and independent office - was regulated by the Constitution alone, and there were specific instances when particular laws granted the State Advocate the power to act. 

The Opposition’s request for the court to order the State Advocate to act was “impossible”. 

“No one, including this court, can issue orders to the State Advocate. If it were to do so the court itself would be violating the Constitution.” 

Lawyer James D’Agostino represented the State Advocate. Lawyers Edward Debono and Nicholas Debono assisted the applicants. Lawyers Chris Cilia, Ian Borg and Maurizio Cordina assisted the government as intervenors in the case. 

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