Updated 6pm

Malta's former prime minister Joseph Muscat, his chief-of-staff Keith Schembri, ex-minister Konrad Mizzi, and 19 other individuals and companies will be charged with money laundering, corruption, bribery and a host of other serious crimes, Times of Malta can confirm.

It is the first time in Maltese political history that a former prime minister will be made to answer for criminal charges in court. 

The charges revolve around a deal to privatise three state hospitals that was negotiated and managed by Muscat's government. That deal was annulled by a court last year. 

Muscat, Mizzi and Schembri stand accused of money laundering, bribery, trading in influence and a long list of other charges, including setting up a criminal association.

If found guilty, the trio face jail sentences of up to 18 years and fines of up to €2.5 million. 

Prosecutors allege that they received bribes from David Meli, a lawyer who represented hospitals concessionaires Steward Health Care and who is also among those charged. 

Brian Tonna and Karl Cini of Nexia BT are alleged to have helped Muscat, Mizzi and Schembri commit those crimes. 

Schembri is separately charged with having sought personal advantages that he was not entitled to, and of having made unlawful or excessive claims. 

Emails produced by Steward in their appeal last year revealed how the former OPM chief of staff played a key, albeit hidden, role in the negotiation process.

That role is further confirmed by criminal charges filed against him, which allege Schembri took a private interest in an adjudication or contract, resulting in fraud to the detriment of government. 

Prosecutors from the Attorney General's office have filed criminal charges against him in both in his personal capacity as well as a representative of three companies: Kasco Engineering, FSV Ltd and Sciacca Grill.   

Sciacca Grill owner Noel Zammit told Times of Malta that Schembri has nothing to do with his business.  

Who are the others facing major charges?

Other figures facing charges for major crimes include Steward's auditor Christopher Spiteri, its IT manager Clarence John Conger-Thompson, lawyer Jonathan Vella, medical equipment supplier Ivan Vassallo and his business partner Mario Victor Gatt, businessman Pierre Sladden, former Progress Press director Adrian Hillman and Mtrace Ltd CEO Brian Bondin.

Spiteri served as auditor for Vitals Global Healthcare, the company which was originally awarded the lucrative hospitals deal. Prosecutors allege that he filed false declarations and took false oaths, divulged confidential material and under-declared income made by Vitals investors such as Shaukat Ali Chaudary and others.  

Vella represented Vitals' parent company Bluestone Investments and is also accused of having formed part of a criminal association, making false declarations and use of false documents, among other things. 

Vassallo faces multiple, similar charges in both a personal capacity and as a representative of Technoline, Eurabytes Ltd and Gateway Solutions Ltd. The same goes for his business partner Gatt. 

Sladden and Hillman face charges in their personal capacities, while Bondin faces charges in both his personal capacity and as Mtrace director. 

Muscat: I will destroy these charges

Muscat quickly reacted to details of the criminal charges. 

"If they weren't so serious, they'd be funny," he said of the charges. "I am going to relish destroying each and every one of these charges and proving how they are built on fantasy and lies."

Joseph Muscat reacts.Joseph Muscat reacts.

Muscat said the criminal charges alleged that he "took €30 million."

That is a reference to a section of the legal document, related to prosecutors' asset freezing requests, which lists a monetary sum alongside the name of each accused person. 

Prosecutors requested a freezing order of €30 million against Muscat, Schembri, Mizzi and four others - Spiteri, Vella, Hillman and Sladden. That is the maximum amount that will be frozen for each of those cited, and does not necessarily reflect the amount of assets identified for each of them. 

On Monday, Prime Minister Robert Abela shot down suggestions that Muscat or any other individual had pocketed €30 million through the fraud.

The single-largest freezing order targets Steward lawyer Meli and is of €32 million. 

Other freezing orders have been filed against Tonna and Cini (€20 million),  Bondin, (€12 million), Vassallo (€11 million), Gatt (€7 million) and Conger-Thompson (€1 million). 

Prosecutors have also filed charges against a number of companies owned by individuals cited for criminal prosecution.

They include Kasco Engineering, FSV Ltd, Sciacca Grill Ltd, Mtrace Ltd, Technoline Ltd, Eurybates Ltd, Nexia BT, Gateway Solutions and Taomac Ltd. 

Fearne, Scicluna to face fraud charges

While the group of 23 stand accused of major crimes, they are not the only ones to stand accused of criminal acts in relation to the hospitals deal. 

A second group of indictees will see deputy prime minister Chris Fearne, Central Bank governor (and former minister) Edward Scicluna and a host of former government permanent secretaries and lawyers face charges of fraud. 

Chris Fearne and Edward Scicluna.Chris Fearne and Edward Scicluna.

That group includes top civil servants Alfred Camilleri, Joseph Rapa and Ronald Mizzi, as well as lawyers who represented the government, Steward and Vitals. 

Camilleri was the finance ministry's permanent secretary for over a decade. Rapa fulfilled that role within the health ministry while Mizzi was the top civil servant under Konrad Mizzi. 

Magistrate Rachel Montebello assigned cases

Times of Malta can also confirm that Magistrate Rachel Montebello has been assigned to preside over their cases.

Montebello, who specialises in money laundering cases, was assigned the high-profile cases on Tuesday morning and is expected to set arraignment dates and notify the people facing charges later this week.

Criminal charges were filed in court on Monday afternoon and leaked on Tuesday. 

Muscat, who will be defended in the case by a legal team made up of Vincent Galea, Charlon Gouder, Ishmael Psaila and Etienne Borg Ferranti, has described the charges as a "personal vendetta" and an "abomination". 

Mizzi and Schembri have not commented on the case. They are both expected to be represented by lawyers Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo. 

The criminal charges are based on the findings of a magisterial inquiry that was concluded late last month. 

That inquiry remains secret and it is therefore still unclear on what basis each of the respective charges has been filed. 

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