Updated 3.20pm

A magisterial inquiry into Joseph Muscat and other ministers’ role in the Vitals deal to privatise three state hospitals has been concluded, a court heard on Tuesday.

Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg must now analyse the inquiry and the 78 boxes of evidence it involved, to decide whether or not to file criminal charges against people named in it.

Muscat, who has spent the past year battling the inquiry, described it as a personal “vendetta” and accused the magistrate leading it, Gabriella Vella, of waging war against himself and the Labour Party.

“The institutions are working – working against Labourites,” Muscat said in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. He said he had “no doubt” he would face criminal charges as a result of the probe, but said he had nothing to fear.

“If justice exists, I will be a free man and then receive compensation for damages suffered,” he says. “I know I did nothing wrong.” 

Watch Joseph Muscat's press  conference in full. Video: Karl Andrew Micallef

Abela: Inquiry conclusions should be published

Prime Minister Robert Abela also criticised the timing of the inquiry conclusions, which he said appeared to have been timed to damage the party’s campaign for the June 8 MEP elections.

Abela said he wanted the inquiry conclusions to be made public “for the sake of transparency" - a request made by NGO Repubblika, who triggered the probe in 2019, following Tuesday's court session. 

Opposition leader Bernard Grech said both Muscat and Abela were determined to block the wheels of justice from turning.

“They are attacking our country’s institutions, because they are working," Grech said in a video message. "Justice must be done whether you are the prime minister, an ex-prime minister or a regular citizen." 

The inquiry’s contents are secret and it is up to Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg to decide whether or not to publish the inquiry’s proces verbal, its conclusions or nothing at all. When Muscat faced another inquiry into alleged criminal behaviour, regarding Panama company Egrant, then-Attorney General Peter Grech had published most of that inquiry’s conclusions.

What is the inquiry about?

The Vitals inquiry began in 2019 and was tasked with assessing whether Muscat or his government’s ministers committed any crimes in relation to the hospitals deal.

Signed by Muscat’s government, that deal saw a newly-formed company, Vitals Global Healthcare, handed a multi-million contract to run three state hospitals. Vitals subsequently sold the concession to US healthcare giant Steward.

But in 2023, a court annulled the deal, saying it was tainted by fraud and that the concessionaires had not fulfilled their contractual obligations. A court of appeal went further, saying it appeared top government officials had colluded against the national interest.

In parallel to that civil case, a magistrate was investigating the role that Muscat and his ministers played in approving the deal. The probe was triggered by a legal request by NGO Repubblika, which initially named ministers Konrad Mizzi, Chris Cardona and Edward Scicluna in its legal request for investigation.

That probe was subsequently broadened, and in January 2022 police raided Muscat’s home and office, seizing documents and devices as part of the probe.

One year later, Times of Malta revealed that Muscat had received tens of thousands of euro from a company linked to Vitals and Steward. He says the money was for consultancy work he did for them, unrelated to the hospitals deal.

Battle to remove magistrate

But after that report, Muscat began a year-long legal battle to have the magistrate leading the inquiry taken off the case. He has said that Vella’s relatives posted comments critical of him on Facebook, and that various leaks related to the inquiry meant he could not trust the magistrate leading it.  

When his first legal bid to have Vella recused failed, his lawyers filed a second one.

On Tuesday, a court hearing that case was told that the inquiry was concluded on Thursday, April 24 and sent to the attorney general’s office the next day.

The timing coincided with the opening of nominations for candidates to contest June’s MEP elections. Both Muscat and Abela pounced on that and said it was no coincidence.

“It’s a totally vitiated process,” Muscat said at a press conference. But when asked to state why he believes the magistrate has a conflict of interest, Muscat demurred.

“Ask her, not me,” he said.

The former prime minister also said he now regretted having sacked his then-deputy leader Anġlu Farrugia in late 2012, after he made similar criticism of a different magistrate.

“I probably moved too fast,” Muscat said. “I now understand where Anġlu was coming from.” 

Mark Laurence Zammit from outside court. Video: Matthew Mirabelli


As it happened

Live blog ends

3.20pm We've got a summary of the day's events at the top of this article. That's all for this live blog. Thank you for having joined us. 


What’s Muscat’s problem with the magistrate?  

2.35pm Muscat is asked to spell out why Magistrate Gabriella Vella has a conflict of interest in this case. 

“You should ask her,” he says, curtly. “I wouldn’t even recognise her if she was seated here right now.” 

He says that while he disagreed with the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry’s conclusions, “I respected them.”

“In this case, it’s a totally vitiated process,” he says.


Muscat: 'If justice exists, I will be a free man' 

2.28pm Muscat is asked if he fears ending up behind bars.

“If justice exists, I will be a free man and then receive compensation for damages suffered,” he says. “I know I did nothing wrong.” 

The press conference is ongoing.


Muscat: 'I now understand Anġlu Farrugia'

2.20pm Back in 2012, when he was still Opposition leader, Muscat had sacked his deputy leader Anġlu Farrugia after he called a magistrate partisan. Now he’s the one attacking the judiciary. 

Muscat says he regrets that decision. “I probably moved too fast,” he says in reply to a question. “I now understand where Anġlu was coming from.” 


Muscat: 'I have no doubt I will be charged'

2.15pm Muscat says he has “no doubt” he will be criminally charged, because people who leaked information about the inquiry have said so. 

“I have no doubt it will happen. We’re braced for it, but we’re coming out fighting.” 

The press conference is ongoing. 

Muscat says he is sure he will be charged. Video: Matthew Mirabelli


Muscat: 'Institutions are working - against Labourites'

2.09pm In a press conference at the Hotel Excelsior, Muscat repeated his arguments about the inquiry being politically motivated. 

He noted that his house was raided by police a few months before the general election and that the inquiry was now concluded weeks before the MEP elections. 

“Just as the Egrant inquiry exonerated me completely, the same will happen here. I know what I did and didn’t do,” Muscat said.  "Me and my family are at peace." 

The press conference is ongoing. 


Live: Joseph Muscat press conference

2pm Joseph Muscat is speaking at a press conference. Watch it live in the video below. 


Robert Abela wants inquiry conclusions published

1.55pm In comments to reporters after a cabinet meeting, Robert Abela said that he would like the conclusions of the Vitals inquiry to be made public "for the sake of transparency."

"I believe that the document should be availble for public consumption," Abela said. 

By law, it is the attorney general [Victoria Buttigieg] who is empowered to make that call. 

There is precedent for the AG’s office doing so: in 2018, the AG had published conclusions [albeit not all of them] of the Egrant inquiry, which also involved Joseph Muscat. 


Azzopardi: 'Inquiry conclusions are unprecedented'

1.50pm  In a Facebook post, lawyer Jason Azzopardi claims his sources within the Office of the Prime Minister tell him the inquiry conclusions are "unprecedented".

"No wonder they were terrified... they're going to need a bigger hall than the one of Palermo in its process against the Mafia in 1986. Our courts are too small," he wrote.


Grech: 'They are trying to stop justice' 

1.45pm In a brief statement, Bernard Grech slammed Abela for lashing out at the magistrate responsible for the inquiry. 

"They are attacking our country’s institutions, because they are working," Grech said. "Abela and Muscat first did everything to stop us from taking our hospitals back, and now they are doing all they can to stop those responsible for this theft from paying the price.

"Justice must be done if you are the prime minister, an ex prime minister or a regular citizen." 


Bernard Grech speaks 

1.35pm PN leader Bernard Grech will soon give a statement about today's developments. Watch it live in the video below. 


Repubblika: 'Publish inquiry conclusions'

1.10pm Repubblika wants the inquiry conclusions to be made public. Aquilina emphasises that they are asking for the conclusions, not the entire inquiry, to be published. 

“If crimes were committed, every single Maltese citizen was a victim,” he says. “We will not allow the attorney general and police to act as obscenely as they did in the Pilatus case,” he adds. 

That is a reference to another inquiry which recommended criminal charges against several Pilatus Bank officials. The AG and police opted to press charges against just one, then tried to have that case heard in secret. 


Repubblika press conference

1.05pm Repubblika's Robert Aquilina is speaking to reporters outside court. Watch it live in the video below. 


Muscat press conference at 2pm

1pm Joseph Muscat did not answer questions as he exited court. Instead, he told reporters that he will be holding a press conference at 2pm at the Excelsior Hotel. 

Muscat exits court. Next to him is his lawyer Charlon Gouder. Photo: Matthew MirabelliMuscat exits court. Next to him is his lawyer Charlon Gouder. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli


Case adjourned to May 9 

12.50pm After more than an hour of legal arguments, the judge calls time on the hearing. He minutes all the arguments presented by each side, and adjourns the case to May 9 at 1pm. 

We expect Muscat to make a statement of some sort once he exits court. 


Muscat's bid to turn back clock 

12.30pm Muscat’s lawyers make it clear: they're pushing ahead with their bid to have the inquiring magistrate recused. 

"Now that the inquiry is wrapped up, do we simply say 'what’s done is done' and ignore the applicant’s breach of rights?," Galea asks somewhat rhetorically. 

“God forbid if we reach a situation where the State breaches a person’s rights and is allowed to proceed…. The court can revert back to any prior stage when the rights were not yet breached,” Galea tells the court.


Jason Micallef: 'I stand with Joseph Muscat'

12.24pm Labour acolyte Jason Micallef says the news that emerges from court today proves that Robert Abela was right to say the inquiry is politically motivated. 

"Four-and-a-half years to conclude an inquiry, and it's concluded just as an electoral campaign gets underway," the former PL general secretary writes. "I stand with Joseph Muscat." 


What each side is arguing

12.10pm 

The lawyers are still wrangling, but here’s the gist of each respective position.

Muscat’s lawyers: The AG has a document that is of great interest and relevance to our client. He has a right to see it, as caselaw proves. He needs to see it before arguing his case for the interim measure. How can we rebut arguments if we do not have their source? 

State advocate lawyer:To get what he wants, Muscat wants the court to order the AG to break the law. The law is the law, and that means Muscat must file his request once the paperwork is deposited in the court registry. The AG has 78 boxes of evidence to sift through. That will take time. The caselaw cited by Muscat’s lawyers is not relevant to this case. 

There’s also another point being made by the state advocate’s lawyer: he wants to know if Muscat is still asking for the inquiry to be brought to a halt, given that the proces verbal has been concluded. 


Lawyers argue over inquiry 

11.54am Back in court, lawyers from each side are arguing over whether or not Muscat is entitled to request a copy of the inquiry. 

We won't bore you with all the legal arguments they're making, though we will summarise each side's position once they are done. 


Repubblika: 'An important step'

11.45am Reactions are already trickling in. 

Repubblika's honorary president Robert Aquilina describes news of the inquiry having been concluded as a "very important step towards justice."

Aquilina is in court today. Reminder: it was Repubblika's court action that led to the inquiry in the first place. 


Muscat takes notes 

11.43am As events unfold in court, Muscat sits with his arms crossed, occasionally taking notes on a paper that he keeps in his pocket. 


78 boxes of evidence 

11.40am A couple of more details about the inquiry: it involved 78 boxes of evidence and investigations were led by police inspector Wayne Borg. 

Muscat's lawyers formally ask the Attorney General to present a copy of the inquiry - its proces verbal, to use legal jargon. The State Advocate objects, saying this is not the right forum to file that request. 


Vitals inquiry has been concluded

11.38am The Vitals inquiry is finished: it was concluded on Thursday, April 24 and sent to the attorney general’s office on April 25, court registrar Franklin Calleja tells the court. 


Has Muscat asked court to suspend inquiry? 

11.35am Judge Giovanni Grixti tells the court that after filing his court case, Muscat also filed another application for an interim measure. Today’s hearing will focus on that request, the judge says. 

An interim measure is an urgent application asking the courts to suspend an action which the applicant says will cause them serious and irreversible harm. 

We still don’t know what action Muscat has asked to suspend, though an educated guess would be that he wants the courts to suspend the Vitals inquiry altogether until these proceedings play out. 


Muscat, AG in court 

11.30am Muscat is in court, represented by his lawyers Charlon Gouder and Vincent Galea. 

State Advocate lawyers James D’Agostino and Isaac Zammit are representing the respondents.

Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg is in court, too. 


Muscat: 'It's all a vendetta'

11.20am We caught Muscat as he walked into court. Here's what he told us:

"I am afraid of no truth. The truth is that this is all conjecture, a vendetta. As the prime minister said, it's political terrorism."

Joseph Muscat enters court. Video: Matthew Mirabelli


How was the PM's criticism received? 

11.15am The judiciary does not have a communications arm and judges and magistrates are not authorised to speak to the press. So we do not know how Robert Abela's words were received. 

Lawyers, however, have no such restrictions. And the Chamber of Advocates did not hold back. 

It reminded Abela that he is the prime minister, not just the leader of the Labour Party.  

“Therefore, he is obliged to weigh his words carefully without undermining the judiciary and its work. The judiciary should be left to work in liberty without interference,” the chamber said. 

The Nationalist Party said Abela was racked by "paranoia" and lashing out at the judiciary as a result. 

Nationalist MEP David Casa has also written to European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova and to the Council of Europe, to complain about Abela attacking the judiciary.

"Malta’s institutions have been intentionally subverted, hijacked and sabotaged so as to ensure impunity for those who abused their power to enrich themselves. It is the judiciary that is the last bastion of democracy, protecting the people of Malta and Gozo and filling the void left by other authorities. Any action or pressure intended to derail their work must necessarily be met with harsh repercussions," Casa said in a statement.


How has Robert Abela reacted? 

11am For years, Abela avoided commenting on the ongoing Vitals inquiry. Whenever he was asked about it, he would say that he did not want to influence the investigation with his comments. 

That all changed last January, when the prime minister abruptly changed tack. The inquiry was taking too long, he said, adding that it would smack of political bias if it were to be concluded in the run-up to the MEP elections. 

Abela criticising the inquiry in January 2024.

Last Sunday, Abela returned to that point by saying the judiciary was engaging in "political terrorism" - a reference to rumours that the completed inquiry was handed to the attorney general on the same day nominations for MEP candidates opened. 

On Monday, the prime minister doubled down on those comments. 


What is this all about? 

10.50am Joseph Muscat was prime minister when the government agreed to lease three public hospitals to a company with no track record in anything, Vitals Global Healthcare.

Vitals pocketed millions and then exited, selling the concession to US healthcare giants Steward. Years later, a court would annul all those contracts on the basis of fraud.

Suspicions about the deal prompted rule of law NGO Repubblika to request an inquiry into ministers involved in it.

In late 2019, a court said there were grounds to investigate. The investigation initially focused on three of Muscat's ministers - Konrad Mizzi, Chris Cardona and Edward Scicluna - but was subsequently broadened to include Muscat himself. 

In January 2022, police raided Muscat's home and office in connection with the inquiry. 

We then heard little about the probe until May 2023.

That month, a Times of Malta investigation revealed how Muscat had received payments from a company linked to Vitals and Steward. Muscat said the payments were for legitimate work he did - and that he wanted a new magistrate to lead the investigation. 

He has since spent the past year fighting in court to have Magistrate Vella removed. When he lost one case seeking her recusal, he promptly filed a new one. 

Which brings us to Tuesday, when that second case will start being heard before Judge Giovanni Grixti.  

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