Updated 6pm

Joseph Muscat came ready for a fight in his first interview after it was revealed that criminal charges have been filed against him this week. 

The former prime minister, along with his chief of staff Keith Schembri and former minister Konrad Mizzi are facing money laundering, corruption and bribery charges for their roles in overseeing a deal that privatised three state hospitals. A court found the deal to be “fraudulent” and it was annulled last year. 

But in a televised interview on F Living, Muscat came out swinging, telling presenter Karl Bonaci that, if he was actually guilty of what he is accused of he should “spend the rest of his life in jail”. 

“They made me out to be Totò Riina,” he said, referring to the notorious Italian mobster while repeating his assertion that the charges are “laughable” and that he sleeps soundly at night because he knows that “he is absolutely not involved” with the things he stands accused of. 

“The things they accused me of, I could spend up to 18 years in prison, but if it were true, if I took €30 million, I deserve to spend life in prison, I would deserve to stay there until I die and only leave until they carry me out in a coffin,” Muscat said. 

Muscat gave the interview a short while after a court ruled that he should be given access to parts of the magisterial inquiry that concerned him. He described that decision as a positive step that he had spent the past year pushing for. 

'I haven't felt this alive in a long time'

Not shying away from the spotlight, Muscat went on to say that despite the pressure, he is enjoying the increased attention this story has brought.   

“I haven’t felt this alive in a long time. I feel like a boxer who has hung up his gloves but is now close enough to smell the ring,” the former prime minister said. 

“I’m enjoying having more contact with people, I enjoy coming here and getting to speak and show things for what they are.” 

Muscat said that it was those who were responsible for the criminal charges that would pay the ultimate price.  

“When this story is over, me, the Labour Party and the country will come out stronger while those who came up with this fantastical story will be left broken in its wake,” Muscat continued.

Muscat emphasises €30m claim 

He also hammered home the claim that the inquiry alleges that he stole €30 million, repeating that figure throughout the interview.

“Once this case is over, people will turn against those who are trying to peddle the lie that Joseph Muscat made off with €30 million," he said.

Prosecutors have requested a €30 million freezing order on Muscat's assets and have filed similar freezing order requests for others facing prosecution.  

During a press conference last Monday, Prime Minister Robert Abela told a journalist that it would be "misinformation" to interpret that to mean that Muscat or any single person "took €30 million himself". 

Muscat, however, did just that, arguing that if you tallied up all the freezing orders that prosecutors have sought, they totalled €550 million.  

“Some genius thinks that they paid more in bribes than the entire deal was worth," he said. 

Muscat made it clear that he intends to spend years in litigation over the Vitals case. Those who had landed him before a criminal court would be made to pay, he said. 

"I'll sue the people who came up with this invention for the millions they wasted," he said. 

Justice Minister Jonathan Attard previously said that the magisterial inquiry cost €10 million, although the prime minister subsequently cited an €11 million figure. 

'I won't run, perhaps my critics will'

Taking a dig at rumours circulating that he planned to abscond from the country, Muscat said he would always return to Malta and had no intention of fleeing.

He could not say the same of those who had instigated the case, namely civil society group Repubblika, he implied.

“I hope that none of those people run away after they came up with this mess,” he said. 

Muscat said he was willing to engage in litigation to make them pay. 

“What I really want to see is an €11 million bill sent to the people who instigated this disaster and I mean it, I’m ready to go to court and open a case myself if it comes to that,” he continued. 

“If they truly find that I took this €30 million then they can take me out of prison in a coffin. But it is all made up and I will take all the steps necessary to make sure that whoever came up with it, at the very least has to pay back the €11 million taken from the taxpayer."

Muscat: Nothing wrong with protesting in my favour

During the interview, Muscat also addressed accusations that his criticism of Magistrate Gabriella Vella is piling on undue pressure on the judiciary.

Criticism is measured by a different yardstick when it comes from people in Labour’s camp, he said.  

“Why is it that when the PN or Repubblika speak out against the Attorney General or the police commissioner its freedom of speech, but when Joseph Muscat or Robert Abela say something it's attacking the judiciary,” he asked. 

Labour supporters “are not children of lesser gods”, he said, as he sought to reassure Labour supporters that demonstrating in his favour “not be instigating”. 

Muscat’s confidante and Labour firebrand Manuel Cuschieri has urged people to demonstrate outside the law courts when Muscat is arraigned. 

The former prime minister argued that his criticism of the magistrate - he has called her biased and said she has engaged in “political terrorism” - was fair comment. 

“If you criticise the Church it doesn’t mean you’re attacking God. Even priests who disagree with certain things and speak out, it doesn’t mean they’ve lost their faith.” 

'Government will end up paralysed'

He argued that his battle against the magistrate was of interest to all of Malta. The inquiry, he said, showed how a person could wake up one morning and discover they’ve been charged with crimes, without being given the opportunity to explain themselves. 

Prosecuting key former civil servants was also very dangerous, he said, citing the example of former Finance permanent secretary Alfred Camilleri. 

Camilleri - who worked under both PN and PL administrations and who Robert Abela described as “immensely correct” - is one of three permanent secretaries facing criminal charges. 

“One of my biggest fears is that a situation like this could end up paralysing the government,” Muscat said. 

“If people in the civil service can be held liable and have nobody hear them out, I can imagine them thinking ‘what am I even doing here?’” he said. 

“It could jam up the entire government and if the PN cannot see the problem they created, they are not seeing the gravity of the situation.”

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