Prosecutors filed criminal charges against Malta’s former prime minister Joseph Muscat and others on Monday, as Prime Minister Robert Abela emphasised that everyone implicated is innocent until proven guilty. 

Abela said he was aware that criminal charges had been filed in court in connection with an inquiry into a deal to privatise three state hospitals, and questioned the way Muscat and other suspects had been treated. 

He shot down talk of calling a general election, saying that was what the "establishment" wanted. The prime minister also said it was too early to consider the resignations of Chris Fearne, Edward Scicluna or other public officials implicated by the probe. 

In a frenzied political afternoon, Nationalist MPs marched out of parliament and Muscat came out swinging, saying it was an "abomination" that investigators had not questioned him before pressing charges. 

Those who did that, and those who did nothing to stop it, would be judged harshly by the people and history, Muscat said.    

And meanwhile, thousands of kilometres away, Steward Health Care - the company that took over the hospitals deal from original concessionaires Vitals Global Healthcare - filed for bankruptcy in the US. 

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Live blog ends

7.45pm It's been short but intense, and now it must end. We'll be wrapping up this live blog here, though of course many questions remain unanswered. What, specifically, are Muscat and others charged with? When will they appear in court? What did the inquiry find? 

We'll be working to answer those questions, and many more, in the days and weeks to come. 

In the meantime, here's our coverage of today's key events: 

Manuel Cuschieri rallies Labour supporters

7.35pm Meanwhile, Labour firebrand Manuel Cuschieri has once again come out in full defence of Muscat, echoing Jason Micallef’s view that this "lie" is even bigger than the one about (secret company) Egrant.

But Cuschieri went one further: he wants Muscat supporters to physically gather outside court in support when the former prime minister and others are called to court. "We need to unite to show what we really mean... We need to protest against this political vendetta."

Grech: It's a 'deal with the devil'

7.32pm Bernard Grech described the Vitals deal as a “deal with the devil” and said Robert Abela appears enslaved to it. 

He warned Abela: “if you want to remain gripped to Muscat, if you continue attacking the judiciary, attacking 20 student organisations, attacking journalists posing questions and the Maltese people, it means you are so weak you are choosing a pact with the devil, and money, over the health of the Maltese and democracy”.

“Let go of Muscat and for once choose the national good.”

The PN leader said the longer the inquiry is withheld from the public the more damage to the country. 

Grech said Abela was a slave to the crimes of the past, as millions were stolen from the Maltese. 

Delia tells Abela: 'I'll tell you who the establishment is'

7.11pm In his press conference, Abela told reporters they should “ask Adrian Delia” who the “establishment” is. 

Delia was PN leader for three turbulent years during which the party was racked by infighting. 

Speaking in Żebbuġ, Delia pushed back against the PM’s suggestion. “I’ll tell you who the establishment was in the past 10 years: Muscat, Schembri, Cardona, Scicluna, Fearne, Abela and the Muscat cabinet were the establishment,” he said. 

Jason Micallef: This is twice as bad as Egrant 

7.05pm Jason Micallef, who chairs Labour media arm ONE and also leads the Valletta Cultural Agency and Ta’ Qali National Park, says Muscat is facing a “vendetta” that’s “twice as bad as the Egrant lie”. 

The same people who fuelled those claims are at it again, Micallef says, and just as the Egrant claims ended up in nothing, the same will happen here too. 

“The way this lie was presented, the way inquiry conclusions were leaked on social media, the way the inquiry was timed, make this lie twice as bad as Egrant,” he says. 

PN: Adrian Delia addresses rally 

6.56pm PN MP and former party leader Adrian Delia is addressing a PN rally in Żebbuġ. It was Delia who filed the civil suit that led to the hospitals deal being struck off by a court.  

We expect party leader Bernard Grech to speak at the event, too. 

Watch it in the video below.

Casa: 'Everyone's the establishment, bar the criminals'

6.55pm PN MEP David Casa takes a dig at the prime minister's rhetoric about the 'establishment': 

"According to the PM, the establishment is me, Roberta Metsola, the opposition, the independent journalists, the church, civil society, the judiciary, the students... Everyone's the establishment, bar the criminals. This prime minister has lost it and he's dangerous."

An incitement to violence? 

6.43pm Academic and political commentator George Vital Zammit believes Muscat's post earlier this afternoon is an incitement to violence.

In a Facebook post, Zammit said Abela has a duty to ensure law and order, or else the incitement is going to boil over, just as it did when Donald Trump's supporters broke into the Capitol.

We made a similar point in an editorial last Sunday, Vital Zammit notes. 

Abela's shifting critique

6.32pm When it became known that the magisterial inquiry was concluded, Abela focused his criticism on its timing. The magistrate, he said, intentionally sent it to the attorney general right at the time when nominations for MEP candidates opened. 

Abela is still making that argument, but in the past days - and this afternoon - the bulk of his criticism has focused on more specific points. 

He suggested that some of those prosecuted are not really cited in the bulk of the inquiry, and said the only crime of others seems to have been the fact that they worked under Labour. 

Court experts were paid too much, he has argued. Those prosecuted were not given the chance to testify. And, Abela says, voters will make up their minds about how the inquiry was carried out once they've seen it. 

It's an interesting shift in tone and focus. 

Abela's press conference concludes

6.25pm Prime Minister Robert Abela has concluded a press conference. 

In a nutshell, Abela: 

  • Confirmed criminal charges have been filed against people cited in the magisterial inquiry;
  • Insisted he does not have a copy of the inquiry; 
  • Said it is too soon to discuss resignations of officials like Chris Fearne or Edward Scicluna;
  • Emphasised that those charged are innocent until proven guilty;
  • Poked several, rather specific holes in the inquiry, despite saying he has not read it;
  • Said he expects legal challenges to the inquiry and the way it was carried out; 
  • Shot down suggestions that Muscat has had €30m worth of assets frozen.

If you missed the event and have 90 minutes to spare, you can watch it in the video right below. 

Metsola: Don’t let partisanship bring the country down

6.17pm The judiciary must be able to do their work without being targeted, intimidated and threatened as the Prime Minister has done, European Parliament president Roberta Metsola said in a social media post.

In a choice between protecting his partisan interests and safeguarding the reputation and stability of the country, the Prime Minister must learn to put the country first, Metsola said.

“This is not a time of tribalism, of false divisions or petty partisanship. Neither is it the time for triumphalism. Now is the time of sober, calm, leadership. Now is the time for justice. It is time for a prime minister to carry the responsibility of his post and not allow his blind panic to drag the country down with him.”

Abela: Muscat being treated as guilty 

6.15pm Abela sacked Konrad Mizzi before he was found guilty by a criminal court, a journalist notes. Why adopt a different line now, he is asked. 

Abela doesn’t reply, and instead says the media is treating Muscat as guilty before he has been heard. 

He then takes a swipe at the magisterial inquiry’s €11m cost. Was that expense justified, he asks, or did foreign court experts take the country for a ride? 

A few days ago, the justice minister says the probe cost €10 million.

Abela shuts down talk of resigning

6.05pm Abela shoots down suggestions that he will call a general election. He tells the reporter who asked the question that he was encouraged to ask the question by “the establishment”.

“It has its tentacles everywhere in the country and uses its methods to get its way. Come June 8, the people have to decide if they want the establishment in Europe.”

Abela: Let's not peddle disinformation

6pm Robert Abela shoots down talk of Joseph Muscat having had €30 million in assets frozen. 

“If an attachment order involving dozens of people leads to €30m being frozen, it does not mean that they each got that amount. Some might have pocketed nothing at all. Let’s not peddle disinformation,” he says.

Abela links fallout to June 8 

5.58pm Abela makes a pitch to voters, saying their June 8 vote will be a vote in favour or against this magisterial inquiry.

Voters will need to decide if the timing of the inquiry was a coincidence, and how the inquiry treated each of the individuals cited. 

“They will need to decide if the decisions made were draconian and against people who were loyal to the state,” he says. 

PN MPs march out of parliament

5.54pm Abela is still speaking.

Meanwhile, Parliament is back underway after a 45-minute delay for the speaker to think about Grech’s request for the House to discuss the need to publish the magisterial inquiry.

The speaker disagrees. 

Any discussion about the matter in parliament could prejudice criminal proceedings, Anglu Farrugia says, quoting from a similar ruling that he gave back in June 2020 about a motion at the time of the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry.

“You haven’t understood my request at all,” Grech says. “I don’t want to discuss the content of the inquiry, I want to discuss the people’s right to have access to it”.

With that, Grech and his fellow PN MPs walked out of parliament, boycotting the session.

Abela: ‘I will not be suspending anyone today’

5.51pm Abela reiterates that nobody facing criminal charges and in public office will be suspended at this stage.

“I will need to read the entire proces verbal [inquiry] before making that call,” he says.

Abela: 'I do not have a copy of inquiry'

5.46pm Abela’s is asked – twice, by two separate journalists -  if he has read the inquiry. 

He says he “does not have a copy” of it.  He however confirms that he was informed that criminal charges were filed against people involved today.

Abela then goes on for a while about his concerns that the inquiry plucked people’s names out of thin air when recommending prosecutions. That’s quite a specific allegation to make if he has not read the inquiry. 

Abela: I expect a constitutional challenge to inquiry 

5.41pm Abela implies that we should expect a constitutional challenge to this magisterial inquiry [presumably by Muscat]. 

“We’ll see how this inquiry was carried out… everyone will make their own minds up about the individuals involved, but also on the magisterial inquiry,” he says. 

“And if it turns out someone’s rights were breached by the way it was carried out, then of course history will judge that.” 

Abela: Muscat was not attacking me 

5.39pm Abela says he does not believe Muscat’s fiery post was a veiled attack on him. “The way I read it, Dr Muscat was saying that an inquiry that lasted five years was concluded right as nominations for the MEP elections opened,” he says. 

Abela: Muscat 'innocent until proven guilty' 

5.34pm Muscat will not be kicked out of the Labour Party, Abela says. 

“Does the presumption of innocence not apply to him, just because he’s a former PM?” Abela says, before once again implying that the inquiry departed from the premise that certain people were guilty a priori

Robert Abela speaking at a press conference, as Justice Minister Jonathan Attard looks on. Photo: Matthew MirabelliRobert Abela speaking at a press conference, as Justice Minister Jonathan Attard looks on. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Abela claims he does not have inquiry 

5.31pm Abela says he does not have a copy of the inquiry’s proces verbal – something that the PN believes is evidently untrue.  

The PM says he will take a decision about Chris Fearne’s political fate [he is Malta’s nominee to the European Commission] once he sees the report and can see on what basis he [Fearne] has been implicated by the inquiry.

The same goes for Edward Scicluna, he says. 

Abela cites Muscat's argument

5.27pm Abela makes a brief allusion to Muscat’s complaint about not being questioned before being charged, without ever mentioning him by name. 

He asks, somewhat rhetorically, if it is right for people to face criminal charges without being given the opportunity to defend themselves first. 

Abela: 'Loyal servants of state' are suffering injustice

5.25pm Abela says “loyal servants of the state” are also reputed to be among those charged. That would be an injustice and one that the courts will have to remedy, he says.

That is believed to be an allusion to former civil servants likely to be arraigned. 

Abela: Inquiry is not a court of law

5.20pm Abela emphasises that a magisterial inquiry is not a criminal court and that its recommendations are not tantamount to guilt or innocence.

He implies, however, that the magisterial inquiry “departed from a position of presumption of guilt.” 

Abela again repeats his suspicions about the inquiry's timing, saying he had first spoken out about it last January after getting "clear information" that the probe was being timed to coincide with the MEP elections.

Soon: PM to address public 

5.15pm Robert Abela will soon give a public statement from the Auberge de Castille. Watch it in the video below.

Unverified: €30m claim

5.10pm Meanwhile, Net News are alleging that a freezing order of Muscat’s assets runs up to an eye-watering €30 million. We have not been able to verify that, so we cannot say whether or not the figure is correct.

Legal sources tell us it’s highly unlikely for a specific amount of assets to have been identified at this early stage, before suspects have even been arraigned. 

Muscat's broadside

5.02pm We're still waiting for Abela to speak. Meanwhile, you can read what Joseph Muscat had to say about the afternoon's events. Apart from lashing out at prosecutors, he also took aim at "those who washed their hands of trying to fix this injustice". 

We've spoken to several Labour insiders, and they all - unanimously - told us they think that's a direct swipe at Robert Abela. 

Lawyer and former MP Franco Debono thinks so, too. 

"Could it be that [Muscat] is suggesting that Abela is using the magistrate as scapegoat?" Debono mused on Facebook, referring to Abela's weeks-long criticism of the magistrate who led the inquiry leading to criminal prosecutions.

Franco Debono's post.Franco Debono's post.

Parliament suspended

4.52pm A stormy parliament session is suspended while the speaker decides on Bernard Grech’s request for parliament to discuss the “urgent need” for the magisterial inquiry to be published, doubling down on his claim that Abela has a copy of the inquiry and is cherry-picking who to give it to. 

Abela retorted that Grech’s request shows that “there is now no doubt that for PN the inquiry is nothing but a point-scoring partisan exercise”. Abela is arguing that he was the first to call for the inquiry to be published, but that Grech’s call for parliament to discuss its publication is a distortion of parliament’s role.

Abela to speak at 5pm

4.45pm Welcome to this live blog: we'll be giving you running updates of political developments this evening.

We're not sure what to expect, but we know for a fact that the prime minister will be giving a press statement at 5pm.  

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