Magistrate Gabriella Vella has declined Joseph Muscat's request to recuse herself from the magisterial inquiry into the hospitals deal, the former prime minister said on Tuesday.

In a post on Facebook, Muscat said he was informed that Vella "unilaterally decided against the request to recuse herself" and said he will be taking "all the necessary steps" to ensure that the process treats him with fairness.

"I will take all the necessary steps to ensure that the process, in which I have lost almost all trust, does not end up a political theatre as some intend it to be, but rather a process according to the rule of law."

Magistrate Vella is leading a probe that is looking into possible corruption in the privatisation of three state hospitals.

Muscat's home was searched in January 2022, in connection with that probe.

Last week, Times of Malta reported that investigators suspect consultancy payments that the former prime minister received in the months after he resigned were intended to hide kickbacks in plain sight.

Of particular interest is €60,000 that Muscat received from companies linked to the failed privatisation deal. The payments were part of a 36-month, €15,000-a-month consultancy contract Muscat signed, though payments stopped abruptly after four months. 

Muscat reacted to the investigation by saying he was being framed, that information was being leaked from the inquiry and demanding that magistrate Vella step down immediately. 

He said family members of hers had "promoted propaganda" by those who filed the inquiry [Rule of law NGO Repubblika] and said the magisterial probe should be continued by someone else "who can secure impartiality".

On Tuesday, Muscat said he was informed that Vella decided not to recuse herself.

"She did so without a hearing since, according to her, the open support by her family members towards those requesting the inquiry and their expressed view on the matters being investigated, do not hamper her impartiality.

"Unfortunately, this goes against international jurisprudence and the principles aimed at establishing ethical standards amongst the members of the judiciary," he wrote.

"The magistrate has been for more than a year ignoring my numerous requests to testify in the case.  She has only now considered these requests after the situation escalated in an unacceptable manner."

He explained that he asked Vella to relinquish her role because of "continuous leaks from the inquiry", the way she ignored his requests to testify and the "opinions expressed by her father and brother on the matter being investigated, which surely have an effect on the way in which the administration of justice is perceived."

"On issues much less serious than this, members of the judiciary have recused themselves or have been recused," he said.

The inquiry, which has been ongoing for four years, is looking into potential corruption in the hospitals deal, and among the persons of interest are Muscat, his former chief of staff Keith Schembri and former minister Konrad Mizzi.

Apart from Muscat's home, police also searched Mizzi's home and confiscated his smartphone.

Tensions over the inquiry have been heightening since Muscat's home was searched because the event shed new light on the possibility that the magistrate could recommend that the Attorney General file criminal charges against the former prime minister.

Senior figures in the Labour Party who spoke to Times of Malta on condition of anonymity last week said they are growing increasingly worried about this possibility. A Muscat prosecution could ruin Prime Minister Robert Abela, they fear, causing the Labour grassroots to believe that Abela did not do enough to protect the former prime minister, who still enjoys avid public support.

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