Former finance minister Edward Scicluna is featuring in two magisterial inquiries into the controversial hospitals' privatisation deal and had personally requested a hearing before the magistrate, he testified in court.

Scicluna was facing final cross-examination in a libel suit he had filed against former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil over a tweet posted in July 2019, at a time when the former minister was vying for nomination to the European Commission. 

The tweet followed a magistrate’s decision upholding a 150-page application by civil society group Repubblika requesting a probe against former ministers Scicluna, Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona over suspected criminal complicity in the transfer of St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals to VGH.

Days after the incident, it was announced that Malta’s new European Commissioner was former Equality and European Affairs Minister Helena Dalli

“It caused great harm,” stressed Scicluna when winding up his testimony earlier this week.

The tweet, posted on July 19, had coincided with a brief visit to Malta by outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who “was coming to receive some medal from the government,” Scicluna said. 

Yet during that stay and just “three days after the tweet,” Juncker had “interviewed” prospective nominees to the European post, explained Scicluna, highlighting the ill-timing of events.

“Did you base your libel on the fact that Simon Busuttil did not say in his tweet that the court decision was subject to appeal,” asked the respondent’s lawyer, Peter Fenech.

But Scicluna insisted that the libel was based on “what emerged that day,” adding that whatever happened afterwards was “irrelevant”.

“It’s the wording of that tweet that counts,” the former minister said.

Asked whether the subject-matter of the tweet, namely any magisterial inquiry into the controversial Vitals deal, had been definitively concluded, Scicluna replied that there was another inquiry.

“Yes. Another one,” he said, confirming that he featured in that inquiry too. 

In fact, when quite some time had gone by and no one sent for him to testify, he had filed an application requesting a hearing and had “testified for an hour or so” before the magistrate conducting that inquiry, Scicluna explained.  

Busuttil ought to have known that the controversial deal did not involve the Finance Ministry, Scicluna had stated in an affidavit previously presented in the libel suit. 

“But as a matter of fact, you were roped into the inquiry, nonetheless,” Busuttil’s lawyer asked.

“Yes,” came the reply.

“Were you Finance Minister at the time,” the lawyer went on, eliciting another reply in the affirmative. 

However, a service concession, such as that involved in the Vitals deal, was shouldered by cabinet, said Scicluna, rejecting the suggestion put forward by Busuttil’s lawyer that at the end of the day it was the Finance Ministry that shouldered responsibility for government expenditure. 

As the questioning came to an end, the court, presided over by magistrate Rachel Montebello, allocated equal terms to both parties for the filing of final submissions in writing.

Judgment is expected in September. 

Lawyer Ivan Sammut assisted the applicant. 

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