Prime Minister Robert Abela has refused to comment on Joseph Muscat’s links to VGH Europe and the struck-down hospitals deal, saying investigations must not be influenced.
“The subject of Steward and VGH is an investigative process and I believe that my words should, in no way, influence that process,” Abela said.
Refusing to comment further, Abela said that he had a responsibility, as prime minister, to not create any further confusion.
He accused some members of the Opposition of going to court in an attempt to “condition” that process, in an allusion to PN MPs presenting documents to court on Thursday which they said contain “new evidence” of corruption linked to the hospitals deal.
The comments are Abela’s first since a joint investigation by Times of Malta alongside the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and The Shift News uncovered a series of revelations regarding the hospitals’ deal.
Among them was news that investigators are probing Joseph Muscat’s finances on suspicion of corruption, with a particular focus on a 36-month consultancy contract that Muscat signed with a company that used to be called VGH Europe and which is linked to the concessionaires awarded a deal by Muscat’s government to run state hospitals.
Muscat was poised to receive 36 separate €15,000 monthly payments totalling €540,000 via that deal, signed in the year he resigned as prime minister, but payments stopped abruptly after four months.
Asked about the possibility of revolving door policies to ensure that such situations would not happen in the future, Abela said that he is open to a discussion on the matter. However, Abela emphasised that financial compensation would be needed to ease the shift.
Revolving door policies tackle the ethical issues of public officials entering the private sector, such as becoming a consultant for an industry they once regulated.
“Naturally, if you are to have a revolving door policy... it would mean that the country would need to bear the financial burden.”
If a minister is unable to enter the workforce for years following their time in the cabinet, public funds would be needed for compensation, he explained.
“However, it remains a discussion that I enjoy and one can bring it up on the agenda, but one needs to see the pros and cons”.
Prime Ministers already receive a lucrative severance package when they leave office. Muscat was granted €120,000 in severance pay, a taxpayer-funded car, driver and office, a car and driver for his wife, a diplomatic passport and fully-paid phone and internet services.
Top civil servants and regulators are already subject to a revolving door policy, introduced in 2020. That policy was however not extended to politicians or ministers.
Abela also declined to comment about Muscat’s request, made through a judicial filing, for Magistrate Gabriella Vella to recuse herself from leading a magisterial inquiry into the hospitals deal.
Muscat has accused Vella of bias and said information about the inquiry is being leaked.
“I have no right to try and condition or interfere with the ongoing investigative process,” Abela said.
In February, a court condemned Steward Health Care, which took over the hospitals' concession from Vitals, as having intended to “unjustly enrich itself at the expense of citizens” and engaging in “possibly criminal behaviour”.
The court annulled the hospitals’ privatisation deal, declaring it “fraudulent” and ordered that St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo hopsitals be returned to the government within three months.
Steward has filed an appeal against that sentence, arguing that it was the one that was defrauded by the Muscat government.