Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and Economy Minister Chris Cardona have filed an urgent appeal against a magistrate’s decree paving the path to a criminal inquiry.

That decree had been delivered on Wednesday by Magistrate Doreen Clarke who upheld an application by Repubblika requesting an inquiry into allegations of criminal complicity by the three ministers in the Vitals Global Healthcare hospitals deal.

The magistrate ruled that fresh evidence about the conduct of the ministers, in the sale of the St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo state hospitals, merited that Repubblika’s request be upheld, thus referring the matter to another magistrate, currently investigating Ivan Vassallo, the owner of hospital supplier Technoline.

On Friday, the three ministers filed an application to the Criminal Court requesting that it revoke the decree handed down by Magistrate Clarke.

The ministers argued that by sending the matter to another magistrate, Magistrate Clarke had gone beyond the original request by Repubblika who had simply asked the magistrate to decide whether there were grounds for an inquiry or not. 

Moreover, the request filed by Repubblika was identical to another one filed earlier on by the civil society group, concerning the same parties and same subject matter, which had ultimately been quashed on appeal by Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti on October 3.

The ministers said that Repubblika’s intention was to persist in filing identical appeals until a favourable outcome was attained. 

The magistrate had wrongly interpreted the rule on binding precedent when concluding that this was non-existent, the Ministers’ lawyers argued, further questioning Repubblika’s claims of corruption intended solely to expose the ministers to criminal proceedings.

“What corruption?...What fraud?” they argued, pointing out that the very subject of the crime was missing from the application. 

Repubblika’s 109-page long application contained “mere speculation” based on news articles, journalist opinions, blogs and empty conjectures, they said.

The appellants, stressing that the necessary prerequisites for the inquiry were missing and thus requesting the Criminal Court to revoke the magisterial decree green lighting the inquiry. 

Lawyers Aron Mifsud Bonnici and Christopher Vella signed the appeal.