Updated 12pm with Muscat's comments
Former minister Evarist Bartolo has hit out at Joseph Muscat for implicating the Cabinet hours after a court annulled the "fraudulent" hospitals' privatisation deal in a landmark judgement.
On Friday, Judge Francesco Depasquale had harsh words about one of the government's most expensive deals, saying that Vitals were "incredibly" granted an additional 4.5 years to fulfil their obligations, despite it being evident that they were failing to deliver on their promises.
Reacting, Muscat denied involvement, implying instead that it was a Cabinet decision to greenlight the deal and that legal advice had been sought.
Bartolo is the first member of Muscat's cabinet to react publicly.
"Following comments about the cabinet in reaction to the court's ruling on the hospital's deal with foreign companies: is it fair to use the cabinet as a smokescreen," he asked on Facebook early on Saturday.
When contacted by Times of Malta, Bartolo further distanced himself: "the hospital deal details were not discussed in Cabinet and the devil is in the details”.
Late on Saturday morning Muscat also took to Facebook, saying it was a known fact that the hospitals' concession was discussed, and decided on, by the cabinet.
'All decisions endorsed by cabinet'
The court has ruled that Vitals Global Healthcare Limited, the original concessionaire, had “abused of the information” previously obtained by its investors by means of a memorandum of understanding signed with the government in October 2014, to present a proposal that “could not but be accepted”.
It observed that the methodology adopted by persons entrusted by the government to evaluate and adjudicate the project was “slack and totally unprofessional, almost amateurish”.
The hospitals' deal was signed under the watch of Muscat, but moments after the ruling was made public, the former prime minister said all decisions linked to the agreement were endorsed by cabinet, with legal advice also being sought.
He refused to say if Robert Abela, who has acted as his legal advisor in the past, gave any advice on the deal.
A number of the key players in the Vitals deal, including Muscat, went on to receive payments from a Swiss payroll company called Accutor.
Later in the evening, Abela himself denied his involvement.
Asked whether his position as prime minister was still tenable following the judgment, Abela said that the court had annulled agreements signed by the government in 2014 and 2015 at a point in time when he had not yet been elected to parliament.
'Cabinet always had a system of legal scrutiny' - Muscat
On Saturday, Muscat said the fact that the hospital's concession was discussed, and decided on, by Cabinet, was also mentioned in an Auditor General report endorsed by court.
"Cabinet has always had an established system of legal scrutiny of its decisions," he said.
Muscat told his Facebook followers that the ruling's references to fraud "in this civil case" were in relation to third parties, not himself or the government. He added there was no reference to corruption.
The judge, Muscat said, had annulled the concession as the concessionaires had failed to fulfil their obligations.
'Veteran politicians, speak up,' Cassola urges
Independent candidate Arnold Cassola also reacted to Muscat's comments, saying the former minister was implicating "veterans" like Bartolo, Louis Grech, Edward Scicluna, Chris Fearne, Leo Brincat, Manwel Mallia and even President George Vella.
"I can vouch for Vella. In the past 30 years or so I have had various tiffs with him. He is touchy, a bit 'żorr' (gruff), but I can 110% vouch for his honesty.
"No way would I believe the word of a political delinquent like Muscat who, apart from being involved in sleazy Azerbaijan and Montenegro deals and shady consultancies in Switzerland and in Malta, was also socialising, partying and dealing with a businessman whom he knew to be suspected of Daphne Caruana Galizia's assassination," he said.
He urged Vella, Bartolo, Grech, Scicluna, Fearne, Brincat and Mallia to speak up.
"You have already shown a lack of self-respect when, like a herd of sheep, you all voted in parliament in favour of Konrad Mizzi on the Panama affair. Are you going to accept Muscat's declarations that you were all involved in the Vitals decision? Except for Fearne, you are all over 70, some approaching 80. This is your last chance to act like real men."
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