Minister Edward Scicluna, 'self-suspended' minister Chris Cardona and former minister Konrad Mizzi will face a magisterial inquiry over their involvement in the hospital privatisation deal after a criminal court rejected their appeal.
The appeal was filed a day after Magistrate Doreen Clarke declared that there were sufficient grounds for them to be investigated.
Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) took control of St Luke's, Gozo General and Karin Grech hospitals in 2015 for a 30-year period. A heavily-redacted version of the concession deal contract was released in 2016.
Rule of law NGO Repubblika requested the inquiry to establish if Scicluna, Cardona and Mizzi, as well as Technoline managing director Ivan Vassallo, gave the group of investors behind VGH an unfair advantage in the contract’s selection process.
The company, which had no previous experience in the sector, had its shares bought out by US healthcare giant Steward less two years later.
The case had originally been assigned to Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera who abstained, explaining that the appellants were fellow colleagues of her brother, Environment Minister Jose Herrera.
The second Judge assigned to the case, Aaron Bugeja also chose to abstain, stating clearly that he was choosing to do so in the light of the ongoing case filed by Repubblika, challenging the current system of judicial appointments.
The case was then assigned to Madam Justice Edwina Grima who, in a decision delivered a week ago, rejected the Ministers’ appeal, fully confirming the magisterial order and thus paving the path for the inquiry.
In July, Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit had upheld Repubblika’s request for an inquiry against the three ministers and Technoline managing director Ivan Vassallo.
However, that order was revoked on appeal by Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti in respect of the Ministers.
Meanwhile, Magistrate Gabriella Vella had commenced her inquiry against Mr Vassallo who had not appealed the order green lighting the process.
In today’s decree, Madam Justice Grima observed that an inquiry was already ongoing and there was nothing stopping the inquiring magistrate from preserving any evidence pertinent to the search for truth.
The three ministers had “an active role” in the negotiations leading to the state hospitals privatization deal, said the Court.
Indeed, they were the ones who pushed forward and authorized the funding of the VGH deal out of public coffers, the Court observed, stating that it was the role of the inquiring magistrate to find out if all those involved in the negotiations could have infringed the law.
Lawyer Jason Azzopardi is assisting Repubblika.