Updated at 1.45pm
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has stood by government official Neville Gafà, insisting he was doing “very good work”.
Times of Malta on Tuesday reported how Mr Gafà’s contract at the Foundation for Medical Services had been rescinded on the orders of Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne.
The move followed revelations that Mr Gafà had “bumped into” a notorious militia leader during a controversial trip to Libya last month.
Asked about his, Dr Muscat said Mr Gafà had not been fired but was being transferred to another government entity.
Dr Muscat would not say where Mr Gafà was being “transferred” to and whether he would continue operating from the Office of the Prime Minister in the Auberge de Castille, instead telling Times of Malta to check with its sources.
Carmen Ciantar, who heads the foundation, has confirmed that the chief of staff at the Health Ministry had directed her to terminate Mr Gafà’s employment as per Mr Fearne’s wishes.
Though she did not give any further reasons for the move, sources said the termination was linked to repeated allegations of wrongdoing which Mr Gafà has faced in recent years.
“The minister did not want him under his responsibility,” one source said.
Mr Gafà was thrust into the national spotlight last month when Times of Malta reported how he had travelled to Libya and met with government ministers as a “Special Envoy of the Prime Minister”.
He later denied posing as a diplomat and insisted he had travelled to the Libyan capital on a “personal visit”.
Asked about the trip, Dr Muscat said he would not weigh in on the matter as this had not been related to any official business.
Times of Malta also exposed how Mr Gafà was spotted speaking with Haithem Tajouri, the leader of a notorious militia group known as the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, during his recent visit.
Mr Tajouri had been singled out in a 2016 UN Security Council report for a number of alleged human rights breaches and for being at the helm of one of Libya’s most powerful paramilitary groups.
According to the report, Mr Tajouri set up a private detention centre, where former regime officials and sympathisers were held.
He also extorted large sums of money from visitors and the facility was linked to several disappearances and cases of alleged torture, the UN said.
Dr Muscat, however, seemed to play down Mr Gafà’s meeting with the militia leader, saying that up to not so long ago Khalifa Haftar, who today heads the Libyan National Army, had also been linked to paramilitary operations.
He said that General Haftar had since attended a number of international meetings which included members of the Maltese government.
“At this point in time without getting into who Neville Gafà or didn’t meet, I think that in a country like Libya, in the state that it is today you have to speak to as many people as possible,” Dr Muscat said.
PD appalled at prime minister's stand
Partit Demokratiku leader Godfrey Farrugia was appalled at the prime minister's statement: "Prime Minister Joseph Muscat standing by Neville Gafa is a kick in the teeth for all members of Malta's diplomatic service and all those who are working hard towards peace, freedom and democracy in Libya.
"Instead of following the example set by his deputy Chris Fearne and demanding that Gafa answers questions and shoulders responsibility, Dr Muscat absolves Gafa and protects him.
"When faced with a choice between accountability and protecting Keith Schembri's friends, Joseph Muscat chooses the latter, every single time. This must stop. Government is not for friends but for the people," he said in a statement.