A major developer who now heads the all-powerful construction lobby started paying Joseph Muscat “a few months” after he stepped down as Prime Minister in 2020.
Michael Stivala, whose group owns a vast, multi-million-euro hotel and property group, put Muscat on his payroll the same year the former prime minister stepped down amid a murder and corruption scandal.
The payments were transferred to Muscat as part of a “consultancy” agreement with Stivala’s group.
Stivala and his companies were on the winning end of numerous controversial decisions by Muscat’s government.
These include a permit to demolish an old building on the Balluta waterfront, replacing it with a block of units jutting out over the water’s edge.
Stivala had also headed a consortium of hoteliers who successfully lobbied the government to transfer them a chunk of the Gżira waterfront to build a lido.
The land was formally transferred to the consortium in 2018, following a government motion in parliament that also received backing from the Nationalist opposition.
Muscat’s home was searched by police in January over suspicions that another consultancy agreement he entered soon after leaving office could be a cover for corruption.
Times of Malta last year revealed how Muscat received €60,000 from Swiss company Accutor, which is linked to the Vitals/Steward hospitals deal.
The money was transferred to Muscat under the cover of what investigators believe could have been a fictitious consultancy agreement to justify the payments.
Muscat denies any wrongdoing and has yet to face any prosecution.
We believe in Muscat – Stivala
Questioned by Times of Malta, Stivala confirmed that he had paid money to Muscat as part of a “consultancy” deal.
However, he denied that the payments were linked to Muscat’s time in government.
“He offers services to our company as a consultant, from an economic point of view. Our group has been growing steadily and investing in various projects, and we needed some advice on economies,” said Stivala, who heads the Malta Developers’ Association.
Asked whether he was bothered by the fact that Muscat had resigned under a dark cloud, Stivala said the former prime minister was not engaged straight away.
“I think a few months had passed after his resignation. Just like we have engaged lawyers who were in politics… we believe everyone has the right to work after politics.
“We believe in the knowledge and support Dr Muscat is giving our group,” Stivala said.
Stivala confirmed Muscat is still acting as a “consultant” for the company, despite the police search on his home earlier this year in connection with a corruption probe linked to another consultancy agreement.
The MDA president said his group is a public company that has the necessary internal structures to deal with anything that could impact its reputation.
He argued that the Stivala Group had thrived throughout its 40-year existence, and not just during Muscat’s time.
‘Thanks for advertising my practice’ – Muscat
Contacted for comment, Muscat declined to comment on his “private practice”, but nonetheless sarcastically “thanked” Times of Malta for “continuously advertising” it.
Muscat also dismissed the significance of receiving payments from a major operator that benefitted from his time in government.
“I will comment once again that it is an undisputed fact that the whole economy, from businesses to pensioners, benefitted from my tenure as prime minister.
“If you have any issue about any decisions taken by the various decision-making bodies, I invite you to put them forward immediately to the competent authorities.
“The only pattern present in my commitments is that I work hard and deliver.
“You might also want to enquire about consultancies and jobs taken by other former prime ministers, ministers, their sons, daughters and families (be it lawyers, architects, notaries, doctors, PR executives, other professionals or otherwise) if you would like to give your readers a better and real understanding of facts.
This is the third “consultancy” agreement Muscat is known to have entered soon after resigning as prime minister.
Apart from the Stivala and Accutor consultancy deals, Muscat also received payments from Fortina Investments.
Malta has yet to introduce any revolving door policies forbidding former prime ministers, other cabinet members or MPs from taking up employment in areas they were formerly responsible for.