Keith Micallef takes stock of a number of ‘scandals’ that have erupted since Labour was elected – some of which have not been followed up by an independent inquiry like that appointed following allegations concerning PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami.

From the Mater Dei concrete scandal to the Panama Papers revelations, the last three-and-a-half years have been characterised by a series of allegations of shady deals, some of them implicating sitting MPs, Cabinet members and businessmen.

Each case has fuelled political controversy, with the parties trading charges and accusing each other of trying to conceal potentially embarrassing evidence that could come back to haunt them in a general election.

To date, however, very few of the allegations have resulted in criminal or civil proceedings being initiated, as those involved were either exonerated or the outcome of the investigation is still pending or shrouded in secrecy.

Mater Dei Hospital. Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiMater Dei Hospital. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Mater Dei’s ‘weak’ concrete

Inquiry launched in August 2013, concluded in June 2015 and reopened in the wake of new evidence a few days after publication.

Outcome: Skanska to blame, but result of follow-up inquiry unknown. Legal steps over compensation are yet to be taken.

In June last year, an inquiry established that Swedish construction company Skanska should shoulder responsibility for the fraudulent concrete certification at Mater Dei Hospital. The €700 million project was a landmark investment by the PN government, and the hospital took nearly 15 years to be completed.

A concrete test in a hospital wall.A concrete test in a hospital wall.

The investigation concluded that this was no negligence but a concerted effort through which the contractor, suppliers and possible third parties could have benefitted.

A few days after its publication, the inquiry was reopened in the wake of claims that fresh evidence had emerged. To date, no further pronouncements have been made on these findings. The probe was headed by retired judge Philip Sciberras.

From the very start, the PN cast doubts on both the motives and the impartiality of the probe, saying that it was “prejudiced”, as Dr Sciberras had once been a Labour candidate.

On its part, the government used the findings as a platform to score political points, saying former PN ministers should be held accountable.

While the two parties were trading charges, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat raised the issue directly with his Swedish counterpart on the margins of an EU Summit in Brussels.

In July 2015, a legal team was formed to fight Malta’s case for compensation from the Swedish construction magnate.

Though repairs were initially estimated to cost €35 million, the figure soared last April, when Dr Muscat told Labour delegates at the party’s annual general conference that the bill had risen to €150 million.

Six months down the line, the scandal seemed to have disappeared from the political agenda, until last Friday, when the Health Ministry reiterated its intention to seek compensation from Skanska.

The announcement was made on the same day that Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi filed a parliamentary question for an update on the dispute and three days after this newspaper sent questions, which by the time of writing had not been answered.

Mizzi and Schembri in Panama Papers

Konrad MizziKonrad Mizzi

Audits launched in March 2016.

Outcome: Still pending.

At the height of the Panama Papers scandal last March, the Prime Minister announced an independent audit was to take place, after it was revealed Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri held undeclared trusts in New Zealand and secret companies in Panama.

This exercise was meant to throw light on the case involving the then Energy Minister and Dr Muscat’s closest aide, who to this day are still a Cabinet member and chief of staff, respectively.

Keith SchembriKeith Schembri

Seven months down the line, however, the audit is shrouded in secrecy. Last week the Prime Minister refused to name the company conducting the exercise, despite Dr Mizzi telling a lawyer in open court to address questions about the audit company to Dr Muscat.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has resisted calls to hold an independent inquiry, while no investigation is known to have been opened by the police.


The power station. Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiThe power station. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Quality of power station oil

Inquiry launched in October 2013.

Conclusion: Unknown.

Three years ago, retired Judge Philip Sciberras was tasked to look into “information” received by the then Energy Minister which had raised doubts about the quality of oil being used at the power station.

The investigation was launched just a week after an Enemalta official told Parliament the company occasionally accepted oil consignments with an excessive sulphur level even though it was paying a premium for low-sulphur oil to minimise pollution.

The statement was made during a Public Accounts Committee hearing, during which Philip Borg, manager of the then Enemalta Petroleum Division, was summoned to testify on the conclusions of an inquiry by the Auditor General, who had flagged a series of shortcomings in the process for fuel procurement.

Despite repeated enquiries from this newspaper, as well as a series of parliamentary questions about the findings of the probe, the government to date has neither confirmed whether it has been concluded nor published its findings if so.

The palazzo at the centre of the scandal.The palazzo at the centre of the scandal.

The Gaffarena scandal

Investigation launched in February 2016.

Conclusion: Unknown.

In March last year, the police launched an investigation into the controversial multimillion-euro expropriation deal involving businessman Mark Gaffarena, an affair which eventually led to the resignation of Michael Falzon as Planning Parliamentary Secretary.

The government then initiated proceedings in court to annul the deal.

The case revolved around the expropriation of half a palazzo in Old Mint Street, Valletta, worth €944,500 and for which Mr Gaffarena received €3.4 million in cash and property.

Though a National Audit Office report in January established that there had been “collusion” between the Land Department, which fell under the responsibility of Dr Falzon, and Mr Gaffarena, the police probe was only launched two months later.

The turning point was a sworn statement by former Land Department director Charles Camilleri, who confessed to not telling the entire truth to the National Audit Office.

Mr Camilleri claimed that he had been “pressured and threatened” by people working for the Office of the Prime Minister not to reveal details that would undermine them.

The police only confirmed in July that it had started its investigation. No further developments have been reported.

PN leader’s fuel allocation

Inquiry launched in December 2015 and concluded in April 2016.

Conclusion: No wrongdoing.

Simon Busuttil’s driver Anthony Tabone.Simon Busuttil’s driver Anthony Tabone.

In December of last year, a magisterial inquiry was launched by the police following a report by the Speaker’s Office into allegations that the fuel allocation of the Opposition leader was being misused.

The probe immediately led to the suspension of Simon Busuttil’s chauffer, Anthony Tabone.

Eyebrows were raised when it emerged that the average weekly fuel bill of the Prime Minister’s second car, thought to be used by his wife, was €114 – which sharply contrasted with the €70 per week consumed by the PN leader’s official car.

Furthermore, Mr Tabone’s suspension was lifted within 24 hours by the Speaker, who said there was not enough evidence to warrant it.

At the time, Dr Busuttil said that the probe aimed to smear his reputation, and he expressed concern over the adverse effects the allegations were having on his driver’s family.

The investigation was concluded five months later, and Dr Busuttil’s driver was exonerated: there had been absolutely no case.

Konrad Mizzi, then energy minister, made allegations of contract irregularities against ex-resources minister George Pullicino. Photo: Chris Sant FournierKonrad Mizzi, then energy minister, made allegations of contract irregularities against ex-resources minister George Pullicino. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Former minister’s involvement in PV contract

Investigation launched in October 2014.

Conclusion: Unknown, but police sources say no wrongdoing was found.

In October 2014, then Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi levelled allegations of wrongdoing against former resources minister George Pullicino, telling Parliament that an audit investigation had found “shameful” irregularities in a €35 million contract for the installation of PV panels on public buildings.

He said that the contract had been awarded by Mr Pullicino and provided a higher feed-in tariff than the one stipulated to be the going market rate.

The former minister denied the claim, calling it a mudslinging exercise, and instructed the Police Commissioner to launch an investigation to prove his innocence.

In May of last year, this newspaper quoted police sources saying that no evidence of wrongdoing had been found.

Meanwhile, no further reference was ever made by Dr Mizzi to this case, which appears to have disappeared from the political agenda.

Café Premier: a multi-million amicable bailout from government. Photo: Matthew MirabelliCafé Premier: a multi-million amicable bailout from government. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Case of Café Premier and medical visas for Libyans

While some may argue that a police investigation, an inquiry or an audit would not necessarily make people any the wiser on allegations of misconduct or wrongdoing, it is nevertheless striking how some incidents were never followed up.

In February 2014, Malta Today revealed that the Labour Cabinet had approved a €4.2 million amicable bailout to buy back the 65-year lease of Café Premier in Valletta from Cities Entertainment.

The controversial deal meant that taxpayers’ money had been used to pay an outstanding bank loan of €2.5 million, income tax and VAT arrears, energy bills, ground rents and a number of creditors.

A year later, the National Audit Office delivered a damning indictment on the manner in which the government had handled the case, saying that it epitomised “poor governance”.

However, no independent inquiry was carried out, while a police investigation into allegations that kickbacks had been paid to secure the deal came up blank. The deal seems to have been consigned to the history books, with nobody shouldering responsibility.

Another serious case involving allegations of corruption, but which have not been the subject of an independent inquiry, is an alleged racket involving medical visas.

A public official, Neville Gafa, was allegedly charging Libyans €2,500 a month to secure medical visas. He denied any wrongdoing.

The government said the case has been referred to both the Attorney General and the police for further investigation. Whether that probe has been conclusive is unknown.

However, the Opposition cried foul, saying that rather than being suspended, Mr Gafa, who is a member of the Labour executive, was given a new position of trust, with the Foundation of Medical Services, by Minister Konrad Mizzi.

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