Whistleblower in Libya visa scandal case faces criminal court

Pleads not guilty to charges of fraud and extortion

The whistleblower who had pointed at Health Ministry official Neville Gafa as the mastermind behind the medical visa racket, was today summoned before a magistrates’ court to answer criminally for his claim.

Khaled Ben Nasan, 45, Syrian-born, residing in Swieqi, pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud and extortion following his allegations that Mr Gafa had pocketed some €38,000 for medical visas for Libya nationals, which eventually never materialised.

Under cross-examination, inspector Rennie Stivala, who together with assistant police commissioner Ian Abdilla was handling investigations into the whistleblower's allegations, could not confirm whether the criminal proceedings had been initiated upon a complaint by the injured party, namely Mr Gafa.

Pressed by lawyer Leslie Cuschieri, assisting Mr Ben Nasan, inspector Stivala declared that since there were suspicions of a false report having been filed by the whistleblower, the police could take criminal action irrespective of a formal complaint by the injured party. 

Gafa transferred to Gozo

During today's hearing it emerged that, when the allegations emerged, Mr Gafa had been immediately transferred to Gozo. As projects director within the health ministry, his duty is to liaise between the ministry, the Foundation for Medical Services and the OPM, however, he is no longer involved in the medical visa project.

Inspector Stivala explained how investigations into the alleged racket had kicked off following a complaint registered by Peter Cordina as the head of the FMS. Mr Ben Nasan had spoken to the police in the presence of his lawyer and had recalled how Mr Gafa started asking for some €1,500 to €2,500 for every medical visa application he forwarded for processing. No receipts were ever requested since Mr Ben Nasan reportedly trusted the official.

However, acting upon suspicions that Mr Gafa was taking money for visas which were never issued, Mr Ben Nasan decided that he ought no longer trust the official. In fact, he signed an agreement directly with Saint James hospital to make arrangements for Libyan ‘medical tourists’ seeking treatment in Malta.

This was confirmed by the management at Saint James Hospital who had told investigators that whereas medical tourists brought over by Mr Ben Nasan possessed the funds to pay for their care, other Libyan nationals injured in the conflict in their homeland and granted a visa to receive treatment in Malta, had their bills settled by the Maltese authorities.

Police chastised for searching only old office

Duly authorised under a magisterial warrant, last July investigators had conducted a search inside the office formerly occupied by Mr Gafa, who at the time had already been transferred to Gozo. The search had yielded no incriminating evidence, Inspector Stivala told the court.

“How could you expect to find anything in an office vacated by Mr Gafa months earlier?” said Dr Cuschieri, who asked whether any search had been carried out at Mr Gafa's new office or home. The police had only searched the office occupied by the public official at the time of the alleged wrongdoing, the court was told.

“How could you expect to find anything in an office vacated by Mr Gafa months earlier?”- Lawyer

Regarding allegations made by the whistleblower of a threatening call targeting the life of his children, the inspector explained that this call had not been confirmed by the service provider. Other missed calls and SMSs had allegedly been linked to mobiles registered in his own name. Although Dr Cuschieri had claimed possible error by the service provider, Inspector Stivala said this might have been done purposely by Mr Ben Nasan to lend more credibility to his story.

Cross-examining Inspector Stivala about telling footage currently in the possession of certain persons in Libya, Dr Cuschieri asked why this information had not been followed up by the investigators. In spite of having passed on telephone numbers and personal details of these persons to Assistant Commissioner Ian Abdilla during a telephone conversation, no action had been taken. Nor were the necessary visas issued to permit these individuals to travel to Malta to personally supply the relevant proof.

Taking the witness stand, Mr Gafa strongly denied the allegations regarding the €38,000 relative to unissued medical visas. 

He explained how during the Libya crisis, the ministry forwarded medical reports regarding Libyan nationals who required treatment. These reports were forwarded to Mater Dei authorities for vetting against a processing fee of €66 which was non-refundable. This fee was also applicable in the case of medical tourists, such as those brought over by Mr Ben Nasan.

Mr Gafa next told the court, presided over by Magistrate Doreen Clarke, how Mr Ben Nasan had allegedly tried to bribe him by sending a text message threatening him with the incriminating footage. Mr Gafa said that he had subsequently been contacted by the accused who expressed his interest in resuming the business of medical tourists.

Inspector Rennie Stivala prosecuted.

Lawyer Leslie Cuschieri was counsel to the accused.Legal procurator Peter Paul Zammit appeared parte civile.