The Malta Independent 27 July 2017, Thursday

Libyan whistleblower faces criminal charges over claims on medical visa racket and Neville Gafa

Monday, 17 July 2017, 16:44 Last update: about 7 days ago

The Libyan whistleblower who landed Health Ministry official Neville Gafa in hot water was summoned before the courts to face criminal charges over his claim.

Khaled Ben Nasan had alleged that Gafa was the chief architect behind the Libyan medical visa racket which he claimed saw the latter pocket roughly €38,000 for the visas. The medical visas are said to have never materialised.

Nasan, 45, from Syria pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him, namely fraud and extortion.

ADVERTISEMENT

Neither Inspector Rennie Stivala nor assistant police commissioner Ian Abdilla could confirm that the charges have been levelled against Nasan as a result of a criminal complaint filed by Gafa himself.

While being cross examined by Nasan’s lawyer, Leslie Cuschieri, Stivala was pressed to say that since there was reasonable suspicion of a false report by the former, police are empowered to take action whether or not the injured party files a complaint.

The court heard how after the allegations surfaced on Gafa, he was transferred to Gozo at the earliest. Gafa is the projects director within the health ministry, tasked with coordinating between the ministry, the Foundation for Medical Services (FMS) and the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), but has been removed from his involvement in the medical visa project.

A complaint filed by the head of the FMS, Peter Cordina, led to the launch of investigations into the alleged Libyan medical visa racket.

While taking the witness stand, Stivala spoke of how Nasan had met with the police, with his lawyer present, and recalled of Gafa asking for roughly €1,500 to €2,500 for each medical visa application he forwarded for processing. Receipts were reportedly never requested since Nasan had trust in Gafa.

Due to the trust breaking down between the two, and Nasan’s suspicions that Gafa was pocketing the money, Nasan signed a direct agreement with Saint James hospital so that Libyan medical tourists could seek treatment.

A Saint James Hospital representative confirmed as such, adding that such tourists possessed the funds to pay for their own treatment however medical bills for Libyan nationals injured during the war were settled by the government.

Following a magisterial warrant being issued last July, investigators carried out a search inside the office formerly occupied by Gafa, however it had transpired that he had already been transferred to Gozo months earlier.

Nasan’s lawyer questioned how investigators could ever possibly find incriminating evidence when they had searched an office that had been vacated for months.

The court heard how police only searched the office occupied by Gafa as a public official at the time of the alleged wrongdoing, and that they did not search his current office in Gozo or his home.

Turning to the allegation that the Nasan had received a threatening phone call and text message targeting his family, Stivala said that the telephone service provider could not confirm this.

Other missed calls and text messages sent to the whistleblower had reportedly been linked to mobile phones registered in his own name. Cuschieri, the whistleblower’s lawyer, suggested that the provider could have made a mistake, while Stivala suggested that Nasan could have done this to give his story more weight.

Cuschieri then altered his line of questioning to deal with telling footage currently said to be in possession of some individuals in Libya. He asked why this information had not been acted upon, or at the very least given some form of attention.

The court heard how even though telephone numbers and personal details of these persons linked with the footage had been passed on to assistant commissioner Ian Abdilla during a telephone conversation, no action was ever taken. The police also failed to provide the necessary visas that would allow these individuals to travel to Malta and personally supple the proof.

Gafa, who also took the witness stand today, vehemently denied the allegations on the €38,000 he is said to have pocketed through unissued medical visas.

He said that all medical visas, even those for medical tourists, were processed at Mater Dei hospital for vetting, against a non-refundable fee of €66.

Gafa then told the court that Nasan had tried to bribe him by threatening him with the incriminating footage. He also claimed to have been contacted again by Gafa to resume the business of medical tourists.

The case is being presided over by Magistrate Doreen Clarke. Inspector Rennie Stivala prosecuted. Lawyer Leslie Cuschiere represented the accused while legal procurator Peter Paul Zammit appeared parte civile.

 

Errata corrige

A photograph in our printed edition (Page 6, 18 July 2017) erroneously depicted Libyan revolutionary Mahdi al-Harati instead of Khaled Ben Nassan, the actual whistleblower. 

Any inconvenience caused by the oversight is regretted.

 

  • don't miss