The Malta Independent 12 December 2018, Wednesday

Government demands answers from Neville Gafà after diplomatic claims – Carmelo Abela

Rachel Attard Sunday, 25 November 2018, 09:00 Last update: about 16 days ago

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion Carmelo Abela has told The Malta Independent on Sunday that, following a diplomatic uproar earlier this week, the Maltese Government has asked government official Neville Gafà for an explanation as to why he visited Libya this week.

According to the Libyan government’s communication office and the Libyan Interior Ministry, Gafà held diplomatic talks in Tripoli as ‘a special envoy of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’. This was also seen in pictures uploaded on various Libyan social media and newspaper websites.

When contacted by this newsroom and asked why Gafà was in Libya and whether he held a diplomatic passport, Minister Abela (above) said that Gafà is not employed by his Ministry, neither does he hold a diplomatic passport. “Charles Saliba is still in the process of being appointed Ambassador, and the next step is the issuing of the agrément by the Libyan authorities,” Abela said, adding that “the Government had asked Gafà for an explanation. 

“Gafà told the Minister that he was in Libya on a personal trip, in his personal time, had taken time off work and had paid for the trip himself. He was not representing the government at any point.”  When asked in what capacity was Gafà the government’s special envoy, Abela replied: “At no point did Gafà make any claim he was representing the government or the Prime Minister. There are no official documents or communications between the Maltese Government and the Libyan authorities about this visit.”

This newsroom also contacted Gafà himself and questioned him about the trip. In his statement, he said: “My visit in Libya was personal and I was never appointed a special envoy to the Maltese government.” Asked if there was any note verbal exchanged between the two countries for this visit to take place, Gafà replied in the negative and said he had been visiting Libya in a personal capacity. “The meetings I had during this stay were all held unofficially.” Asked who had accompanied him during this ‘personal trip’, he said that Charles Saliba was never with him because he had not visited Libya in an official capacity. He did not, however, reply to our question of who else was on the trip with him.

As seen from the pictures published online, Gafà was accompanied by Libyan businessman Abdulrouf Rahimat, who has a company in Malta entitled ‘Al Hilal Al Dahbe General Trading Ltd’, an offshore company listed in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ Paradise Papers.  From photographs of him on social media, he appears close to the government and the Office of the Prime Minister, with photographs of himself posing with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and several Ministers.

Libyan government backtracks

On Tuesday, the Libyan Interior Ministry uploaded a statement on its Facebook page entitled: ‘Minister of the Interior Commissioner receives the Personal Envoy of the Prime Minister of Malta’. It said the “Maltese government”, represented by Gafà, had expressed its support for Libya’s UN-backed administration.

In the same statement, the Libyan Minister said that the two sides had discussed various issues, including ‘bilateral relations between the two countries in the security field to serve the common interests of Libya and Malta’. In addition, according to a Libyan newspaper portal, Almarsad, Gafà also had talks with the Libyan Deputy Prime Minister. In these talks they discussed the smuggling of fuel and collaboration between the two governments.

Last Friday, the same newspaper portal reported that Gafà had “security protection and was escorted by guards who work with a member of the Presidential Council in Tripoli”. It also reported that: “Sources confirmed that the General Intelligence Service at Mitiga International Airport was planning to stop Gafà from travelling back to Malta via the Medavia lines or to Istanbul as a transit station (for a connecting flight).”

The same report says that, instead of using the Tripoli airport, Gafà “was obliged to leave by land, under protection, for Tunisia towards Djerba, and from there to Carthage airport for his return to Malta”. When The Malta Independent on Sunday asked Gafà why he flew back from Tunis, he said “because there was industrial action involving Libyan civil aviation.”

As recently as last September, the Maltese government has issued a number of statements and warnings for Maltese nationals not to travel to Libya because of the continuous conflict between the different factions. It is believed that Gafà has travelled to Libya several times, but he did not disclose the number of occasions when asked by this newsroom.

Two days ago, the Libyan Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement, also published on its Facebook page, saying that Gafà was granted a visa to travel to Libya for the purpose of visiting the Maltese Embassy in Tripoli. At the moment, the Maltese Embassy has no ambassador but Charles Saliba, who was appointed last July, will soon take up residency.

The visa scam

In 2016, this newspaper published articles to the effect that Gafà, who at the time was an official with the Health Ministry, had been accused by a Libyan whistleblower of having masterminded a medical visa racket. He had been investigated for allegedly charging Libyans hefty fees to secure their medical visas, treatment and accommodation, which are supposed to be free of charge for the patients according to an agreement between Malta and Libya.

Gafà was removed from his position with the Health Ministry and transferred to the Foundation for Medical Services, pending an investigation into the allegations. When the police found no evidence of wrongdoing, he was transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister to work in its Customer Care unit. At present he is Projects Director at the Health Ministry.

Last June, the transcripts of a number of conversations alleging Gafà had been involved in the illegal sale of Schengen visas at the Maltese Embassy in Tripoli and the issue of humanitarian medical visas were submitted in court. Once again, in this case Gafà denied all claims.

The Malta Independent is currently in court with Gafà over the articles.

 

Questions asked by The Malta Independent to Minister Carmelo Abela

·        Does Neville Gafà hold a diplomatic passport? If yes, why and when has he been granted this privilege?

·        Is Charles Saliba still the Maltese Ambassador to Libya?

·        If Saliba is still the Ambassador, why is Gafà travelling to Libya and apparently holding talks that are normally under the remit of an Ambassador?

·        Could you kindly give me the number of times Gafà has travelled to Libya, and where he went?

·        How much is he being paid to do this?

·        When he is meeting the different factions in Libya, why is the Ambassador not accompanying him?

·        Why is no one from your Ministry accompanying Gafà for these talks?

·        This week Gafà said that he was not on a diplomatic mission sent by the government. Have you spoken about this to your Libyan counterparts, who have claimed quite the opposite?

·        What credentials does Gafà hold to engage in these diplomatic talks, and under whose authority?

·        If Gafà is not representing the Maltese government in any way, does the Ministry have an issue with him having said so to members of the Libyan government whom he met, comments that have been well-documented and confirmed by the Libyan government?

·        Will you be taking any action along such lines if such representation and/or discussions were not officially authorised?

 

·        Questions asked by The Malta Independent to Neville Gafà

·        What was the purpose of your visit in Libya?

·        How many times have you visited this country since you were appointed as a PM special envoy and what was the purpose of these visits?

·        Who is accompanying you on these visits?

·        When did the note verbal exchanged between the two countries for this visit happen?

·        Who was the Libyan person accompanying you on your last trip?

·        Were you accompanied by a Maltese security officer and if so, who was it?

·        If these visits are of a diplomatic nature, why is  the Maltese Ambassador Saliba not accompanying you?

·        On what grounds do you hold a diplomatic passport?

·        If you were not representing the Maltese government in any way, do you not think that this will create a diplomatic dispute?

·        Why did you fly back from Tunis and not Mitiga airport?

 

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