The Malta Independent 8 December 2021, Wednesday

The noose tightens

Kevin Cassar Sunday, 14 November 2021, 09:58 Last update: about 23 days ago

“It was moronically stupid”, one MP commented about his prime minister’s order to rescue a cabinet colleague from parliamentary suspension.

Owen Paterson, conservative MP and ex-cabinet minister, was paid 100,000 pounds annually by Randox Laboratories and Lynn’s Country Foods. Despite clear rules outlawing paid lobbying by MPs, Paterson made 14 approaches to officials and ministers on behalf of the companies. He used his parliamentary office and stationery for his consultancy work and failed to declare his interests. The Standards Commissioner found him guilty of serious breaches of the rules” and recommended a 30-day suspension from parliament.

ADVERTISEMENT

It should have been a mere formality to ratify Paterson’s suspension. But Boris Johnson ordered Tory MPs to block it. This never happened in House of Commons history.  Former Prime minister John Major angrily commented that Johnson’s administration was “politically corrupt” and that “there was a general whiff of we are the masters now about their behaviour”. Many Tory MPs felt that Johnson’s order was shameful and wrong. One MP commented that “when the Tories break the rules, they change them”.

Despite an 81 seat majority and a three line whip, Johnson’s amendment passed with only 18 votes. The backlash was so severe that Johnson was forced into a humiliating U-turn. He reversed his decision and planned to let MPs vote again. Paterson resigned rather than face another vote.

But the damage was done.  Johnson’s handling of the case was described as “an absolute disgrace”.  Many saw the government’s move as contributing to a broader pattern of declining standards and increasing impunity. John Major accused Johnson of “trashing the reputation of parliament, the country and the party”.

What then would Sir John say about Malta’s appalling parliamentary standards committee? If Major levelled such detailed, lengthy and withering critique of Johnson for protecting his MP, what would he think of Robert Abela’s MPs protecting colleagues who bagged thousands of euro from a suspected money launderer and murderer and who shielded him in parliament and at the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly? What would he make of their defence of their former prime minister who breached standards by inviting the same suspect to his private birthday party and accepting his lavish gifts?

John Major would have been shocked to know that within one month of resigning in disgrace, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was lobbying his successor to renegotiate the corrupt multi-million Steward Hospitals deal. On 26th January 2020, Muscat accompanied Steward’s Armin Ernst to a meeting in Castille with Prime minister Abela and Deputy prime minister Chris Fearne. Muscat communicated his wish to see that the privatisation project goes on as initially promised, Maltatoday revealed.

The following month Muscat was rewarded for his efforts. He was given an indefinite consultancy contract worth 15,000 euro per month by Spring X Media.  Muscat received a total of 60,000 euro from Accutor AG and Spring X Media, both owned by Wasay Bhatti. That money may well have come from Steward who paid Accutor 3.6 million euro, 2.49 million on the very day Steward took over the Vitals concession.

Accutor AG also paid money to Shaukat Ali, who set up Mount Everest Investments Ltd, Jersey to extract commissions from the Vitals concession.  Bluestone investments, whose director was Ram Tumuluri, also received money from Accutor. Joseph Muscat visited Accutor’s offices in Switzerland within weeks of resigning as Prime minister.  Accutor’s owner, Bhatti, had visited Castille in 2017 while Muscat was prime minister. Bhatti bragged of his close links to Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri.

After Yorgen Fenech was exposed as owner of 17-Black, Keith Schembri gave him Bhatti’s contact details. Fenech contacted Bhatti, requesting help to move money from 17 Black.  Fenech wanted a “certain level of discretion” and “peace of mind”.  He planned to set up two companies, one funded by 17 Black.  Keith Schembri was copied in the email to Bhatti.

Joseph Muscat admitted meeting Bhatti “some years back as an investor with an office in Malta”. Muscat claimed that he was approached by Bhatti to do consultancy work for him.

Bhatti’s two companies, Accutor AG and Spring X Media, shared the same Swiss address.  Another company, VGH Europe was registered there. Vitals Global healthcare Ltd which was awarded the 7 billion hospitals concession for 1 euro was linked to Vitals International Ltd, Jersey.  The latter in turn was linked to three other Jersey companies, VGH Malta Ltd, VGH Kosovo Ltd and VGH Montenegro Ltd. VGH Europe that shared an address with Accutor and Spring X Media had a remarkably similar name to the three Jersey companies.

Despite his indefinite consultancy contract with Spring X Media, Joseph Muscat’s payments halted suddenly in the Summer 2020.  Accutor declared bankruptcy on 23 September 2020. Spring X went into liquidation. Two of Bhatti’s former business partners resigned in 2019 having become increasingly suspicious of dubious unexplained transactions.

In August 2021, Joseph Muscat was asked whether he was providing consultancy services to Steward. He categorically denied, stating he does not consult for companies that have contracts with government.

The noose is slowly but surely tightening. Muscat, increasingly cornered, resorted to his default hostility: “while I am not aware that they ever asked other Prime ministers about work and roles they took up after they stepped down, or what contracts and consultancies their children landed…”. Muscat hid his “consultancy” with the company that received millions from Steward, but cynically claimed “I was fully transparent”. In hysterical bitterness he stated “All work and payments are fully declared not as in the case of those who tried to rush and regularise their position with the tax authorities overnight because they were entering politics”.

“There are some who will never forgive me for helping bring about change in the country,” he concluded. That, nobody can deny - he surely changed Malta into a den of revolting sleaze.

And when you think about it, why is everything Muscat touches so filthy? And why are his associates always scammers?

 

  • don't miss