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8 May, 2024 13:43

Top officials in EU state charged with corruption – media

The case against the ex-Maltese premier, deputy PM, and others stems from a probe into a privatization scandal
Top officials in EU state charged with corruption – media

A number of former and current high-ranking officials in Malta have been charged with corruption over a hospital privatization scandal, the AFP news agency reported on Wednesday.

The charges against former premier Joseph Muscat, current Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, and the governor of the EU nation’s central bank, Edward Scicluna, were filed on Monday, AFP said, citing documents it had obtained.

Muscat, who was Malta’s prime minister between 2013 and 2020, has reportedly been charged with accepting bribes, corruption in public office, and money laundering.

Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who published extensive investigations into the Muscat administration’s privatization deals, was assassinated in 2017. The political fallout from the murder forced Muscat to resign in late 2019.

Fearne and Scicluna were charged with fraud, misappropriation, and fraudulent gain, AFP reported.

The charges are the result of a probe dating back to a 2015 decision by Muscat’s Labour government to pass the management of three public hospitals in the Mediterranean island nation to a private company. The firm later sold the concession to the Steward US hospital network. The privately-owned chain filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday, putting all 31 of its US hospitals up for sale.

Last year, a Maltese court annulled the privatization after the deal had been challenged by the opposition. The court said it had found evidence of fraudulent behavior. An appeals court later upheld the ruling due to “collusion” between the companies and senior government officials.

Muscat’s health minister and chief of staff at the time have also been charged with bribery and money laundering, according to AFP.

Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela cast doubt on the integrity of the inquiry on Monday. Local media quoted him as claiming that the probe’s findings were timed to damage his Labour Party’s prospects ahead of the June elections for the European Parliament.

Muscat took to Facebook on Tuesday to claim that the authorities “decided to smear” him “without even questioning” him. Fearne also claimed on Wednesday that he had “never strayed towards breaking the law.”

Malta ranks as a ‘Flawed Democracy’ on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. It scored 51 points out of 100 for 2023 on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

The EU is no stranger to corruption scandals. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is currently being investigated for corruption in connection with the purchase of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines during the coronavirus pandemic. Elsewhere, Slovak National Bank governor and member the EU Central Bank Governing Council, Peter Kazimir, is defending bribery charges. Former Latvian central bank Governor Ilmars Rimsevics was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption in December.