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Criminal charges recommended in Malta government corruption inquiry


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A judicial inquiry into bribery and corruption at the highest levels of Malta’s previous government has completed its work and made recommendations of criminal charges.

The investigating magistrate, Charmaine Galea, is understood to have completed her inquiry into corruption allegations concerning a wide array of individuals, including the former government energy minister, the chief of staff to former prime minister Joseph Muscat, and a businessman awaiting trial for allegedly masterminding the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Jason Azzopardi, a lawyer representing politicians from the opposition Nationalist party, who requested the inquiry, confirmed reports in the Maltese press that the investigating magistrate had finished her work. “It is massive. From the little information I have, it is another watershed moment,” Azzopardi said.

The report is due to go to Malta’s attorney general, who will take the decision on whether anyone should be arraigned and on what charges.

Maltese government sources, however, denied reports that the inquiry was finished; it was “definitely not closed”, one source told Malta Today, one of the newspapers that first reported the story. The Guardian has contacted the office of Malta’s prime minister and the ministry for justice for comment.

The magistrate is understood to have recommended charges of bribery and money laundering against some individuals.

The investigation centres on a government contract to run a gas power station, one of Malta’s main sources of electricity.

The contract was awarded to Electrogas, where Yorgen Fenech, the businessman awaiting trial for masterminding the murder of Caruana Galizia, was a shareholder and director. The magistrate’s inquiry has examined the contract, and looked into secret companies in Dubai alleged to be linked to Keith Schembri, who was chief of staff to the prime minister from 2013, and to Konrad Mizzi, energy minister at the time.

Muscat resigned as prime minister in December 2019, days after Mizzi and Schembri had been forced to quit as the political crisis around Caruana Galizia’s murder escalated.

Karol Aquilina, an opposition MP, called for the immediate publication of the report and urged the attorney general to follow up on its conclusions in the “shortest possible time”.Schembri and Mizzi did not respond to messages requesting a comment.

Caruana Galizia, Malta’s foremost investigative journalist, reported in 2016 that Mizzi and Schembri were the owners of secretive offshore companies in Panama. A year later, she also revealed the existence of a Dubai company, 17 Black Limited, owned by Fenech. Months later, in October 2017, she was assassinated outside her home in a car bombing. She had been examining a leak of internal company files and emails from Electrogas at the time of her death.

After her death, investigative reporters who took up her work for the Daphne project linked 17 Black and another Dubai company, Macbridge Ltd, to Mizzi and Schembri.

Fenech was subsequently charged with complicity in Caruana Galizia’s murder. He pleaded not guilty and the case continues.

In 2018, Schembri denied any knowledge of payments to the Dubai companies, 17 Black and Macbridge. But he admitted that both firms, which are registered in Dubai, “were included in draft business plans [as] potential clients”.

Mizzi said in 2018 there was no connection, “direct or otherwise”, between himself and any entity called 17 Black.

The investigation follows a separate decision to charge Muscat, Malta’s former prime minister, with corruption in relation to a hospital privatisation scandal.

The former Labour leader has dismissed those charges as a smear campaign built on fantasies and lies.

That investigation focuses on a decision by Muscat’s government in 2015 to pass the management of three public hospitals to a private company, Vitals Global Healthcare, in a deal conservatively estimated to be worth €4bn (£3.4bn). Schembri and Mizzi also stand accused of bribery and money laundering in the case. The two men have denied any wrongdoing.

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