Prime Minister Robert Abela abruptly cancelled a long-awaited trip to a major trade festival in Dubai this week, with questions remaining as to why this decision was taken and whether it because he was forewarned about a police raid on Joseph Muscat.
Lovin Malta is reliably informed that Abela’s trip to the Dubai Expo, which has been described as the largest cultural gathering in the world, has been in the pipeline for several months.
This newsroom has seen an email that the Office of the Prime Minister sent to social partners in the early days of January, informing them that Abela would pay an official visit to Dubai to coincide with ‘Malta Day’ on Wednesday 19th January, a day at the expo dedicated to celebrating Maltese culture.
When Malta Day finally arrived last Wednesday, several Maltese singers, dancers and musicians entertained the crowd and Economy Minister Silvio Schembri delivered a speech in which he toasted the government’s efforts in mitigating the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Abela was nowhere to be seen.
Questioned by the press yesterday, the Prime Minister said he decided to give the Dubai Expo a miss for the sake of attending a memorial in Strasbourg for late European Parliament President David Sassoli.
“As you know, David Sassoli had died and the European Parliament had extended an invitation to leaders to attend his memorial,” Abela said.
“I felt that it was my priority to be with other leaders [in Strasbourg], including the Prime Ministers of Italy, Luxembourg, Greece and Croatia, and pay my respects to Sassoli, who was a great friend of mine. I also held an important meeting with Roberta Metsola.”
Sassoli’s memorial ceremony took place on Monday 17th January, with EU sources telling Lovin Malta it had been placed on the agenda for a number of days.
The following day, Abela stayed in Strasbourg to congratulate Roberta Metsola upon her historic election as European Parliament President.
However, instead of travelling straight from Strasbourg to Dubai in time for Malta Day, Abela decided to spend the day in Malta.
On Wednesday morning, the day of Malta Day, Abela was already holding meetings in Malta, indicating he had arrived back in his home country later on Tuesday or, at most, early on Wednesday.
He and Reforms Minister Owen Bonnici held a meeting with women’s rights activists to discuss issues such as femicide and rape.
Later on that afternoon, Times of Malta reported that former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had been raided by police that same morning as part of a magisterial inquiry into alleged corruption involving the Vitals Global Healthcare hospital concession.
When doorstepped, Abela dodged questions on whether his change of plans with regards to the Dubai trip had anything to do with the raid on Muscat and whether he had any prior knowledge about this raid.
Lovin Malta subsequently asked Abela why he cancelled his entire Dubai schedule instead of only the parts of his schedule which clashed with his commitments in Strasbourg, but has yet to receive a response as of the time of writing.
After the raid, Muscat published a video on his Facebook page, the first time he has done so since resigning as Prime Minister in disgrace back in 2019. In it, the former PM said he is ready to start “making more noise” after two years of relative silence and that he plans to “meet people face to face”.
Opposition Leader Bernard Grech interpreted Muscat’s video as a threat aired by the former Prime Minister to his successor.
“Muscat is giving the impression that Abela intervened with the police to humiliate him,” Grech said. “This came after a police raid that was planned to serve Abela’s electoral interests.”
Abela dismissed this theory and accused Grech of being “cheap and mediocre”.
Muscat’s home was raided by police this week in connection with payments he had received from Accutor AG, a Swiss company run by lawyer Wasay Bhatti which had received €3.6 million from Steward Healthcare during the period it had taken over the hospitals concession from Vitals Global Healthcare.
As reported by Times of Malta last November, Muscat received some €60,000 from Accutor AG in consultancy fees shortly after his 2019 resignation as Prime Minister in the wake of a political crisis sparked by Yorgen Fenech’s arrest for the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
However, Matthew Caruana Galizia – son of Daphne Caruana Galizia – said today that Muscat’s contract with Accutor AG was actually worth €540,000, €15,000 per month for a minimum of 36 months.
“The payments only paused when UBS flagged them and closed Accutor’s accounts. Unless he can prove the contract is terminated by mutual agreement, €480,000 is still due to Muscat,” he tweeted.
Cover photo: Left: Prime Minister Robert Abela, Right: Economy Minister Silvio Schembri at the Dubai Expo
Why do you think Abela cancelled his trip to Dubai?