The government is scrambling to cover up the fact that it covered up the benefits fraud scandal. Times of Malta did not stop at revealing the story. They’re pushing the government to answer its questions and the mess of the responses the government are giving is a story in itself.
Consider for example answers to questions given today by Prime Minister Robert Abela and by the Social Policy Ministry. Their stories are not aligned.
Robert Abela makes a claim. From Times of Malta today:
He said Castille immediately took action when it received reports of the allegations. The case was reported to the police and Grixti was asked to resign from his role as MP, Abela said.
“The case was revealed by Castille and reported to the police by Castille,” he said.
That statement is full of misdirection. If it is true that the case was reported to the police by Castille (we have no way of knowing whether that is true or not), it is still not true that the case was revealed by Castille. Castille covered up the case.
On 20 December 2021 Times of Malta reported that Silvio Grixti had “resigned from parliament after being interrogated by the police over an investigation into irregular medical sick notes. Grixti was recently questioned by the police’s Financial Crimes Investigation Department and released on police bail.” That report quoted sources privy to details of the investigation.
Castille made no statement on the subject. Complete silence. Silvio Grixti’s resignation from Parliament was overshadowed by the resignation of Justyne Caruana from the government on 22 December. They said nothing about Silvio Grixti. Castille most definitely did not reveal the case.
Now compare Robert Abela’s self-congratulating remarks with the answers given by Michael Falzon’s ministry.
The ministry said that in September last year, its Income Support and Compliance Division (ISCD) detected suspicious severe disability assistance applications and alerted the police to possible forged medical certificates…
Police had first questioned Grixti in connection with the case a year earlier when he had also resigned as MP, but the Ministry said it was never privy to those investigations and only became suspicious last year when it came across “a number of applications which had suspected forged medical documentation”, which it then forwarded to police for further investigations.
Isn’t that excellent? The Prime Minister claims to have been the police’s source for the investigation that started in December 2021 but the line minister who works for the prime minister didn’t know about any of this in September 2022. In fact, the ministry informed the police again of their findings, nine months after the police were, according to a report in the press, well advanced in their investigations to the point that they had an MP out on police bail.
Robert Abela is either lying about having “taken political decisions” about Silvio Grixti or about having “revealed the case” in 2021. I think he’s lying about the latter. His idea of “revealing” the case was so secretive that the ministry that was making the unlawful payments (and was still making the unlawful payments nine months after the prime minister is supposed to have reported the matter to the police) hadn’t heard this was happening yet.
I do believe Robert Abela took a political decision in 2021, and that decision was to stop the bleeding by cauterising Silvio Grixti, cover up the scandal, and make sure that Grixti falling on the sword (to mix bloody metaphors) would be enough to save his own (Robert Abela’s) ministers and staff.
“I will not comment on the involvement, or lack of involvement, of individuals because there are ongoing investigations,” Robert Abela told the press. In the same breath he comments on the involvement or lack of involvement of individuals and says “I am convinced that no MP in any way participated, or directed someone to commit irregularities.” The contradiction is so self-evident, it is beyond absurd.
This can’t stop here. It won’t. Think about it. €2.1 million were recovered from the 141 cases prosecuted so far. It’s estimated there are more than another 600 cases that are yet to be heard in a courtroom.
The scandal is not just disgusting. It’s enormous. It’s more than anyone, even a backbench MP like Silvio Grixti, could get away with unnoticed.
Imagine a band club committee that finds that, say, €4,000 were siphoned off in payments that were not due. Imagine the intervention of regulators, financial intelligence agencies, investigators, and prosecutors, not to mention the upheaval in the structures of the club itself.
But our government pays out millions in payments on the basis of fraud that benefited its voters identified by their partisan affiliation and constituency and the prime minister deals with the scandal by attempting to convince us that he heroically “took the political decision” of getting a back-bench MP to resign.
This is Silvio Grixti’s Facebook post the day of his resignation.
He lies about the reason why he resigned because he knows Robert Abela, who ostensibly had just forced his resignation, won’t contradict him. And he concludes his farewell by reiterating his support for Robert Abela. He sealed the cover-up with a kiss.
One more observation. In December 2021, when Times of Malta first told us about it, Silvio Grixti had already been arrested, interrogated, and released on police bail. And yet today, September 2023, he hasn’t been charged in spite of the fact that the evidence of his crimes has been solid enough to secure the conviction of dozens of people he “helped” defraud the state. That’s the best guarantee yet that Robert Abela intervened to make sure that not even Silvio Grixti (let alone his accomplices in government) sees the inside of a prison cell for his spectacular crimes.
They obstruct justice when justice could reach them.
It is a testament to the desensitisation that a long-suffering public can be subjected to after 10 years of weekly scandals that Robert Abela can happily survive such an outrage.