On 13 October, 2016, 12 anonymous companies were quietly registered in Jersey, another secretive jurisdiction, each with successive registration numbers.
Some of these companies had familiar names such as Vitals Global Healthcare Ltd and VGH Malta Ltd. Others had familiar yet curious names like VGH Montenegro Ltd and VGH Kosovo Ltd. Some had more ambitious names like New Horizons Investments Ltd and Mount Everest Investments Ltd.
Each company had just one share in issue (Jersey does not have minimum share capital requirements like Malta does) and that share was held by a nominee, Crestbridge Corporate Nominees, which hid the intended beneficial owners. Safely locked behind a paywall, it would be a while until these companies were discovered.
At the time, Malta was still grappling with the fact that maybe all was not as it seemed with Vitals Public Private Partnership (PPP).
During a rare media briefing (the Malta government retained control over media statements and access for Vitals) on 5 November, 2016, Sri Ram Tumuluri had tried to convince the public that Oxley Group owned Vitals.
Then, he let it slip that “…the Oxley Group was planning to relocate its companies in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to Jersey,” which he said was a much “more transparent jurisdiction” (untrue) that still had tax advantages (0%).
We now know that at that point Bluestone (the Maltese company that appeared to own Vitals on paper) and its shareholders had entered into several secret agreements (including loans and share option agreements) altering the economic interests and control appearing on the register of companies in Malta.
We also know that, at that point, Vitals had through Tumuluri’s and another “well connected” operator’s intervention, Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor, already secured a secret memorandum of understanding with the Montenegro government which explained the need for a VGH Montenegro Ltd in Jersey and a Montenegrin subsidiary.
It would also be weeks before Vitals publicly delivered a presentation in Kosovo about its intention to compete in a yet to be announced tender for yet another PPP. Vitals must have been sufficiently confident that they would “bag” this too in order to establish VGH Kosovo Ltd.
The Shift also revealed that this pattern of pitching for perhaps already sewn up PPPs in other countries where the rule of law and media scrutiny are scarcer than in Malta including Oman, Georgia, Slovakia, Albania, Libya, Dubai, and Macedonia continued for a while, even while the Maltese companies were likely insolvent.
Papers filed in court by panic-stricken secret investor, Ashok Rattehalli, upon discovering the proposed sale to Steward Healthcare were the first indication that there were other ‘Vitals’ companies outside Malta.
In support of his claim that Sri Ram Tumuluri and others had promised him 5% of the shares in Vitals, Rattehalli filed a copy of an email from Channel Islands law firm Carey Olsen noting that they had been instructed by “Ram” to prepare a shareholders agreement for “the Jersey holding company” documenting Rattehalli’s shareholding interest.
The Shift further revealed that late night negotiations were held at Castille involving Ram Tumuluri, Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor, Minister Konrad Mizzi (who negotiated the deal) and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri (Mark Edward Pawley of Oxley fame was tellingly absent).
Rattehalli now holds 60 shares (5%) Vitals Global Healthcare in Malta – the concessionaire for the operation of the Gozo, St Luke’s and Karin Grech hospitals – alongside Steward Healthcare.
In a clear sign that the Jersey companies remain active, on 27 March and 4 April, two batches of annual returns (forms that confirm a company is still active and sum up changes to the shareholders) were filed in relation to the 12 companies.
This time, the nominees were removed revealing the ownership, according to official records.
As suspected, the Jersey companies now form a group structure ultimately owned by a company called, just like the one in Malta, Vitals Global Healthcare Ltd.
In turn, this company is owned by New Horizons Investments Ltd which in turn is now wholly owned by Ram Tumuluri with 10,000 shares of £1 each.
Shorn from its nominee cover, Mount Everest Investments Ltd, a company clearly intended to hold shares in this parallel Jersey Vitals group, is now shown to be owned by none other than Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor.
Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor, originally from Pakistan, was previously based in Libya where he developed his commercial and political connections with Malta – he has since acquired Maltese citizenship and is registered in Tigné, Sliema. He had tried to broker the sale of St James Hospital to two American-Pakistani entrepreneurs.
He is related to Asad Ali Shaukat who is also linked to the Vitals venture. Asad Ali Shaukat was a major shareholder in Corporate International Consultancy Ltd, one of John Dalli’s corporate services companies, between 2009 and 2011.
It is not clear whether a third company, Evergreen Global Ventures Ltd was intended for Rattehalli or whether someone else was meant to or will enter the picture, but it presently sits owned indirectly by Sri Ram Tumuluri.
Steward may be going through pains to rebrand Vitals in Malta but it seems that Tumuluri and Shaukat Ali and their connections may well continue to benefit from Vitals elsewhere.