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The big pay off: A key hidden investor in Vitals Global Healthcare

Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor Tigne
Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor (left) with Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's head of security John Portelli (centre) at Tigne Point, Sliema.

One man is at the centre of all the dealings related to Vitals Global Healthcare in Malta and abroad. Owning different business ventures, some linked to key people in power, his corporate network branches out ownership to family and friends.

He was trying to get a hospital in the country even before anyone had any idea that the government would negotiate a deal on public hospitals, having been involved in a failed bid for the takeover of St James Hospital in 2015.

A newly-elected Labour government then announced a deal worth €7 billion with a consortium with no previous experience in the health sector, a fact that was also noted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in its scathing report on the rule of law in Malta.

It was Sri Ram Tumuluri who acted as the front for the group, but Pakistani Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor was there from the start as a hidden investor.

Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor never appeared in the debate leading up to the negotiations that led to the Maltese government handing over St Luke’s, Karin Grech and the Gozo hospitals. It was The Shift that revealed the name of this key mover and shaper.

While he likes to work in the shadows, The Shift has been following his dealings in the healthcare sector in other countries. Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor is still negotiating with other governments in Eastern Europe, using the Malta bid to win new contracts even though the consortium failed to deliver in Malta.

Court documents revealed by The Shift showed how a deal worth some €7 billion was sold to Steward Healthcare for only €1. But while taxpayers were left in the red, the hidden investors received millions.

Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor set up an offshore company in Jersey, one among a chain linked to the Vitals Global Healthcare deal. These companies were set up for the purpose of receiving a payoff from the sale of the concession, according to contracts revealed by The Shift.

That company has now been closed, indicating commissions due from the transfer have been received.

Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor Jersey

Mount Everest Investments Limited was put into a process called ‘summary winding up’ on 31 July. Documents show the process was completed that same day, effectively closing off the company in which Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor was the sole shareholder (owner).

Sri Ram Tumuluri had set up similar offshore structures like the one established by Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor. The Shift reported in May that he had also moved to close nine of his companies.

How did they get their commissions?

Mount Everest Investments Limited was among a chain of 12 companies set up in Jersey on 13 October 2016.

These companies were owned by the real beneficiaries of the concession on Malta’s public hospitals. Contracts they signed among themselves showed these companies were set up to extract income in the form of ‘commissions’ from the local concessionaire without needing to reflect the true beneficial ownership of the concession through public share transfers.

The companies Sri Ram Tumuluri closed earlier this year are those in red in the image below:

These contracts were filed in court as a result of disputes between the hidden owners at the time of the rushed sale of the concession to Steward Healthcare. It is how the existence of these secret agreements and companies became known after The Shift made the information public.

The sales agreement between Vitals and Steward Healthcare included clauses on paying undisclosed settlement amounts to the Jersey companies in order to terminate the commission payments.

Although they received over €50 million from the Maltese government, they left a reported €55 million in debt, showing that rather than delivering on the Maltese concession, their priorities were on milking the concession and expanding to other countries at Maltese taxpayers’ expense.

The Shift has also shown how these Jersey companies were used to finance the takeover of key suppliers, including Technoline Ltd (medical and pharmaceutical supplies) and Mtrace plc (radiopharmaceuticals), and then proceeded to award them exclusive distributorship agreements.

A magisterial decree on the evidence revealed by the press concluded that Economy Minister Chris Cardona (who signed the original MOU), Finance Minister Edward Scicluna and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi (who negotiated, signed and administered the deal), as well as Technoline owner Ivan Vassallo, should be placed under criminal investigation. The three Ministers had appealed the decision, with Judge Giovanni Grixti deciding against an investigation.

A new court application for a magisterial inquiry into the actions of the three Ministers has been filed by civil society organisation Repubblika.

This article was developed with the support of journalismfund.eu

Petra Caruana Dingli at The Shift News

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