Twist of irony: Sri Ram Tumuluri suing former business partner

The former chief executive of Vitals Global Healthcare, Sri Ram Tumuluri, has taken his former business partner to a UK court for allegedly misrepresenting their ability to fund the construction of a desalination plant in Saudi Arabia.

Tumuluri filed the lawsuit as a private investor in a Norwegian water company accusing Rupin Hemant Banker and his company, Royal Fort Infracom General Trading LLC, of allegedly lying about its capacity to help finance the construction of an offshore floating water plant in 2019.

Tumuluri was the CEO of Vitals Global Healthcare and acted as the face of the consortium, which secured a deal with the Labour government when it rose to power in 2013. The deal for the ownership and management of three of Malta’s hospitals signed by former Minister Konrad Mizzi was worth €7 billion with a consortium that had no previous experience in the health sector.

Vitals then sold this to Steward Healthcare for only €1, in a deal that is increasingly in focus as the country grapples for medical resources and equipment to battle COVID-19.

Banker and the United Arab Emirates-based Royal Fort helped Tumuluri and a Norwegian company, Offshore Water Desalination AS, secure some €18 million in financing from an Indian bank to make advance payments to contractors, according to the court documents filed earlier this year, The payments failed to come through and the deal fell apart, Tumuluri said in his claims.

The irony of this move by Tumuluri was not lost on some, especially in light of a new report by Malta Today, citing information received by a magistrate conducting an inquiry, that revealed that the Maltese government will be forced to fork out €100 million to Steward Healthcare if the contract is breached – even if it is Steward Healthcare that fails to meet its commitments.

Steward Healthcare has come under fire for failing to rise to the occasion during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. A week ago, The Shift revealed that patients infected with the who fell ill in Gozo with the virus were being sent to Mater Dei Hospital for treatment – a move that was highly criticised by medical staff.

A few days ago, the government announced that Gozo Hospital was now being used to treat patients with coronavirus. Yet emergency doctors at Mater Dei complained that they were being tasked with serving the private hospital too.

While questions on why the beds at St Luke’s Hospital in Malta were not being made available to health services, the government has issued a call for a pre-fabricated hospital for 90 patients that must be up and running in eight weeks. Steward Healthcare has failed to upgrade the hospital to the required standards – the whole point of the healthcare deal sold to the Maltese public was that bed capacity would increase.

On Sunday, the Opposition issued a statement pointing out that Steward Healthcare should have created 450 new beds in Gozo through the construction of a new hospital while the government promised to build a home for the elderly four years ago. The Nationalist Party asked who would be shouldering responsibility.

MP Jason Azzopardi said that this was “an act of corruption” in an act of deceit carried out in silence. “To take back what belongs to us, even through court, we have to pay Steward €100 million… now no one can say that Mizzi and Muscat aren’t corrupt.”

In a separate post, he asked whether the Attorney General was aware of the deal signed in August 2019 and whether he was involved in any way. Earlier this year, Steward Healthcare was asking for even more money, fronted by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as its lobbyist.

Partit Demokratiku accused Mizzi of robbing the country and said he must be brought to justice.

Meanwhile, Steward Healthcare this week submitted a master plan for the redevelopment of St Luke’s Hospital, which includes demolishing and rebuilding Karin Grech hospital.

The plan includes building the site into a healthcare campus with 462 beds, over 900 parking spaces, rehabilitation facilities and a number of other ancillary facilities and services. The outpatients’ block, doctor’s residence and hyperbaric unit are among those that will also be demolished.

Steward Healthcare runs three of Malta’s public hospitals – Gozo General Hospital, St Luke’s and Karin Grech, at a cost of €188,000 daily, or €70 million per year, according to the original contract signed.


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