A public procurement contract issued through Mumbai’s civic transport and electricity provider has been the cause of increasing scrutiny from members of the Indian government’s legislative assembly for one major reason – the fact that it was awarded to a company owned by Ram Tumuluri, of Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) fame, where one of the reasons listed is his past in Malta.
Earlier on Thursday, The Indian Express reported how the contract has come under fire from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, the far-right ruling party in India) member of the legislative assembly, Ashish Shelar, because of how the original tender for the procurement of 200 double-decker electric buses ballooned to 1,400.
According to The Indian Express, the public procurement contract awarded to Tumuluri’s company by Mumbai’s civic transport and electricity provider Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) was valued at ₹28 billion (€332 million).
Shelar, along with fellow BJP legislative assembly member Mihir Kotecha, raised questions about how the contract not only ballooned in scope and value but was also awarded to Ram Tumuluri’s London-based company, Causis E-Mobility.
“Tumuluri has been declared an international scammer and the main culprit in scams worth crores (tens of millions) of rupees by Malta, Canada and the European Union. Serious allegations have been levelled against him and the Supreme Court in Canada has also made serious declarations about him,” Shelar is quoted as saying.
Interestingly, Shelar also mentions that Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor, whom he describes as politically well connected, and his son Asad Shaukat Ali, whom he describes as allegedly a key operator in a ‘hawala’ racket, are involved in the venture as “investors”.
It was Tumuluri who acted as the front for the deal in Malta, but Pakistani Shaukat Ali Abdul Ghafoor was there from the start as a hidden investor. With Tumuluri, he even pitched similar projects in other countries, tracked by The Shift, using the Malta project as an example of ‘success’.
Causis E-Mobility, which is officially known as Causis Group Ltd, was incorporated in Wales in June 2021. According to public records, all of the shares of the company are owned by Tumuluri through his New Jersey-based company, New Horizons Investments Ltd.
New Horizons Investments Ltd was one of 12 New Jersey companies revealed by The Shift in 2018 that were set up in a flurry of registrations back in October 2016, alongside more familiar names like Vitals Global Healthcare Ltd and VGH Malta Ltd.
According to Indian news outlets, Tumuluri’s company benefited from exclusivity on the tender given that while it initially undercut competitors, the multiple renewals and amendments that increased the value seven-fold were not subject to a fresh public call.
This is a familiar situation to Malta, given how VGH had closed the deal with the Maltese government before a request for proposals was officially issued and how the agreements with VGH continued to morph through side-letters signed by Konrad Mizzi.
The Shift had also revealed that this pattern of pitching for perhaps already sewn up public-private partnerships 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 VGH companies were likely insolvent.
Tumuluri’s name first cropped up in Malta in relation to the concession of three public hospitals which the government had originally signed over to VGH right after the government issued its request for proposals for the project in March 2015.
At the time, Tumuluri was a director of VGH and one of the initial investors behind the project.
Later investigations confirmed initial suspicions the concession was a done deal before any request for proposals was issued. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with very specific terms related to the concession was signed between the investors of the deal in November 2014.
The MOU referenced another MoU signed with the Maltese government before any tender was issued, an agreement which the Maltese government kept hidden for years.
The hospital concession awarded to VGH eventually went off the rails for multiple reasons – the first major issues were laid bare when it became apparent that VGH did not have the required capital to deliver its promised €200 million investment, with Steward Healthcare being brought in to “save” the concession.
In truth, Steward Healthcare locally is run by the same people who were present in VGH, including Steward Healthcare CEO Armin Ernst (who was also the CEO of VGH) and Steward Healthcare president Nadine Delicata (who was also the VP of VGH’s operations).
To this day, the taxpayer has borne the brunt of the myriad problems that have emerged as a result of the deal, with the Maltese government lining VGH’s hidden investors and Steward Healthcare’s pockets with hundreds of millions of euros with no tangible return on investment.
Opposition MP Adrian Delia has continued to pursue a case in court to return the three public hospitals given away in a deal that Steward Health Care argued in court was “fraudulent and corrupt“. Yet in the last hearing on 15 March, the Attorney General failed to provide the evidence needed for the case to proceed to judgment.
The Labour Party’s electoral manifesto makes no mention of any concrete solutions or negotiations on this concession.