The final oral submissions from lawyers in the court case opened by former Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia in a bid to have the contracts that handed over three public hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare rescinded will be heard on 25 October, meaning a verdict could very well be expected by the year’s end.
The court, presided by Judge Francesco Depasquale, on 29 July received Delia’s own final submissions. The former Opposition Leader has put up a staunch fight to reclaim the three hospitals fraudulently signed over to Vitals Global Healthcare when disgraced politicians former prime minister Joseph Muscat and former energy and health minister Konrad Mizzi were in office.
The then-leader of the opposition opened the case in his personal capacity against Muscat, who has since withdrawn from the political fray while Delia remains on as an MP and shadow minister for transport, mobility and capital projects.
The hospitals’ contract, which signed over St Luke’s, Karen Grech and Gozo General hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare, which, in turn, sold the agreement to Steward Health Care, was the largest public contract ever entered into by the Maltese government.
It also turned out to have been one of the biggest heists ever perpetrated in Malta. The deal has cost the taxpayer north of €2 billion and the bill is rising at a cost of approximately €190,000 a day. Steward Health Care acquired it for €1, while millions changed hands.
Delia has petitioned the court to have the entire contract and all associated ancillary documents rescinded, insisting that, “Steward and their officials and those of the Maltese government must not be allowed to steal, defraud, and loot the treasury and coffers of Malta.”
Delia argues in his 43-page submission that the facts presented in the case resulted “in the most obvious way” that the agreement had absolutely nothing to do with principles of fair play required for the proper management of public administration”.
MOU signed five months before the request for proposals
In the submission’s conclusions, Delia’s primary argument is that a Memorandum of Understanding granting the hospital concessions to Vitals, signed by former economy minister Chris Cardona, had been issued five months before Malta Industrial Parks had even published a request for proposals (RfP).
The argument was based on a report by The Shift News from January 2018, which revealed documents from a December 2017 order of injunction against Bluestone Investments Malta by Ashok Rattehalli, one of the original investors in the corruption-riddled project, which show how Ram Tumuluri and others had detailed information about the RfP well before it had been published in 2015.
Through The Shift’s revelations, it became known that the MOU had been signed by Ram Tumuluri and Mark Pawley on Vital’s behalf and by former economy minister Chris Cardona on behalf of the government a full five months before the RfP was even published.
€2.1 billion contract signed with a company with 30% mystery shareholding
“These persons,” Delia says in his submission, referring to Tumuluri and Pawley, “owned 70% of Vitals Global Healthcare. No one knows who owns the other 30%.”
“The government, represented by minister Chris Cardona signed an agreement with a company that has 30% of its owners hidden, for an eventual contract, signed in 2016, worth €2.1 billion.”
According to Delia, the whole deal was a fait accompli from the outset: “It was already agreed that this contract was to be awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare and the evaluation committee was staged.”
The evaluation committee, Delia points out, was to have reached its decision only after having conducted a necessary due diligence exercise to determine whether Vitals had the capacity to manage the hospitals.
The company was, after all, the recipient of the country’s largest-ever public contract and was given a 30-year concession, renewable for two additional 30-year terms.
A rubber stamp for a fraudulent agreement
Delia observes how the person responsible for carrying out the exercise for the evaluation committee testified before the court that his job was not to actually conduct any due diligence, but, rather, to merely determine if the offers were in accordance with the RfP.
“It results that no one from the INDIS (formerly Malta Industrial Parks) and/or the Evaluation Committee, did their work properly because they were, in their own words, just a ‘rubber-stamp’ for what was fraudulently agreed to by the government.”
The fraud, Delia argued, “became even more visible when Vitals Global Healthcare and/or its shareholders turned out to have no experience in running hospitals and/or in the medical field”.
Steward Health Care itself acknowledged it had taken over a deal that was “corrupt and fraudulent” in submissions the company made in separate court cases, revealed by The Shift.
Even though all of this had been confirmed by two investigations by the Auditor General, Delia pointed out, no one – not the Cabinet of Ministers, the Lands Authority, the Attorney General, the State Attorney, nor INDIS – “had the courage to cancel this agreement that was made against the common good and the public interest.
A ‘vile abdication of responsibilities’
“Instead, they abdicated their responsibilities in the vilest way,” Delia told The Shift.
When there was evident fraud – such as when former energy and health minister Konrad Mizzi of Panama Papers fame included a clause in the agreement to the effect that Malta would have to fork out €100 million should the controversial hospital concession granted to Steward Healthcare be rescinded, they failed to act, Delia charged.
“If we lived in a Third World country, where the rule of law does not exist, where public contracts are not considered in good faith and with good governance, then Steward Malta should expect to be paid the €100 million fraudulently agreed upon.
“But with our juridical history of independence and fair play – even in times of war when our judges did not allow the imperial government to send Maltese into exile without due process – Steward and their officials and those of the Maltese government must not be allowed to steal, defraud, and loot Malta’s treasury and coffers when even Steward Malta themselves have confirmed that the contract was fraudulent.”