On 19 June 2016, Ram Tumuluri, standing next to Health Minister Chris Fearne, bragged that Vitals had partnered with Walter Reed Medical Centre, a leading American military hospital specialised in artificial limbs and footwear, to offer rehabilitation services in Malta. Of course, Tumuluri was lying.
His claim was a total fabrication. I wrote to Walter Reed, and not only did they confirm there was no partnership, but they had no clue about Vitals and barely even knew where Malta was.
That wasn’t Tumuluri’s only big lie that day. At that press conference, he declared that Vitals would “invest €220 million over the next two years to transform the three hospitals into state-of-the-art centres, increasing bed capacity and attracting medical tourism”.
Just 21 months later, Tumuluri had escaped with millions of euro in his pockets.
“The company, Vitals Global Healthcare, will create 800 new jobs, half in Gozo,” Tumuluri has said on that warm June day in 2016, while Chris Fearne nodded approvingly before taking over and fueling the fiction.
“The advantage of this is that the capital investment to increase beds and improve the quality of the hospitals will not be coming from public funds, apart from the fact that it will help the country tap the medical tourism market,” Fearne added.
The cardiologist and former Nationalist MP Albert Fenech was paraded at that press conference. He had been promised funding to set up a cardiac angiosuite in Gozo and the position of heading it.
“Vitals left all the necessary work for this hospital in my hands,” he said with his ego sufficiently massaged. But the late Albert Fenech was duped as the devious Tumuluri had exploited his credibility.
Fenech duly obliged, chiming in with more hogwash. “It is the first time that medical tourism will be fully exploited. The respected cardiologist announced that tens of thousands of US and Canadian patients are flying around the globe for medical care, and “Malta could tap this potential”.
Fearne jumped on that bandwagon. “Glad to see that PN spokesman Prof Albert Fenech has endorsed government’s vision in taking forward the health services in Malta and Gozo,” he tweeted.
The Labour Party issued a gloating statement: “One of the PN’s own MPs is employed by the consortium in charge of an investment project that Simon Busuttil criticised so heavily”.
Konrad Mizzi taunted, “Glad that Fenech has endorsed the €200 million public-private partnership project to provide world class healthcare in Malta”.
Meanwhile, Tumuluri continued to milk that cow dry. He promised 450 beds in a brand new Gozo hospital, another 350 more beds at St Luke’s Hospital, 320 beds at Karin Grech Hospital, and a new nursing school at St Luke’s. We all know how that turned out.
“How will Vitals make its profit?” the press asked. “The real profit is in the hundreds of other beds Vitals will use for medical tourism purposes,” Vitals replied.
Seven years later, no medical tourist has set foot on Gozo, far less in the new 450-bed Gozo hospital.
“How will Vitals finance this project?” Fearne and Tumuluri were asked. “The capital investment will be divided as follows: 30% from shareholder funds and 70% through bank loans and credit institutions”.
The press later revealed that the Vitals’ total share capital was just €1,200.
Yet Tumuluri promised he would invest €220 million over two years. No wonder the appeals court concluded the whole project was a total fraud.
Fearne now wants to disassociate himself from the massive fraud completely. He was kept in the dark; he knew nothing. So why did he stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Ram Tumuluri?
Fenech realised belatedly that he had been fooled. He commented in December 2021 that he had “absolutely changed my mind about the deal”.
“In Gozo’s hospital, in particular, they were down to the last week of supplies… that’s when we started smelling something fishy,” he revealed. But it was too late as Tumuluri was gone, with millions of euro of taxpayers’ money.
Fenech’s pride was severely dented. A prat had fooled the respected cardiologist. Two prats, actually.
“Whenever the name of Konrad Mizzi comes up, you smell a rat”, he added, “that guy can’t be trusted with anything”.
“The damned tragedy is that with all the filth that we have been allowing to happen and that we know about, given it’s all recorded and documented, very little has been done about it. Despite all that, people will again still be voting into power the same kind of morally deplete individual,” Fenech commented.
Fenech had no excuse because his friends and colleagues had tried to open his eyes. I was one of them.
When he finally realised he’d been exploited, he expressed remorse.
“I trust you deeply regret having aided and abetted this scam,” I messaged him on 5 December 2019. He replied, “I certainly do, and left them after I had spoken to you”.
He said he had joined Vitals in good faith as he wanted to contribute to a better service for the public, but he was prepared to admit his mistake.
The same cannot be said of those who used him, humiliating him in the process. They knew exactly what they were up to as they conspired with Vitals to engineer the biggest fraud in Maltese history.
Meanwhile, the country waits impatiently for another magisterial inquiry to conclude, hoping those responsible for the €4 billion fraudulent deal will finally face justice. Fenech knew precisely who the senior government officials behind the scam were because they deceived him and the country. For Fenech to rest in peace, their crimes cannot go unpunished.