The saga concerning the hospitals concession is now practically over, with an appeals court having confirmed a decision to annul contracts concerning the concession. 

While the government and Steward are still locked in an international arbitration dispute, local proceedings are now officially over. It marks the end of what has been almost a decade-long project marked by controversy and unfulfilled promises.

Times of Malta breaks down some of the crucial developments throughout the almost decade-long saga.

October 10, 2014:

A memorandum of understanding is signed between the government and a group of operators who would later become Vitals Global Healthcare. The memorandum described the operators’ interesting in setting up a Gozo Medical Complex.

March 27, 2015:

The government publishes a request for proposals for the concession of three public hospitals, namely St Luke’s Hospital, Karin Grech Hospital and Gozo General Hospital. The concession is managed by the Ministry for Energy and Health, led by Konrad Mizzi.

September 9, 2015:

Vitals win the concession and contract negotiations get under way. Vitals had no previous experience in the medical sector or in the running of hospitals.

Chris FearneChris Fearne

April 28, 2016:

Chris Fearne is appointed Health Minister, with Konrad Mizzi becoming minister without a portfolio.

June 1, 2016:

The concession formally begins. By the end of the year, the government would pay Vitals a total of €16,022,406. Between 2016 and 2018 Vitals transferred at least €21 million to its Maltese parent company Bluestone Investments, often making payments on the same day that it received funds from the government to run the three hospitals.

June 24, 2017:

Konrad Mizzi is sworn in as Minister of Tourism, Chris Fearne remains Health Minister.

Management of the concession remains under Mizzi’s watch, with the tourism ministry, rather than the health ministry, taking the lead. The auditor general describes this situation as “anomalous”.

July 1, 2017:

The deadline for construction of Barts Medical School is missed. This would eventually be completed in October 2019.

September 30, 2017:

The deadline to provide 80 rehabilitation beds for St Luke’s Hospital is missed. This was never carried out.

October 2017:

Chris Fearne is first informed by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat that there will be a change in concessionaire.

Ram TumuluriRam Tumuluri

December 2017:

Former Vitals director Ram Tumuluri claims that Keith Schembri told him “You know what happened with Daphne and you don’t want to end up in that position.

You want us to be a friend, not a foe” during a meeting held in December 2017. Schembri describes Tumuluri’s claims as completely false and baseless.

December 21, 2017:

The transfer of the concession from Vitals to Steward is publicly announced, with Joseph Muscat and Chris Fearne issuing separate public announcements.

January 2018:

VGH Europe, a company set up to expand Vitals’ presence acros Europe, changes its name to Accutor Consulting.

Joseph MuscatJoseph Muscat

February 19, 2018:

Steward take over the concession. Joseph Muscat informs the cabinet that the transfer of shares from Vitals to Steward took place that day.

February 19, 2018:

On the same day, then-opposition leader Adrian Delia files a court case to rescind the concession. The case would eventually conclude in February 2023, with the courts cancelling the deal altogether.

May 31, 2018:

The deadline for the construction of a new wing at the Gozo General Hospital is missed. This was never completed.

August 2018:

Sirimed, the Sicilian contractor behind the construction of the Barts Medical School, wires €250,000 to Accutor. Between 2018 and 2020, Steward paid Sirimed €15 million for works on the medical school.

Gozo General HospitalGozo General Hospital

September 30, 2018:

The deadline for the renovaton of the Gozo General Hospital is missed. This was never carried out.

December 31, 2018:

The deadline for the introduction of tourism beds at St Luke’s Hospital is missed. This was never carried out.

March 2019-January 2020:

Steward wires a total of €500,000 to the owner of Accutor owner Wasay Bhatti. Between October 2015 and January 2020, Steward will pay a total of €5.9 million to various Swiss companies run by Bhatti.

July 17, 2019:

BOV grants Steward a loan of €28 million. Konrad Mizzi appears in the agreement on behalf of government, however the auditor notes that the consent of the cabinet was not obtained.

Konrad MizziKonrad Mizzi

August 26, 2019:

Konrad Mizzi asks the cabinet to sign an agreement which would lead the government to pay Steward €100 million and the lenders’ debt if the courts annulled the concession. The auditor says that Mizzi misled cabinet on this matter, omitting some key facts while underplaying others. The cabinet grants its approval the following day.

October 2019:

Construction of Barts Medical School, one of the infrastrucutral projects promised in the concession, is completed. All other milestones remain uncompleted.

November 26, 2019:

Konrad Mizzi resigns from his role as tourism minister but remains a Labour MP.

December 1, 2019:

Joseph Muscat announces his resignation as prime minister and is replaced by Robert Abela a month later.

January 2020:

Joseph Muscat is hired as a consultant by Accutor owner Wasay Bhatti on a €15,000 per-month contract. Muscat would have received 36 monthly payments totalling to €540,000, however payments were stopped after just four months, with a total of €60,000 having been paid.

June 23, 2020:

Konrad Mizzi is expelled from the Labour Party’s parliamentary group, remaining an independent MP until the end of the legislature in 2022.

Mid 2020-August 2021:

Several attempts are made by the government and Steward to renegotiate the concession. All are unsuccessful, with government informing Steward in August 2021 that it is no longer willing to renegotiate the deal.

January 19, 2022:

Joseph Muscat’s home is searched by police as part of a magisterial inquiry into VGH. Documents and devices are seized during the search.

February 24, 2023:

The courts rescind the concession and return the three hospitals to the government. Steward files an appeal a few weeks later on March 15.

May 15, 2023:

The last of three reports by the auditor general is published, revealing that a total of €456 million was paid to Vitals and Steward throughout the concession period.

May 17, 2023:

The ‘Hospitals X-Rayed’ investigation, a joint investigation between Times of Malta, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and The Shift is published, revealing the flow of funds from Steward to Accutor, the spending of key people behind Vitals, and disclosures by forer Vitals director Ram Tumuluri.

July 19, 2023:

A court of appeals turns down Steward Healthcare's request for a preliminary reference of the judgment annulling to be answered by the European Court of Justice.

October 23, 2023:

The concession's annulment is confirmed by the appeals court, which finds "collusion between Steward and senior government officials or its agencies" unlike the original judgment, which had pinned the "fraudulent" deal squarely on Steward. 


 

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