Malta Enterprise was never a party to a secret deal signed with the investors behind Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH), the investment body’s CEO Kurt Farrugia claimed on Monday.
Prime Minister Robert Abela revealed on Friday that copies of the agreement could not be found. He set a deadline for Monday for the deal to be located, saying he was confident it would be discovered.
The MoU was signed between the government and the investors behind VGH months prior to a tender for the running of the Gozo, St Luke’s and Karin Grech hospitals.
Last week, the national auditor described the agreement as evidence of collusion between government and VGH. The NAO audit said the deal meant VGH should have been disqualified from bidding to run the three hospitals.
Long-running legal battle
A court last year turned down Times of Malta’s request for access to the MoU, upholding Malta Enterprise’s argument that the document is commercially sensitive and had been superseded by the signing of the hospitals contracts.
However, in comments to Times of Malta on Monday, Farrugia is now saying Malta Enterprise was never a party to the secret agreement.
He could not explain why Malta Enterprise had spent the last three years in a legal battle with Times of Malta to prevent access to the document, if it was never in its possession in the first place.
“I was not there at the time”, Farrugia said when questioned.
Farrugia, who used to be former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s chief spokesman, was handpicked for the Malta Enterprise role last July.
Faced with demands for a magisterial inquiry into the VGH deal last year, Malta Enterprise acknowledged the existence of the MoU and downplayed its importance, insisting it was a non-binding agreement that had no impact on the awarding of the subsequent tender.
Farrugia said he did not know which entity led the initial negotiations with VGH.
“I don’t know, I wasn’t there at the time, you have to ask my predecessor”, he said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Robert Abela set a Monday deadline for the MoU to be located.
Abela said he did not know how the document had been lost and did not answer whether there would be consequences if it is not discovered.
Abela said he had given clear instructions for the document to be found.
Vitals crashed out of the concession two years after taking over, when the investors failed to raise the required financing to see the project through. US company Steward Health Care then took on the deal.
The government and the US health care provider are in talks about the 30-year concession, which Steward Health Care wants to have redrafted.
Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia has called for the deal to be rescinded and the Opposition tabled a motion in parliament, which was shot down by Labour MPs.
It argued that contract conditions on the modernisation of facilities and the provision of more beds have not materialised so the management of the three hospitals should be handed back to government.