A €1 million “political support fund” created by Steward Health Care is suspected to have been set up to pass on bribes to Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.

The funds were held by Accutor AG, a Swiss company suspected of being used as a centralised money-laundering hub for payments linked to the hospitals deal involving Vitals and Steward.

Investigators have zeroed in on how soon after leaving office, both Muscat and Mizzi signed consultancy agreements linked to Accutor, while Schembri is also suspected to have indirectly benefited from the “political support fund”.

The funds were moved from Steward to Accutor under the guise of a consultancy agreement. Steward boss Armin Ernst described the Accutor agreement in an August 2019 internal e-mail as intended to support “political and government activities and interactions”.

Investigators concluded that the chances Muscat, Schembri and Mizzi happened to all then go on to independently form relationships with Accutor is considered so negligible that the possibility is excluded.

The trio are facing money-laundering and criminal association charges in connection with the hospitals deal, together with a long list of other individuals and companies.

Financial experts said the existence of the political support fund was clear evidence that Steward was masking political payments under the guise of consultancy services.

They observed that had the arrangement in any way been a donation towards genuine political purposes connected to Malta it would not have been necessary to send the payments offshore to Switzerland.

Muscat inked a consultancy deal with SpringX Media, a company affiliated with Accutor, five months after Ernst made reference to the "political support fund" and within weeks of resigning as prime minister in January 2020.

The ex-prime minister received four €15,000 payments from Accutor and a related company called SpringX Media.

A January 2022 search of Muscat’s home yielded little evidence that the €60,000 the ex-prime minister received from Accutor and an affiliated company called SpringX Media was for genuine work, according to investigators.

Muscat was prepared for the search with copies of his consultancy contract with SpringX Media, as well as some “generic” powerpoint presentations linked to the work he claims to have done.

Former prime minister Joseph MuscatFormer prime minister Joseph Muscat

‘A pack of lies’ – Muscat

In comments to Times of Malta yesterday, Muscat said if the authorities required supporting documentation for his work, they could have asked him for the necessary information.

“I had also written to the police soon after learning that the inquiry was concluded.

“Instead of calling me to provide evidence to show that the allegations against me were simply a pack of lies, a decision was taken to issue charges against me without hearing me, against all convention.

“I will now provide this evidence in the adequate forum at the appropriate time. Like I was proven right on the (secret company) Egrant saga, I will be proven right again on Egrant 2,” Muscat said.

Muscat said extensive parts of the inquiry rely on “hearsay” evidence from a “Indian person”, claiming he received €18 million annually from the hospitals deal.

On the “political support fund,” Muscat said he is not aware and cannot comment about correspondence and alleged actions by other persons.

“That is why I believe that the best course in the public’s interest is for the inquiry to be published.

“Because of this, I have personally taken the initiative before the court to try to make this possible in full legally rather than through selective leaks,” Muscat said.

Times of Malta revealed Muscat’s link to Accutor in November 2021.

Konrad MizziKonrad Mizzi

The Mizzi connection

Investigations noted how in the days leading up to the August 2019 e-mail about the political support fund, Ernst wrote to Mizzi seeking his support on a major issue that he knew would require the minister’s sponsorship.

Investigators noted how the issue – namely the transfer of ownership of the Barts medical school – rapidly made its way to cabinet thanks to Mizzi’s support.

The Barts deal appears to have been aborted after Mizzi resigned from cabinet in November 2019 over the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder scandal.

A few months after resigning, Mizzi entered into a consultancy agreement with a Maltese company – Ikons Limited. Investigators noted how this coincided with Ikons receiving €180,000 worth of payments from Accutor.

Investigators discovered how the consultancy agreement, dated March 2020, was between Ikons, Mizzi and Alex Cutajar, a former aide to the minister.

While Cutajar was assigned specific work tasks under the agreement, investigators flagged how no specific tasks were assigned to Mizzi, raising suspicions why he was included in it.

Contacted for comment, Mizzi said the allegations against him on the hospitals concession are purely speculative and just conjecture.

“Contrary to the insinuations, I have never received any payments or committed any wrongdoing. Any claims to the contrary are utterly baseless. No payments were ever received from Ikons. Any attempt to link me with the concession through Ikons is also preposterous,” Mizzi said.

The ex-minister said that to date, he has only received partial disclosure of the documentation pertaining to the inquiry into the hospitals deal.

“I now await for further disclosure and look forward to disproving any allegations in court through a rigorous and fact-based process. Further clarity on unfounded allegations will emerge from the judicial process. Until then any rampant speculation does harm to this process,” Mizzi said.

Former chief of staff Keith SchembriFormer chief of staff Keith Schembri

Schembri’s Whatsapp groups

The “private relationship” between Malta’s politicians and Accutor is best exemplified in six Whatsapp groups which included Accutor’s owner Wasay Bhatti and Schembri, investigators said.

In these chats, Schembri and Bhatti discussed foreign investment projects linked to the Accutor company.

Schembri is believed to have used the ‘political support fund’ payments Accutor received from Steward to develop his business relationship with Bhatti.

Contacted for comment, Schembri said he had been an easy target for years.

“These are all lies and presumptions. I deny ever receiving any money from any person mentioned in the inquiry. I hope our justice system will eventually kick off as I still believe that eventually all these devious allegations will get quashed,” Schembri said.

The hospitals scandal has sparked several protests.The hospitals scandal has sparked several protests.

‘€18 million earmarked for politicians’

Former Accutor director Kamal Sharma is claiming millions were earmarked for Muscat, Schembri and Mizzi.

Sharma, a former Accutor director, alleged Vitals consultant Shaukat Ali told him Muscat, Mizzi and Schembri were “partners” in the hospitals deal, and were set to receive €18 million from it.

Ali, a figure who appears to have made millions from the deal, allegedly told Sharma that he was paying the ex-prime minister €15,000 monthly.

Former partners raise red flags on man behind Joseph Muscat payments

Investigators said that while Sharma’s testimony was “credible”, they were unable to corroborate the claims as much of the money Ali extracted from Vitals flowed to secrecy jurisdictions like Dubai, Switzerland and Tunisia.

This, the investigators said, meant they were unable to ascertain the onward flows of these funds and who were the ultimate beneficiaries.

Contacted for comment, Ali said all the allegations are absolutely baseless and unfounded, and stem from untrustworthy, unreliable and unstable people and sources, whose facts are based on suppositions, lies and fabrications.

“I will not further comment on this matter as I understand that this matter is pending before the courts of Malta and that I will potentially be charged with matters concerning the allegations mentioned by you in your questions.

“I feel we have become the victims of a political football and the subject of vile allegations made by mendacious people… I have faith that the truth will be known in court and justice will prevail,” Ali said.

Sharma told Times of Malta in 2021 that he and his business partner Tyrone Greenshields resigned as Accutor directors after growing increasingly suspicious about the company’s activities.

In the summer of 2019, the pair say concerned Accutor employees in Malta and elsewhere brought details about many large payments made into and out of Accutor AG between 2017 and 2019.

These transactions, they say, had not been recorded in the customer relationship management system and records were missing from the usual shared file folders that they accessed regularly.

The transactions involved parties and sums that neither of the two directors say they knew about.

They further say Accutor employees had been instructed not to inform them about these transactions, details of which they say were also withheld from reports prepared for the two directors.

Upon investigating the transactions, Sharma and Greenshields confronted Bhatti about the payments as well as two other Accutor officers, who were authorised to process transactions.

“They had no reasonable explanations for the concerning financial activities and it was clear that, in their minds, neither Tyrone nor I were supposed to know about these transactions”, the two former directors had told Times of Malta.

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