Healthcare giant Steward has accused a court of being biased against it in its ruling that the US company acted fraudulently in handling a concession to run three hospitals.

In a 100-page application in which it set out its grounds for appeal, it described Justice Francesco Depasquale’s judgment as “more a work of fiction than a sound and proper ruling”.

Last month, the court annulled its concession to run Karin Grech, St Luke’s and Gozo General hospitals, finding the entire process fraudulent from before the contract was given to Vitals Global Healthcare and after it was sold to Steward. 

But the US company said the court arrived at the “wrong conclusions” after making “wild assumptions”.

It described the court’s finding of fraud and possibly criminal conduct on behalf of Steward as “simply hilarious (if it was not made by a court of an EU member state)”.

The English language translation of the appeal application says that it appears that according to the court, government members including former health minster Konrad Mizzi “were amateurs, virgins or, at worst, cretins, as well as devoid of any responsibility as if they were not of age,” it said.

On the other hand, the court considered that Steward, “exercising obscure wiles worthy of a villain in a Gothic novel, took advantage of the naivety of these pitiful individuals”.

The court’s conclusions were based on “factually and legally mistaken grounds”, went beyond what was asked of it and were made without giving Steward the opportunity to contest them.

The application by Steward Malta Assets Ltd, Steward Malta Management Limited and Steward Malta Limited, listed 12 grievances and argued that it, not the government, was the one that had been defrauded.

It accused the court of implying that Steward had “a masterplan” to take over the concession, force a termination and then profit from the government through a €100 million penalty.

The court showed “considerable ignorance” of how an international group of companies with 40,000 employees worldwide and 40 hospitals with a $7 billion turnover runs a business.

“Certainly not by planning to default a €30 million loan (from BOV) upon the cancellation of a concession to receive cash via a government guarantee – a fantastical aspect of the court judgment,” it said.

Steward said it was “affronted and offended by the unacceptable and sarcastic and superficial way” in which the court had considered the evidence.

Steward was “affronted and offended by the unacceptable and sarcastic and superficial way” in which the court had considered the evidence

It said that the court was wrong to imply that it had done nothing with state funding “except renovate a toilet” and listed how it had made upgrades to Gozo General Hospital, created several specialised units, a new fleet of ambulances, new helicopter services and the Barts College for Medicine and Dentistry Building.

It said that a reading of the First Court’s considerations would lead one to understand that the government has “come out clean” of the whole saga while Steward was the “con artist”.

The appeal also hit out at a decision to shorten the timeframe in which it could submit its appeal, saying it infringed its right to a fair hearing and said it reserved the right to seek a remedy under the European Convention of Human Rights.

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