Who needs Netflix’s thrillers when we live nightmare scandals every single day on this island?

Last week, The Sunday Times of Malta exposed a complex money trail linking a corrupt deal, a fixer, Joseph Muscat and Yorgen Fenech. All concerned deny wrongdoing, of course, but let’s go back and refresh our memories, shall we?

We need to go back seven years, to 2014. The then health minister, Konrad Mizzi (who is now a hysterical MP disowned by his own party) met – in secret – some people who called themselves Vitals Global Healthcare, whose base was in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.

Mizzi clearly liked what they told him because he put in a good word with his boss, Muscat and, soon after, the government signed – in secret – a memorandum of understanding about how Vitals was to take over public hospitals in Malta.

We had no idea about this until six months later when the government, out of the blue, announced a call for tenders for a private company to take over the management and the services of three Maltese public hospitals: St Luke’s, Karin Grech and the one in Gozo.

We were bewildered and shocked. Our three main hospitals – for which we paid €55 million from our taxes every year – were going to be privatised? Soon after, Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote in her blog that the tender had been “fixed” – in secret – and Vitals was going to win it.

Sure enough, in September 2015, Muscat’s government announced that, indeed, Vitals, a non-global, no-nation company with no track record of ever managing anything, let alone a hospital, had won the tender. Till then, the only things on Vitals’ CV were a fraudster named Ram Tumuluri, who fronted the company, and a shady deal in Montenegro (feel free to join the dots with the windfarm scandal, please).

In November 2015, Karin Grech and the Gozo hospitals were officially given to Vitals for 30 years and St Luke’s for… 99 years. The government was to pay €70 million (€15 million more than what we paid when the hospitals were on the NHS) for each of the 30 years from our taxes. This means that the mystery shareholders of the Vitals group would together be pocketing more than €2 billion in total.

An aside here: two days after this contract was signed, Mizzi gave the go-ahead – in secret – to open an account in Panama. Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, did the same thing and both secret accounts were – in secret – meant to receive money from another secret company, 17 Black, owned by Fenech.

Back to Vitals. Although it was a sale of three very public pro­perties, the government was reluctant to publish the contract with the details of the deal. When it eventually did, almost every page was a blank.

However, thanks to investigative journalism, we learnt that the government had sold all the equipment of the three hospitals to Vitals group for €1. That’s less than a carton of milk.

In return for the €1, Vitals pledged to give €500,000 a year in rent for the hospital buildings and they were meant to invest €200 million to revamp the three hospitals and to build a new hospital in Gozo. The deadlines came and went and were not met.

We live nightmare scandals every single day on this island- Kristina Chetcuti

In September 2017, the government was busy engaging in another secret: Vitals suddenly wanted out. Instead of telling it to sod off for breaking the contract and for not meeting any deadlines, the government gave Vitals the go-ahead to sell their contract to an equally obscure Steward Health Care, an American company. It was sold just 10 days before a new EU directive would have made it compulsory for the names of the sellers to be divulged. Till today, €70 million of our taxes every year go to Steward Health Care. Till today, Gozo does not have a new hospital. And Karin Grech and St Luke’s have not exactly become state-of-the-art. But all this is by-the-by.

For how much did Steward Health Care buy it from Vitals? They went about it in a rather complicated manner. Instead of paying Vitals directly, they paid €3.6 million to a Swiss company called Accutor AG, which was registered at the same address as Vitals. This company and a sister company called Spring X Media were run by a shady lawyer called Wasay Bhatti. Bhatti, a fixer of many talents, it seems, knew Muscat, Schembri and Fenech. The latter reached out to him, asking for his help to set up “discreet” corporate structures so he could move money, after Times of Malta and Reuters outed Fenech as the owner of 17 Black.

Fast forward to 2019, soon after his downfall, Muscat paid a visit to Bhatti in Switzerland. And, as The Sunday Times of Malta revealed, soon after that, in 2019, Muscat was wired €60,000 in four instalments as “consultancy fees” from Accutor AG and Spring X Media. In November of that year, Fenech was charged with complicity in Caruana Galizia’s murder.

Accutor AG has since declared bankruptcy and Spring X Media is under liquidation.

Muscat is saying, among other tu quoque arguments, that those “consultancy fees” were part of legitimate work he carried out but he won’t say what that work was and neither will Bhatti or Steward Health Care. And Prime Minister Robert Abela won’t ask anyone of them for an explanation because, he says, there’s “an ongoing inquiry” – the usual bullshit lie used to cover talk of corrupt practices.

This is but an abridged version of the more intricate, disgusting details. What is clear is that in our real nightmare thriller, we always have the same four top crooked protagonists: Muscat, Mizzi, Schembri and Fenech. And, still, the Malta Police won’t investigate who swindled our taxes.

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