The son of a key figure in the fraudulent deal to privatise three hospitals has appeared in court charged with criminal association and bribery of public officials including former prime minister Joseph Muscat. 

Asad Shaukat Ali, who was a consultant for Vitals and Steward, is among a third lot of people due to face charges following the conclusion last month of a mammoth magisterial inquiry into the deal.

Asad Ali, 43, who was born in Tripoli, Libya but with an address in Swieqi, pleaded "absolutely not guilty" to all charges personally and on behalf of his companies, Eurasia Ltd and Incorp Sarl.

Asad Ali is the son of Shaukat Ali Chaudhry, who is believed to have been secretly running Vitals Global Healthcare, which in 2017 won the 30-year, €4 billion contract to operate Karin Grech, St Luke’s and Gozo General hospitals during Muscat’s tenure.

The contract was later handed to Steward Health Care and was last year annulled by a court that found the privatisation deal was fraudulent. 

A magisterial inquiry, triggered by rule of law NGO Repubblika, examined payments to Asad, his brother Wajid, as well as his two wives and daughter.

According to investigators, Eurasia charged Steward €400,000 to carry out ‘global healthcare feasibility studies’ to run hospitals in Ghana and North Macedonia. Eurasia was also engaged as the hospitals’ suppliers of IT  equipment. 

Charges and €22 million freezing order

When he appeared in court on Wednesday, Asad Ali was personally charged with promoting and participating in a criminal organisation, bribery of public officers including Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri and former health minister Konrad Mizzi, as well as Chris Spiteri as accountant of Vitals and Steward. 

He stands charged personally and as a director of Eurasia Ltd and Incorp Sarl with money laundering, accepting, requesting or receiving promises of undue advantage (trading in influence), fraud, other fraudulent gain, conspiring to commit a crime punishable with imprisonment in Malta.

Ali and Eurasia Ltd were also charged with trading in influence, false accounting, misappropriation, failing to make VAT declarations between 2017 and 2020, incorrect or misleading VAT declarations and failing to comply with income tax laws.

The prosecution also obtained a seize and freezing order to the tune of €22 million on Ali personally, €1 million over Eurasia and €100,000 regarding Incorp Sarl.

The entire hospitals concession is now the subject of a raft of criminal prosecutions against a series of politicians, including Muscat, lawyers and accountants involved in the deal.

The prosecution also asked for Ali not to comment about the case on the media or publicly. 

However the defence pointed out that in respect of this ‘gagging order’ they objected if it was limited to the person charged because while he would be unable to comment on media, other third parties who are not accredited journalists would not have a similar restraint. 

They would be able to air their opinions on social media and elsewhere whilst the person charged would be deprived of his right of reply, argued lawyer Shazoo Ghaznavi.

The prosecution also wanted to ensure Shaukat does not leave the island without informing the court by means of a note.

“We do not wish the proceedings to be stalled,” explained the Attorney General lawyers.

The defence did not object but highlighted the fact that Shaukat had come to Malta to face charges “voluntarily.”

Moreover, all his assets were formerly targeted by an attachment order issued by the Criminal Court in April. 

Now, all his possessions were hit by a seize and freeze order, added Ghaznavi, requesting the court to bear this in mind when imposing a personal guarantee to ensure that the person charged abided by court conditions. 

Magistrate Leonard Caruana said that a decree on these two prosecution requests would be delivered in chambers.

At the start of the hearing, lawyer Jason Azzopardi informed the court that he had filed an application on behalf of Repubblika-whose former president Robert Aquilina was present in court, to be admitted as parte civile. 

He had filed the application at 9:01am but the request had not reached the magistrate in sufficient time before the hearing.

Attorney General lawyers Francesco Refalo, Rebekah Spiteri and Shelby Aquilina prosecuted together with Superintendent Hubert Cini and Inspector Wayne Rodney Borg. Lawyers Shazoo Ghaznavi and Jessica Formosa were defence counsel.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us