Health Minister Chris Fearne has refused to weigh in on claims by Steward Healthcare about government mismanagement in the hospitals concession.

In a brief comment outside parliament, Fearne said when questioned that he will not be entertaining any public debates with Steward about the matter.

Questioned separately about the deal, Prime Minister Robert Abela initially refused to comment when entering parliament.

When asked again upon exiting, Abela said the “interpretation given” was different to what had previously been reported.

He refused to elaborate.

Steward Healthcare Malta has accused the government of pulling out of a revised concession agreement on three occasions in three years.

Nadine Delicata, who heads Steward Malta, wrote on Times of Malta on Monday that the government had promised to renegotiate the concession after Steward took on the “fiasco” left by Vitals Global Healthcare, the previous concessionaires.

Delicata wrote that the “ill-thought-out concession” was made worse by the actions of VGH’s owners, who created a “raft of companies, shifting assets between them and burning through funds”.

“On taking over VGH’s operations, Steward also discovered that there were no management accounts at all and that, shockingly, there had never been so much as an attempt at an audit of the company by the relevant authorities.”

Delicata said it was the government that approached Steward to take over the concession, which at the time in 2018 “was in a state of dire emergency”.

Armin Ernst, Steward International’s current president, was VGH’s CEO at the time, raising questions about claims that Steward did not know what it was getting into.

Times of Malta exposed in November the existence of a money trail leading from Steward Healthcare to former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, via a Swiss company called Accutor AG.

The web of connectionsThe web of connections

Steward has confirmed the money it paid to Accutor AG was part of the 2018 takeover deal from Vitals Global Healthcare.

Accutor AG was “nominated” by the VGH shareholders as the place to send the “payment considerations” due to them, a Steward spokesperson said in reply to questions.

Times of Malta reported in November how Steward Healthcare paid millions to Accutor AG around the time it finalised its buyout of VGH in 2018.  

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