The chief executive of the Foundation for Medical Services said she was suspending herself from her position but denied reports in a Pakistani newspaper that she had received €443,500 from Gozo International Medicare Ltd – part of the VGH group – in less than four months.
Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) was the company that was controversially handed a government concession to run St Luke's, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals in a deal that was struck down by a court earlier this year.
“Following the media report I am tendering my suspension to be in a position to defend my position,” Carmen Ciantar told Health Minister Chris Fearne in a letter published by the government.
“I am doing this in the interest of the ministry and the government and this decision is in no shape or form an admission of guilt on my part,” she said, adding that she would take all legal measures at her disposal to defend her name and integrity.
The Daily Pakistan newspaper reported that a company linked to Sri Ram Tumuluri, the CEO of UK-based Causis Group and a director of VGH, made several undeclared payments to a senior Maltese official linked to the 2015 hospitals deal.
It claimed that leaked bank transfers showed a series of suspicious payments to the chief political advisor of Chris Fearne.
The report said Ciantar received a total of €443,500 from Gozo International Medicare Ltd’s account at the Dubai-headquartered Emirates NBD Bank.
It then transferred a €750,000 “loan repayment” into an account at Bordier & Cie Geneva, a Swiss private bank, registered to a Panamanian entity, Glotal Finance Inc., which also referenced Ciantar.
The first of the initial payments, described as travel expenses reimbursements by Ciantar, came six weeks before VGH was granted the hospitals concession, the newspaper alleged.
At the time of the transfers, Gozo International Medicare was one of several offshore companies at the heart of the complex secretive ownership structure of VGH.
Transaction reference numbers provided in the leaked banking tranche indicated there were at least 15 invoices submitted to Gozo International Medicare by Ciantar – dating between October 6, 2015, and February 25, 2016.
The newspaper report could not be independently confirmed.
Ciantar became CEO of the Foundation for Medical Services in 2016 having moved there from ARMS Ltd, the utilities billing company which was then under the ministerial responsibility of Konrad Mizzi.
Last January, Ciantar asked the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life to investigate the ethics of her €163,000 contract to head the Foundation for Medical Services after the Nationalist Party called on the government to cancel it.
The National Audit Office had highlighted Ciantar’s contract as “irregular”.
The responsibility of the foundation falls directly under Fearne, whom Ciantar had served as campaign manager.