Just when you thought we were getting to the bottom of the corrupt Vitals hospitals’ deal, the transactions we exposed in the last two weeks should make us even sicker. Last weekend, Times of Malta reported about the way Vitals shifted millions of taxpayers’ money to Bluestone Investments, whose own ownership was layered behind a company in the British Virgin Islands.
Today, we are exposing the way money from the deal was eventually re-routed to a company owned by Keith Schembri’s wife.
The numbers gleaned from company records might be too complex for the untrained eye, but the transactions appear to have the hallmarks of a sleazy money-siphoning operation at best, a money-laundering operation at worse.
Many of us might have grown tired of hearing about this deal – after all the ownership of St Luke’s Hospital, Karin Grech Hospital and Gozo Hospital has since been transferred to Steward Healthcare – but it would be a monumental error to dismiss it as a corrupt deal best forgotten. It would be an injustice to say this story should be destined to the history books because Joseph Muscat, Schembri and Konrad Mizzi have since exited the political arena.
We are here talking about a contract valued at €4 billion over 30 years! The people who engineered this racket with taxpayers’ money need to be brought to justice.
Over €21 million was transferred from Vitals to Bluestone between 2016 and the first two months of 2018.
The latest revelation comes after we got to know that Pakistani national Shaukat Ali, one of the masterminds behind both the Vitals and Steward hospital deals, milked millions from the running of the concession along with his family.
In 2018, we had exposed that a Memorandum of Understanding with people linked to the controversial hospital concession was signed in October 2014, six months before the government even published a request for proposals to run the three public hospitals. The MoU was conveniently “lost”, then later “found” by the government. The Auditor General said the existence of the agreement indicated collusion between government officials and the investors and that Vitals should have been disqualified.
Muscat will do his utmost to wash his hands of this scandal but there is one thing he cannot deny – the buck ultimately stopped with him
We also learnt VGH failed to pay “a staggering amount of VAT”, which the authorities failed to detect.
Former minister Mizzi was the one who stewarded the deal through, at a time when he too owned the same type of secretive offshore structures used by Vitals.
Muscat received money from a Swiss intermediary that received funds from both Steward Healthcare and Bluestone Investments, the same company that received millions in government funds.
He might argue he received the funds after he stepped down as prime minister in return for “consultancy” work.
Muscat will do his utmost to wash his hands of this scandal but there is one thing he cannot deny – the buck ultimately stopped with him.
And where Schembri was concerned, his track record in public office was rife with dodgy dealings, so his connection to this deal should come as no surprise.
All payments linked to the hospital deal are being examined by a magisterial inquiry.
While we wait forever for the courts to deliver justice, there are good reasons why the public expects the police force to up its investigations. A magisterial inquiry is meant to preserve evidence, but magistrates and appointed experts are not meant to do/take over the police’s job. There is nothing stopping the police from acting immediately.
The Pilatus inquiry is a perfect example of the dangers of delaying tactics. Many of the foreign players suspected of crime, from the bank’s chairperson to other officials have long left Malta, as have the original Vitals ‘investors’.
And while we wait, it is tragic to see many resigned to accepting the fact the hospitals’ transfer was yet ‘another’ corrupt deal with its tentacles reaching the very top of government. Taxpayers should never have become the casualties of this corrupt hospitals’ deal.