Steward Health Care has claimed its concession to run three hospitals in Malta was deemed "not fit for purpose" internationally and is therefore "of no financial value".
In a statement on Tuesday, the group said it had attempted to completely renegotiate the terms of its deal to manage Gozo General Hospital, St Luke's Hospital and Karin Grech hospital in a 2019 memorandum
Stewards, who took over the 30-year concession the previous year, after inexperienced Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) crashed out of the deal, released the rare statement in response to a Malta Today article.
The newspaper wrote that a memorandum of understanding between Joseph Muscat's government and Steward Healthcare would have allowed the company to sell the Barts medical school to a real estate investment company.
Steward did not deny the existence of the 2019 MOU but said it was unsigned and "never executed, much less pursued".
However, it said the draft document was its attempt to help completely renegotiate the original terms of the hospital concession.
"Indeed, had the MOU been agreed to by the previous government, there would be a bankable concession in place that does not violate EU requirements for public-private partnerships (PPPs) and the facilities would be nearing completion," it said.
The unsigned MOU, it said, suggested multiple alternative methods of converting the concession into an agreement that would "work for the people of Malta".
It said a deal to sell portions of the leasehold of the London-based Barts Medical School to a leading US real estate company, Medical Properties Trust (MPT), with the government "importantly" maintaining ownership and oversight of medical school "was one option raised but never pursued".
This opportunity, which it said was "heavily supported" by the Government, Malta Enterprise, and the Bank of Valletta at the time, would have "brought foreign direct investment to Malta, improved the standing of the financial institutions involved and boosted the local economy".
Steward said "the fact that the concession was considered ‘unbankable’, requiring capital infusions, and not fit for purpose by international institutions rendered the Maltese concession of no financial value."
The US company has been locked in talks with the government about changing the deal ever since it took over the contract from VGH. Last year, ministers gave their colleagues a presentation of a proposal to take the three hospitals back from the private operator.
The contract is the subject of a magisterial inquiry and also faces a court challenge, filed by MP and former opposition leader Adrian Delia, to have it rescinded.
A National Audit Office investigation found significant failings in the deal, concluding that the original concessionaire, VGH, should have been barred from winning the hospitals contract due to “collusive behaviour” with the government.
In a follow-up report, the NAO found around 60 instances of VGH breaching its service obligations in the hospitals' contract, yet no action was ever taken.