Malta Enterprise has been warned by the Data Commissioner that failure to cooperate with its investigation into a rejected freedom of information (FOI) request about Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) is a criminal offence.

For over a year, Malta Enterprise has refused to give the Data Commissioner access to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) secretly signed between the government and VGH.

A copy of the MOU was requested from Malta Enterprise by the Times of Malta in December 2016 and rejected a month later.

This led the Data Commissioner to request a copy of the MOU from Malta Enterprise so it could decide on an appeal filed by the Times of Malta.

The MOU was signed several months before the ‘competitive’ requests for proposals to run three Maltese and Gozitan public hospitals was published.

VGH took over running the three hospitals in 2016, but bowed out 18 months later after receiving millions in taxpayer money with little to show for it.

In a submission to the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal, the Data Commissioner argued that his office had a legal right to access the information requested by the Times of Malta.

Instead of handing over the information requested by the Data Commissioner for the purpose of deciding on the Times of Malta’s appeal, Malta Enterprise filed its own appeal against the commissioner and the Times of Malta.

Malta Enterprise argued that all commercial information it handled was subject to confidentiality laws.

Malta Enterprise CEO Mario Galea told the Appeals Tribunal earlier this year that confidentiality laws prevented the agency from giving out commercial information to other authorities.

The Data Commissioner said such confidentiality laws did not restrict Malta Enterprise from handing out information to other authorities that are entitled to it. It said the Data Commissioner had wide-ranging powers which allowed it to investigate and request all information necessary for it to carry out its functions.

In a surprise announcement last December, the government said VGH would be bowing out of the billion-euro concession agreement, having run into financial difficulties and selling its shares to Steward Health Care.

This led one of the signatories to the MOU, Ashok Rattehalli, to file an injunction to halt the sale.

The injunction revealed the existence of yet another MOU, signed between the four businessmen behind VGH, five months prior to the publication of the concession by Projects Malta.

The injunction was withdrawn last month after Mr Rattehalli was given shares in the new Steward-run company.

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