A medical supplier featuring in a corruption and money-laundering probe linked to the Vitals hospitals deal has turned his guns on his former partners.
Technoline managing director Ivan Vassallo protested his innocence and, in a judicial protest filed against Vitals companies based in Malta, Switzerland and Jersey, insisted that he has cooperated fully with the police.
The judicial protest was filed two days after Times of Malta sent questions to Vassallo about his attempt, in April 2017, to transfer a €900,000 cheque to Technoline, via HSBC, in the form of a “loan”.
HSBC rejected the cheque transfer, after Vassallo was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation about where the money came from.
Suspicions have long been raised about how Vassallo, who at the time was a manager at Technoline, raised the millions necessary to buy out his former employers at the company.
Vassallo had refused to answer questions back in 2018 on what he called “a private deal”, telling Lovin Malta it was “nobody’s business” how he had managed to raise the money to buy out Technoline’s owners by early 2017.
It has since emerged that the buyout deal was secretly financed by the people behind Vitals Global Healthcare, who then gave Technoline exclusive rights to handle procurement for St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals.
Loan 'being repaid at commercial rates'
A Technoline representative denied that Vassallo had acted merely as a frontman to hide Vitals’ interest in the company, insisting the money loaned to him to acquire Technoline was being repaid “at commercial rates”.
Vassallo said in the judicial protest that unspecified “actions” by Vitals had caused him damages.
He further stated he was not aware of or involved in any illegalities and anyone from Vitals claiming otherwise should face criminal proceedings for calumny and perjury.
Months after Vassallo’s buyout, Vitals gave Technoline the exclusive rights to procure all medical equipment needed for the three hospitals.
The deal saw his company take a cut on all medical equipment procured for Vitals, with rival medical suppliers being forced to submit their bids on Vitals tenders to Technoline.
Sources familiar with the arrangement pointed to it as a possible ploy to drain money out of Vitals, which was receiving tens of millions from the government to run the three hospitals.
Technoline’s servers and “voluminous” documentation, including Vassallo’s appointments diary, were handed over to the police several years ago as part of the Vitals probe.
Vassallo said in the judicial protest his cooperation with the police had been completely voluntary and that he was never the subject of any court-mandated searches.
It was further stated in the judicial protest that Vassallo has never been arrested, put on police bail or even formally questioned by investigators.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Steward Health Care Malta told Times of Malta it had removed all exclusivity agreements it had “inherited” from Vitals, such as the one with Technoline.
Steward took over the concession in 2018, after the people who managed to financially cripple Vitals within the space of two years sold out to the American company.
Replying to questions about the arrangement with Technoline, the Steward spokesperson said the company had taken all the necessary steps to establish a “modern and transparent procurement system”.
Steward says procurement system is modern and transparent
“In a short time frame, Steward managed to set up an independent procurement department with its own procedures, establishing transparency and fairness in its procurement procedures, together with internal accountability protocols.
“This allows us to give our staff the best tools to provide the best service to our patients at the best price and is representative of our professional and transparent approach to managing our operations in Malta,” the spokesperson said.
During the 2018 takeover, Steward paid hefty sums of money to the people behind Vitals, including its former frontman, Ram Tumuluri, Vitals ‘investor’ and Maltese passport buyer Shaukat Ali, and his son, Asad.
The Steward payments were made via a Swiss intermediary called Accutor AG.
Two years later, Joseph Muscat started to receive payments from Accutor, mere weeks after resigning as prime minister.
His Burmarrad home and government-sponsored Pietà office were searched by the police in January in connection with the Accutor payments, over suspicions they could be linked to corruption and bribery.
Muscat denies any wrongdoing.