Updated August 9 with response from Ram Tumuluri
An interior design company run by Keith Schembri’s wife Josette received tens of thousands of euros in payments from Vitals and Steward, corporate records show.
The company, 3City Design, is alleged by prosecutors in a separate case to have been used as part of a “complex money-laundering scheme” to transfer cash between various entities.
Analysis of documents seen by Times of Malta shows 3City Design began receiving notable payments at around the same time talks were underway for Steward Healthcare to buy out the hospitals concession from Vitals.
In November 2017, when Vitals was on the brink of financial collapse, €45,000 was transferred out of the taxpayer-funded concession to 3City Design.
The payment was marked as being for plans drawn up for a multi-storey car park in Pietà.
The running of the "neglected" St Luke’s car park was devolved to the Pietà local council in 2014 as part of a three-year agreement, according to a government announcement at the time.
One source familiar with the concession could not recall any reason why Vitals would pay money to 3City Design in connection with this car park.
Two months earlier, FSV Limited, another company run by Schembri’s wife, signed a two-year lease agreement with Vitals, securing it €2,400 monthly in rent from a property in Pender Gardens.
While the agreement was signed with FSV, Vitals, and later Steward Healthcare, paid the money to 3City Design.
Furthermore, the first four months’ worth of payments, totalling €9,600, were sent to 3City Design by Vital’s parent company, Bluestone Investments.
Times of Malta revealed last week how taxpayer money meant for the running of the St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals, was being drained from Vitals and sent to Bluestone Investments.
After taking over the concession, Steward Healthcare kept up the payments to 3City Design for another nine months. In total, €21,600 was transferred to Schembri’s company during this period. The payments stopped abruptly in October 2018, one year short of the end of the lease agreement.
A spokesman for Steward said the company “will not comment” on the transactions with 3City Design. Josette Schembri’s lawyers did not reply to questions sent.
€1.5 million 'laundered'
3City Design is jointly owned by Josette Schembri and Kasco, the holding company for Keith Schembri’s various businesses.
Keith Schembri has long been suspected of using his time as Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff to further his own business interests.
The former OPM chief of staff was charged with money laundering in March 2021.
The charges centred on alleged kickbacks given to former Allied Newspapers managing directors Adrian Hillman and Vince Buhagiar, in connection with the purchase of a printing press from Kasco.
Schembri’s wife was charged with money laundering in September 2021, in her capacity as a director of 3City Design.
According to prosecutors, €1.5 million was laundered through the company between 2008 and 2020.
Both Keith and Josette Schembri deny any wrongdoing.
Schembri denies work for Vitals, Steward Healthcare
In a statement on Sunday afternoon, Keith Schembri said the company 3City Designs Limited did not receive any payment or do any work for a multi-storey car-park in Pieta or other works for Vitals or Steward.
He invited Times of Malta to publish its documents or explain.
Schembri said he and his family are being unfairly targeted because in the past they helped enabled the party in government to achieve the success it had achieved.
Tumuluri denies wrongdoing
In a response through his lawyer Cedric Mifsud, former Bluestone Investments director Ram Tumuluri denied any wrongdoing.
Describing the "allegations" as "sensationalist", Tumuluri recalled Vitals contracting a company for the drawing up of plans for a multi-level car park in Pieta, but said he could not recall the company having any links with Schembri's wife.
"Since the transfer of his shares, my client does not have any access to the financial documentation of the company, as this was taken over by Steward".
"Consequently, he cannot verify the allegation being made. What my client can verify though is that any contracted service was done in a legal and legitimate manner, its remuneration was on the basis of market prices, and the contract was continued under Steward. He also understands that the contracted work was ultimately completed," Tumuluri's lawyer said.
On the rental agreement with FSV Limited, Tumuluri's lawyer said his client is aware that the company did lease a number of properties for managerial staff, including a property in Pender Gardens.
"He however is not aware of the details of the property owners as he did not handle these matters directly. Once again, any rent payable was at market prices, so much so that, as explained in your article, Steward took over the lease for a period of time".
"In reiteration to what has already stated before my client, he never profited personally or actively assisted third parties in profiting from the concession granted by Government," Tumuluri's lawyer said.