FinTelegram brought the Maltese scandal surrounding the privatization of three hospitals and Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) in early March 2023. Now OCCRP has picked up the story, reporting on the misuse of millions and the personal enrichment of the people behind VGH, including its former CEO, Sri Ram Tumuluri. Funds were also funneled to Joseph Muscat, the former Prime Minister of Malta. The Maltese corruption seems to know hardly borders.
In February 2023, a public healthcare contract worth €2.1 billion was annulled by a Maltese court due to suspicions of fraud. Individuals behind VGH and involved in the contract benefited from over €1 million.
VGH, a group of three related companies, won the concession in November 2015, despite having only been recently formed and having no experience managing healthcare.
According to a recent audit report from Malta’s national audit office, by the end of 2017, VGH, despite receiving €52.7 million euros from the Maltese government for their contract, found itself heavily indebted. In February 2018, VGH‘s ownership was transferred to the U.S. hospital chain Steward HealthCare and rebranded as Steward Malta. The audit report reveals that from that point until the end of 2021, the government made additional payments totaling 214.9 million euros to Steward.
Ram Tumuluri, the former VGH CEO, submitted a whistleblower complaint to the U.S. SEC, accusing Steward of colluding with Maltese officials to secure its acquisition of VGH. Steward rejected the allegations and said in court documents that the deal it took over was “fraudulent” and “corrupt.“
The OCCRP report uncovers that VGH sent at least €21 million to its parent company Bluestone Investments Malta Ltd, funneling millions to Tumuluri and a Pakistani man named Shaukat Ali and his relatives. Bluestone Investments wired €5 million to two United Arab Emirates companies owned by Tumuluri and Ali.
Ali told OCCRP that his family members “worked for VGH as consultants or employees.” Via his lawyer, Tumuluri said “investors and shareholders invested close to $10 million into Bluestone” and that any payments to him “were for Bluestone-related ventures…(they) were not VGH funds.”
Bluestone also wired hundreds of thousands of euros to Accutor Consulting AG, a Swiss company owned by businessman Wasay Bhatti. Following Steward’s takeover, VGH (under its new name Steward Malta) sent around €6 million to several of Bhatti’s Swiss companies, Steward said that Accutor Consulting was “engaged…for legitimate business services.”
Two of Bhatti’s Swiss companies, Accutor Consulting and Spring XMedia AG, paid €60,000 to the former Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. He stepped down in January 2020 but was in office when the hospital contract was awarded to VGH. Maltese investigators told the Times of Malta that they suspect a consultancy contract signed by Muscat in 2020 could have been used to disguise payments from the “fraudulent” hospital deal.