Steward talks with Konrad Mizzi, Joseph Muscat held behind Chris Fearne’s back, court hears

Health Minister Chris Fearne testifies in the case initiated by Adrian Delia to have the hospitals concession deal rescinded

Health Minister Chris Fearne
Health Minister Chris Fearne

Chris Fearne has testified about his frustration on learning that Steward Healthcare were holding talks behind his back with Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat.

The American company had been negotiating with the Health Ministry after taking over the hospitals concession from Vitals Global Healthcare but at the same time it was talking to Mizzi, who was tourism minister at the time.

Mizzi had under his wing Projects Malta, the state entity that had taken a lead role in the hospitals deal.

Testifying in the civil case instituted by former Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia to have the 30-year contract rescinded, Fearne said that he was going to raise the matter in Cabinet in November 2019.

Fearne said he was going to make it clear that all negotiations had to be carried out by his ministry but never got the chance to present the Cabinet memo because Mizzi resigned on the day in the wake of the Yorgen Fenech arrest.

Steward took over the hospitals deal from Vitals in 2018 after the latter failed to live up to its commitments. The deal was originally sealed in 2015. 

The court has heard how in the summer of 2019, government agreed to step in with a guarantee that if a court rules the contract to be null, the event would be considered as a government default and the company be paid €100 million.

There have been contrasting testimonies as to whether the August 2019 agreement was discussed in Cabinet, with Mizzi and Muscat insisting that every step of the way was approved by Cabinet.

Fearne testified today that Cabinet was told the government would be guaranteeing a loan Steward received from Bank of Valletta but there was no discussion of individual clauses.

The Health Minister testified that he had no idea about a memorandum of understanding the government had signed with the Vitals investors before the government had issued a call for the concession.

Judge Francesco Depasquale, who is hearing the case, informed the parties that Ronald Mizzi, who serves as permanent secretary at the Tourism Ministry and who testified in the case last month, presented two boxes of documents to the court.  The documents will be held by the judge and only accessible to parties in the case.

Delia’s lawyers asked for the secretary of Cabinet to be summoned as a witness to testify about meetings in which the Vitals deal was discussed.

Chris Fearne was represented by lawyer Alex Sciberras. Adrian Delia was represented by lawyers Edward Debono, Nick Debono and himself.