Steward appeals Maltese court verdict that annulled hospitals concession, requests ECJ ruling

Steward Health Care is contesting the Maltese Civil Court findings that attributed fraudulent intent and unjust enrichment to the company when cancelling the hospitals concession agreement

Steward Health Care runs three hospitals in Malta that had been awarded to it by government as part of a concession agreement. The agreement was initially signed with VGH and later transferred to Steward
Steward Health Care runs three hospitals in Malta that had been awarded to it by government as part of a concession agreement. The agreement was initially signed with VGH and later transferred to Steward

Steward Health Care Malta has appealed the judgment that annulled the hospitals concession agreement and requested a preliminary ruling by the European Court of Justice.

The American company said in a statement on Wednesday that it “emphatically rejects the narrative of the judge’s findings” in cancelling the deal.

Steward said the judge’s assessment that led to the cancellation was made with “no basis in evidence”.

“This narrative is erroneous and could have been disproven had SHCM simply been asked to supply evidence on these counts to court – a request that was never made,” the company said, adding it was requesting a preliminary ruling from the ECJ.

“This failing – along with most others present in the judgement – presents major concerns for the rule of law in Malta and has serious implications for the future of foreign investment in the country,” the company added.

Judge Francesco Depasquale last month annulled the Steward hospitals concession, attributing fraudulent intent to the company and ordering that the three hospitals – Gozo General, St Luke’s and Karin Grech – be returned to the government.

The court judgment also noted that the company had failed to fulfil its contractual obligations.

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Government had asked for the period of appeal to be reduced, a request that the courts acceded to by shortening the timeframe to 20 days from the normal 30 days. Steward had until tomorrow at 3pm to file its appeal.

The company is now challenging the court ruling with guns blazing as it questions the rule of law in Malta.

The company said that as part of its appeal it has produced “significant documentary and other evidence to counter any claims made in its respect”.

“This evidence, which includes relevant interactions with the government of Malta and documents outlining how SHCI transformed a bankrupt enterprise into a professionally managed operation with a sound financial footing, will help to inform the understanding of the Maltese people about the concession,” the company said.

The statement reiterated that Steward has “no position on or knowledge of events that took place while the concession was being awarded”.

The concession was awarded in 2015 to Steward’s precursor, Vitals Global Heathcare (VGH), an obscure company. An investigation by the National Audit Office had found collusion between key VGH investors and government officials prior to the issue of a request for proposals.

VGH eventually went bust without adhering to its contractual obligations before transferring the concession to Steward. In 2018, then Opposition leader Adrian Delia filed a court case, asking for the agreement to be rescinded since the company failed to fulfil its contractual obligations.

In the court case, reference was made to what Steward had claimed in separate litigation proceedings in the UK that the original award of the tender was the result of corrupt dealings. This, Delia had argued, meant that all agreements should be null and void.

Steward said today that it kept the US embassy and State Department, which was on several occasions present at negotiations on the concession terms, fully informed at all times of all relevant events and engagements with the Maltese government.

“SHCM remains committed to operate at all times in accordance with its highest professional standards and values. Our priority was and remains always the provision of optimal healthcare to the communities and patients we are entrusted to serve,” the company said.

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More to follow.