Steward wants Maltese government to investigate MaltaToday journalist Matthew Vella

MaltaToday editor Matthew Vella says taxpayer-funded hospital owners trying to use legal muscle to bully the free press

Steward International, the private hospitals company, has written to the Maltese government demanding an investigation against MaltaToday journalist and editor Matthew Vella, over a report in this newspaper outlining the company’s ownership structure.

Steward Health Care International (SCHI), now based in Madrid, runs three Maltese state hospitals in a controversial public-private concession that could be at risk of rescission by a Maltese court.

SCHI are accusing MaltaToday journalist Matthew Vella of acting in collusion with a short seller – Viceroy Research – a company is calling into question the financing model of American real estate giant Medical Properties Trust (MPT) and its ownership-cum-relationship to Steward Systems in America, and SCHI.

Right of reply from SCHI

Matthew Vella denies the claims, which are intended at tarnishing his reputation with malicious suggestions of wrongdoing. “This is a case of first-class bullying and an attack on the liberty of the Maltese press to report freely the critics of Steward. This is very worrying.”

Since 2022, SCHI has insisted it no longer forms part of Steward Systems in America. Steward Systems runs hospitals owned by MPT in the USA. SCHI runs hospitals in Europe and Latin America.

Matthew Vella, who queried SCHI in February 2022 about a separate joint venture between SCHI management and MPT, shared with Viceroy’s researchers the comments he had received from SHCI’s spokesperson in Malta at the time, who denied any connection to Steward Systems.

“Yet again we have a clear example of private interests in Malta who are using their legal muscle and leverage with the government to cow the Maltese press into submission.” Matthew Vella

Yet Viceroy’s updated research from Maltese, English, and Spanish company filings, shows that SCHI remains connected to Steward Systems and MPT, by means of a small group of Delaware companies called Manolete.

But SCHI has now gone a step further, writing to the Maltese government to demand an investigation into Matthew Vella “for persistent and malicious inaccurate reporting about the company”.

“SHCI believes that the criminal intent of this smear campaign on SHCI is to manipulate and drive down the stock price of Medical Properties Trust (MPT) Inc, a NYSE-listed real estate investment trust, in a coordinated campaign akin to securities fraud,”  SCHI said in a right of reply threatening legal action.

Matthew Vella, who is executive editor of MaltaToday, has called the unprecedented accusations a malicious attempt at arm-twisting the Maltese press. He has previously broken stories on Steward’s agreement with the Maltese government that revealed the extent of the controversial deal and its €100 million ‘guillotine’ clause; the suspicious payments that went to former Vitals investors after the Steward takeover; as well as its Steward’s admission in a London court that the one-time Vitals concession was obtained illegally as a result of the wrongful conduct

Matthew Vella
Matthew Vella

“Yet again we have a clear example of private interests in Malta who are using their legal muscle and leverage with the government to cow the Maltese press into submission,” Vella said.

“That a company whose operations are financed by the Maltese taxpayer, demands an EU government ‘investigate’ a journalist for reporting allegations about its ownership on the internet and social media, is not unheard of. But such aggression is still flabbergasting in the 21st century. In this climate, the Maltese press is not safe from belligerence of such companies.”

Last week Vella requested a comment from SCHI’s media reps, JPA, on the Viceroy reports about MPT and the Steward ownership. JPA first said the hospital group would not comment on the allegations; then came back with a comment, which was reported in full.

Vella also told the JPA representative in his request for comment, that he had shared the orginal reply from SCHI he had received back in February 2022 with Viceroy, which were published in their latest report on MPT.

“MaltaToday has reported faithfully SCHI’s comments. This newspaper is within its rights to come to its conclusion that research on SCHI’s parent companies and the Delaware companies, suggest that it wants to create as much distance as possible from Steward Systems in America due to the ongoing court case in Malta,” Vella said.