Abela distances himself from Vitals-Steward deal despite Muscat advisor role

Government to file court application on Saturday morning to reduce time-period for appeal

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

Prime Minister Robert Abela has denied any involvement in government’s privatisation deal with Vitals Global Healthcare and subsequently Steward Healthcare.

“I had no involvement in that deal,” Abela insisted when questioned by journalists.  

The PM’s comment comes after Mr Justice Francesco Depasquale delivered a damning ruling against Vitals/Steward Healthcare, annulled the hospitals contract and ordered the buildings be returned to the State.

The deal was originally struck in 2015, when government granted a concession for the running of three hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH).  The hospitals’ concession had been negotiated by Konrad Mizzi, who was health minister at the time.

Under that agreement, Vitals was handed St Luke’s Hospital, Karin Grech Hospital and the Gozo General Hospital. The deal with VGH, a relatively known consortium at the time, had caused many a raised eyebrow. Less than two years after being granted the concession, Vitals sold it to Steward Healthcare together with €55 million in debts accrued by VGH, for the nominal price of €1.

When the transfer was carried out between the two companies, Abela was legal advisor to then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Pressed on his involvement, Abela insisted he played no role in that deal.

His comments contrast with statements made by Muscat earlier today, who shifted the collective responsibility on to the cabinet during his administration.

Abela also said that following today’s ruling, he and a number of ministers met to analyse the decision, stating they will be filing a court application so the time period for appeal is reduced.

“If that request is met by the courts, we will also be requesting that appeal is heard with urgency,” Abela said.

The PM said a request will also be filed so that a parliamentary debate on today’s decision, as well as the concession in general is carried out.

He assured people that services at the hospitals would not be affected by the decision, while also assuring Steward employees that their job will not be affected.