Steward complains to European Commission as it ups political pressure on Malta

Steward Health Care International has filed a formal complaint with the European Commission over what it claims is Malta’s poor rule of law record

The Gozo General hospital was one of the three hospitals part f the concession granted to Steward Health Care
The Gozo General hospital was one of the three hospitals part f the concession granted to Steward Health Care

Steward Health Care International has claimed the Maltese judiciary and government breached EU law, in a complaint to the European Commission over a court ruling.

The complaint, which is clearly an attempt to put political pressure on Malta, was filed following Steward’s appeal from the judgment that annulled the hospitals’ concession agreement.

The complaint is distinct from the company’s request for a preliminary ruling by the European Court of Justice as part of ongoing court proceedings.

The company said in a statement on Thursday that it “emphatically rejects” what it described as the narrative of the judge’s findings in relation to Steward’s Maltese subsidiary.

Last February, Judge Francesco Depasquale annulled the contract by which three public hospitals - Gozo General, Karin Grech and St Luke's - were leased to Steward Health Care Malta (SHCM). The ruling attributed fraudulent intent to the company and found it had not fulfilled its contractual obligations.

Steward has appealed the judgment and the final decision is still pending.

The company insisted with the European Commission that the judge failed to support his ruling with evidence, or on applicable legal grounds. “The judgment’s narrative, which is speculative and highly conjectural, could have been disproven had SHCM been asked to supply evidence on these counts to court. Such a request was never made, neglecting therefore the right to a defence.”

The company said the judgment on the hospitals’ concession breaches EU law on various fronts, adding it is incompatible with the key principle of free movement of capital, and is not compliant with the general principles of legal certainty and legitimate expectations, as well as the principle of proportionality. 

“Steward Health Care International also considers that the judge significantly and deliberately overreached his remit in his verdict,” the company said, calling this “a serious breach of judicial practice”.

The company insisted this was a clear indication that the verdict was arrived at as a result of “political, rather than factual, motives”. 

It reiterated that these “failings” represent major concerns for the rule of law in Malta, which it described as a country that has been afflicted by “significant corruption scandals relating to the executive, legislative, and judicial arms of authority for many years”.

It also drew on a recent complaint by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) about being ‘shut out’ of magisterial inquiries, to justify its claim of Malta’s lack of respect to European judicial authorities.

The company insisted that it remained committed to a fair and orderly transition at the Maltese hospitals.

Steward had notified government it was abandoning the concession but in a counter move, government rejected the company’s decision to quit and instead kicked it out to take immediate possession of the three hospitals.