A hand in every cookie jar: The projects Schembri and Mizzi sought to profit on

From Vitals to Barts, to Paola’s Regional Hub and Mater Dei Hospital – the inquiry lists several key government projects that the two intended to profit on

An inquiry into the Vitals Global Healthcare concession has identified companies with concealed ownership that lead back to former chief of staff Keith Schembri and ex-minister Konrad Mizzi.

These companies engaged in consultancy agreements with various companies to help them win tenders issued by Maltese authorities, in return for a commission fee.

Here are some of the projects and tenders that Schembri and Mizzi benefitted from, together with their associates.

Eurybates, Encore and Gateway

Several companies set up and fronted by Ivan Vassallo, a former marketing director at Technoline who used a €5.14 million loan from Vitals Global Shareholders, were used to extract kickbacks on government projects.

According to the inquiry, the primary companies, Eurybates and Gateway Solutions, were used to skim profits from government tenders in the case of the former, while the latter was used to take over Technoline, which VGH used for ‘exclusive’ supply of medical equipment.

Eurybates was set up in September 2015 to become part of a joint venture called Gene Malta to provide personalised medicine at a “new €100 million hospital based at SmartCity Malta”.

In the two companies, investigators concluded that 90% of the shares were planned to be held by former Allied Newspapers director Adrian Hillman, Pierre Sladden, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.

A third company, Encore Trading, was fronted by Sladden’s son Jean Claude, while under the control of Vassallo and Sladden senior, as associates of Keith Schembri. 

Barts Medical School in Gozo

Plans to open a Gozo branch of Barts had been first publicised by the government in March 2014, with construction entrusted to Vitals Global Healthcare, and later Steward Healthcare upon transfer of the concession in 2017.

In April 2018, Steward signed a contract with Italian construction business Sirimed to design and build the Barts Gozo campus. But a commercial relationship also existed between Eurybates and Sirimed, which saw the former receiving five payments from Sirimed totalling €804,900 between August 2019 and March 2021.

This relationship was formalised through an agreement whereby Sirimed appointed Eurybates as its local agent, and that the Italian company would pay Eurybates 5% of the value of the contract with Steward.

Indeed, the total amount invoiced by Eurybates to Sirimed is approximately equivalent to 5% of the contract value agreed by Sirimed with Steward Healthcare International for the Barts Medical School, plus 5% of the contract value for the Anatomy Centre.

Eurybates also received money from Ergon Technoline JV, a joint venture company between Ergon Projects Limited and Technoline, that was also the subcontractor in the Barts construction project.

Paola Primary Healthcare Regional Hub

Ivan Vassallo drafted an agreement whereby Eurybates would help Ergon in submitting a tender to design and build the Paola Primary Healthcare Regional Hub.

The original tender was initially awarded to SP BB International JV, a consortium that included Ray Vella & Co Ltd, Pantalesco and Shapoorji.

But three firms, including Ergon-Technoline JV, objected to the tender and argued that their exclusion from the tender was illegal. They pointed out that the selected bidder put forward an offer that was €3.6 million higher than the cheapest one. 

The contract was eventually revoked and given to Ergon-Technoline JV.

A Greek consortium, Salfo-Ado JV, also entered into an agreement with Eurybates to provide business information services. This consortium went on to win a tender for project management and technical supervisory services for the Paola regional healthcare hub.

No money was identified to have flown into Eurybates, but a parallel company called Encore Trading Ltd – under the control of Ivan Vassallo and Pierre Sladden as associates of Keith Schembri – received almost €100,000 in October 2019. Investigators suspect these payments were a kickback for the Paola Regional Hub tender.

Mater Dei Hospital, Sir Anthony Mamo

Ivan Vassallo drafted a service agreement between Technoline and Eurybates in April 2019, but backdated to December 2017. This agreement refers to Eurybates providing consultancy services to Technoline, and the parties coordinated efforts in relation to Technoline’s submission “for the modernization, upgrading and servicing of the Radiotherapy Treatment Planning Systems at SAMOC Mater Dei Hospital”.

In total, Technoline paid Eurybates €664,001 between December 2017 and July 2019 for these services.

According to the inquiry report, the first invoice raised by Eurybates on Technoline was dated May 2016 for €78,650 plus VAT. However, the description referred to “Radiotherapy Project Management for Ergon Technoline JV at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre (SAMOC) 2012-2015”, as well as other tasks connected to the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre and Mater Dei Hospital.

Apart from this, each quarterly invoice for €75,000 plus VAT used the same technical description, denoting medical IT service support.

Investigators could not identify anyone employed by Eurybates that had the necessary qualifications or experience with which to deliver the IT services supposedly rendered to Technoline.

In July 2017, Ivan Vassallo texted Keith Schembri about a meeting between the Foundation for Medical Service’s department of contracts and Ergon regarding “some sizable claims with respect to SAMOC”.

The text reads: “I have tried to reach Mr Fearne and left a message with one of his assistants.” Investigators could not find a reply from Schembri.

In August 2014, Ivan Vassallo shared with Pierre Sladden a draft joint venture agreement between Gateway and Nexia BT. This agreement stated that the two parties will “agree to form a joint venture for the purposes of collaborating on tenders for the provision of training services at Mater Dei Hospital and/or other public service entities.”

This raised eyebrows among investigators, who noted that Pierre Sladden was not a party to the agreement on paper.

A later draft removed all references to Mater Dei and instead broadened the scope to unspecified “public service entities”.

Environment and Resources Authority

In September 2019, a Greek company called CERS was awarded a contract by the Environment and Resources Authority to survey quarries across Malta and Gozo.

Investigators found various drafts of an agency agreement between Eurybates and CERS. The first draft is a general agreement which includes a clause stating that CERS will pay Eurybates an unspecified percentage commission on the profits generated by sales concluded with Eurybates’ help.

A later version of the agency agreement specified a 10% commission of the profits generated by sales concluded by Eurybates.

Text messages between Ivan Vassallo and an accountant at Technoline showed the two discussing a possible loan to CERS, with Vassallo wishing to assist the company “without appearing to be connected to them”.

Vassallo said: “CERS (Greeks) need to open a bid bond and do not yet have a guarantee facility. I would like to give them a loan to have cash collateral but I didn’t want to appear with their bank. […] 60k. MICAS tender bid bond.”

Investigators suspect that Vassallo did not want Eurybates’ name to appear on the CERS bank account so that the relationship could appear to be at arm’s length. “This would have been compromised if Eurybates were to make a significant loan of €60,000 to CERS for the tender guarantee.”

Smart City hospital

In March 2015, the prime minister at the time Joseph Muscat announced a €100 million investment towards the construction of a private hospital at Smart City, aimed at attracting medical tourism.

Investigators found that Eurybates was formed to become part of a joint venture called Gene Malta. This was supposed to have been involved in the provision of personalised medicine at this hospital.

“Ivan Vassallo and two of Keith Schembri’s long-time associates, Kenneth Abela and Steve Carter, were in regular contact between July 2015 and December 2015 to develop the joint venture which, had it come to fruition, was to generate €200 per patient for Eurybates,” the inquiry reads.

But since the collaboration never took off, no income was ever generated for Eurybates from this project.

“Therefore, the only relevance of this early activity to this Inquiry is that it involved a major hospital construction project and was controlled by a small number of persons, including Schembri as vice-chairperson [of Smart City].”


In an unusual deviation from technical consulting roles, in May 2020 Eurybates prepared a quote for the supply of steel, concrete, glazing and doors to GP Borg Group.

Valued at €4.25 million, the quote concerned materials that were to be supplied in relation to construction at the Malta International Contemporary Art Space (MICAS).

GP Borg won a tender to carry out all works, from excavation to finishes, for the MICAS Galleries. The money never flowed to Eurybates.

“This was a very large supply deal which, had it proceeded, would have represented more turnover (and profit) for the company than all other contracts since its incorporation five years earlier.”