Joseph Muscat was awarded tens of thousands of euros in “consultancy fees” by a Swiss company that received millions from Steward Healthcare during the signing of the VGH hospital agreement.
The former Prime Minister paid a total of € 60,000 into his Bank of Valletta account last year, the first payment being made just two months after he resigned, an investigation by the Times of Malta found.
The money was distributed in four monthly payments, two by Accutor AG and two by Spring X Media.
These two companies were run by lawyer Wasay Bhatti and share an address in Switzerland.
Swiss banking and accounting records reviewed by the Times of Malta show that Steward Healthcare transferred € 3.6 million to the Accutor.
She paid most of them – € 2.49 million – on February 20, 2018.
This was the same day that the American healthcare company issued a statement stating that it had finalized the public-private partnership to take over the management of three Maltese hospitals from Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH ).
Muscat was quoted in the statement issued by Steward at the time as saying: “Steward Healthcare shares our vision for the future of healthcare in Malta”.
The Muscat consultancy agreement
The Times of Malta’s investigation revealed how Accutor AG acted as a fulcrum for various payments involving certain figures in the VGH agreement with Steward.
Accutor AG’s payments to Muscat were made under the terms of an indefinite consultancy contract drawn up between him and Spring X Media in February 2020, just one month after he resigned as Prime Minister.
According to the Financial Action Task Force, a global anti-money laundering body, advisory agreements can be used as a tool to obscure the real reason behind transactions.
Muscat denied any wrongdoing when contacted by the Times of Malta. He insisted that the payments were for work that was documented, invoiced in full, declared and paid in Malta.
Steward Healthcare did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the purpose following the money transfers to Accutor AG.
An ‘indefinite’ contract worth € 15k per month
The first payment of € 15,000 was made to Muscat’s account in March 2020, with three more transactions taking place in the following months.
The money brought Muscat the equivalent of a year’s salary as prime minister in a matter of months.
Two of the initial payments came from Accutor AG, while the other two were communicated to Muscat by Spring X Media.
Spring X Media is registered at the same Swiss address as Acccutor AG, and the two companies carried out transactions between them.
Accutor describes itself as a global management company offering payroll, contracts and legal services, while Spring X Media says it provides analytical services.
Despite the indefinite nature of the consultancy contract, payments to Muscat stopped abruptly in the summer of 2020.
Accutor AG has since declared bankruptcy and Spring X Media is under liquidation.
Swiss corporate records reviewed by the Times of Malta revealed another company named VGH Europe registered at the same addresses as Acccutor AG and Spring X Media.
Bhatti, Muscat deny the wrong
Bhatti denied any suggestion of misconduct when contacted by the Times of Malta but did not answer questions about his relationship with the former Prime Minister.
Two of Bhatti’s former partners, former directors of Accutor AG Kamal Sharma and Tyrone Greenshield, told the Times of Malta that they “remain at the disposal” of any authority wishing to investigate Bhatti.
The couple said they resigned from Accutor AG in the summer of 2019 after growing suspicious of Bhatti’s activities.
Their resignation is ahead of Accutor AG’s transactions with Muscat.
In a statement to the Times of Malta, Muscat said that while, like any private service provider, he is generally not at liberty to discuss commitments after leaving politics, he can confirm that he met Bhatti some years ago. as an investor with an office in Malta. Malta.
The former prime minister said he was approached by Bhatti to carry out advisory duties after leaving office.
Muscat was still a deputy at the time of the payments.
“This work has dealt with a number of projects in various sectors and regions. None of these were related to the government in Malta.
“My engagement, compensated at a proportionate rate for similar advisory roles, lasted less than six months. The work has been properly documented, invoiced, declared, and paid for in Malta.
“From your questions, I understand that this commitment was not part of any accusations being made by Mr Bhatti’s former partners, about which I am learning from yourself.
“Please also note that I have no relationship with VGH, Steward or any companies you mention in your questions,” Muscat said.
The steward’s payments coincide with a sale
The wired payments from Steward Healthcare to Accutor AG coincide with the takeover of the controversial Vitals Global Healthcare hospital concession by the American company.
These payments were made by Steward to Accutor AG weeks after the December 2017 government announcement gave its blessing to transfer the concession from VGH to Steward.
Steward sent € 3.2 million to Accutor AG between January and March 2018, including a payment of € 2.49 million on 20 February and another payment of $ 514,000 (€ 445,000) that same month.
Further payments amounting to € 400,000 were made between July and October of that year.
Public records show that Accutor established its first presence in Malta in 2017, setting up an Accutor branch in Ta ‘Xbiex, a stone’s throw away from where VGH Malta was based.
Two former Accutor officials, who do not want to be named, said that the Maltese branch of Accutor won a private contract worth € 14,000 a month to calculate the salaries for nurses in the three hospitals run by VGH .
The contract, the sources said, was simply for Accutor Malta to calculate the monthly salaries of these nurses, so the millions transferred by Steward to Accutor’s Swiss accounts appear to be out of scope. of this contract.
Accutor’s pay contract was later terminated by Steward.
Accutor AG’s UBS bank records show that certain individuals in the VGH deal, including Maltese passport investor and buyer Shaukat Ali, his son Asad, and Bluestone Investments, the leading company in Malta’s VGH ownership structure, received payments from Accutor AG during 2018.
Bluestone Investments director Ram Tumuluri, Shaukat Ali and his son denied any wrongdoing when contacted about their relationship with Accutor AG, stressing that all transactions involving Accutor AG were higher.
UBS Switzerland declined to comment on “potential relationships with existing or former customers” when contacted by the Times of Malta about the activities of Accutor AG.
Swiss rendezvous of the former PM
A report by UK-based corporate intelligence firm Tacet Global, which investigated Bhatti’s activities, said that at least one senior Maltese politician had visited Accutor’s Swiss offices.
The Times of Malta has independently confirmed that Muscat is flying to Switzerland to meet with Bhatti a few weeks after resigning as Prime Minister, while visiting the Swiss offices of Accutor AG in the process.
Swiss corporate records show that those same offices also had a host, on paper, for a company called Spring Healthcare.
Spring Healthcare describes itself on its website as Steward Healthcare’s “clinical partner”.
An investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCR) last year found that Spring Healthcare had sold defective COVID-19 test kits to Northern Macedonia.
Muscat’s relationship with Bhatti predates his resignation as Prime Minister and consultancy contract, with the couple becoming familiar in 2017 following Bhatti’s visit to Castile.
A former Accutor Malta employee, who preferred not to be mentioned, said that Bhatti will boast during his visits to Malta about his proximity to Muscat and the chief of staff of former Prime Minister Keith Schembri.
The connection of Yorgen Fenech
Schembri appears to have broken Bhatti’s contact with his good friend Yorgen Fenech, who was accused of complicity in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Three weeks after the Times of Malta and Reuters released Fenech as the owner of 17 Black, Fenech reached out to Bhatti, asking for his help in setting up “discreet” corporate structures so he could move money out of the region. of Ajman, where 17 Black. was registered.
Fenech indicated in the e-mail that he was referred to Bhatti by a “common friend from Malta”.
Tycoon Thomas told Bhatti that he wanted to set up a structure that gives a certain level of discretion and reassurance. He detailed plans to set up two new companies, one of which would be funded by 17 Blacks.
An e-mail to Bhatti detailing Fenech’s plans for these “discrete structures” after 17 Black was also sent separately from Fenech to Schembri.
Schembri did not respond to a request for comment from the Times of Malta on the nature of his relationship with Bhatti.
A report by the Auditor General found that Schembri had “called” a meeting with VGH’s original investors in the Prime Minister’s office before signing a memorandum of understanding with the government, which took place five months before the concession was even placed. of hospitals. for the offer.
The Auditor General indicated the existence of this memorandum of understanding as a strong indication that the concession appeared to be “predetermined to ensure an already agreed outcome”.
It was the murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who first made the call that the tender had been “fixed” in favor of VGH, before Projects Malta’s tender documents were even published.
Former opposition leader Adrian Delia is currently fighting with the government in court to have the concession contract revoked.
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