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MALTATODAY 26 February 2023

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2 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 26 FEBRUARY 2023 NEWS Thank you... for having bought this newspaper The good news is that we're not raising the price of our newspaper We know times are still hard, but we have pledged to keep giving our readers quality news they deserve, without making you pay more for it. So thank you, for making it your MaltaToday Support your favourite newspaper with a special offer on online PDF subscriptions. Visit or scan the QR code Subscriptions can be done online on Same-day delivery at €1 for orders up to 5 newspapers per address. Subscribe from €1.15 a week Same-day print delivery from Miller Distributors mt CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 Steward Healthcare has intimated it will challenge the court ruling. In a strongly-worded statement on Friday, the American company questioned the rule of law in Malta and insisted the court overreached its remit. However, Abela also has an interest in limiting the political damage from the court ruling, which butchered Steward and its predecessor Vitals, and expressed "serious concern" over how government officials "consciously" act- ed to strengthen the hand of the private companies in the deal. The judgment has already led to stiff public exchanges between former prime minister Joseph Muscat, former education minister Evarist Bartolo and Health Minister Chris Fearne. In the immediate aftermath of the ruling, Muscat shifted the onus of re- sponsibility onto Cabinet, insisting he always acted in the best interests of the country. Bartolo later responded that Cabinet was being used as a "smoke- screen". Fearne claimed the judgment exon- erated him from responsibility, point- ing out the relevant paragraphs in the judgment where it was noted how deci- sions on the hospitals concession were being taken behind his back by Konrad Mizzi. In his testimony before the judge, Fearne had said that he had raised a complaint on Mizzi's dealings with Steward and the matter was going to be discussed in Cabinet in November 2019 but on that day, Mizzi resigned. Government sources said Abela is bracing himself for the flak his ad- ministration will receive on Monday when parliament is expected to hold an emergency debate on the judgment and the future of the concession. Konrad Mizzi singled out Depasquale did single out Mizzi in his voluminous judgment for "conscious- ly" weakening the government's hand in the hospitals concession saga to the advantage of Vitals and later Steward Healthcare. Mizzi did not respond to a request for comment and has so far not comment- ed publicly on the judgment. Mizzi entered into multiple side agreements and accepted amendments to the original contracts, including a lengthy extension to the deadlines for the milestones to be completed by Vi- tals after missing their original time- frames. And in one of his last acts as minister, Mizzi also entered into an agreement in August 2019 with Stew- ard Healthcare accepting that the gov- ernment take on the company's debts and pay them a penalty fee of €100 mil- The €100 million buy-out clause: "Possibly criminal" The judge says Steward had forced the government to change the agreement to make the government in default if the contract failed. The judge questioned how the government allowed itself to get into this position, suggesting that Steward's actions were "possibly criminal". This was the result of fraud by Steward to change an agreement en- tered into through fraud by its predecessor, to end up enriching itself on the back of the Maltese taxpayer. The judge describes Steward's machinations as "solely blackmail and unjustified enrichment". Vitals and the MoU: "Evidence of its fraudulent intent" Between the memorandum and the granting of the concession, Vitals should have disclosed this conflict, which would have ren- dered it ineligible. "The fact that Vitals kept the MoU hidden was evidence of its fraudulent intent," said the judge. He states: Vitals had abused its position and took advantage of the government, which was already politically bound to deliver the hospitals it promised before the elections. The concession milestones: "A complete farce" As Depasquale reads out the concession milestones that had to be fulfilled, he remarks: "It emerges that none of these completion milestones were observed or achieved by Vitals, today Steward." "They were rendered ineffective, if not a complete farce," says the judge on the milestones, as the secret side-agreements showed. "The government of Malta, instead of defending the interests of the Maltese people,... incredibly accepted a change to the agree- ment," said the judge. From Vitals to Steward: "Serious doubt on Steward's good faith" Depasquale expressed "serious doubts as to Steward's good faith when it acquired the shares of Vitals", and when it obliged the government to pay a penalty of €100 million if the contract is nullified in court. Government's due diligence: "Amateurish checks" Depasquale goes on to slam government's "amateurish" checks before signing the contract. In the RFP there is absolutely no request for due diligence on the proposers, which the court says indicates that there was no inten- tion to actually evaluate the proposals. The judge is convinced that this was part of a complex and concerted effort to deceive and strong-arm the authorities into accepting the proposal. Compiled by Nicole Meilak As it happened: A judge's damning indictment of the Steward and Vitals deal The Steward

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