Steward Healthcare, the company keen to enter into healthcare PPPs in Albania has allegedly been begging for yet more taxpayers’ money at the behest of disgraced ex-Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat.
Maltese media has reported that Muscat, who resigned following mass protests after he and members of his cabinet were linked to the assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, has been lobbying the new government to hand over more money to Steward.
Muscat has reportedly been asking the new Prime Minister to renegotiate the lucrative hospitals’ contract that Steward took over from Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH). This deal saw VGH sign a contract worth EUR 7 billion, soak up EUR 51 million of taxpayers money, declare they were broke and sell to Steward for just EUR 1 while the same investors and shareholders behind both entities got filthy rich.
The agreement and the ministers that were involved in brokering it, are currently under investigation for money laundering, fraud, and receiving kickbacks to line their own pockets from a public deal.
Meanwhile, the wheels in the Western Balkans are still turning. Shaukat Ali Ghafoor, following numerous visits to Albania to meet with senior government officials, is now casting his eye on North Macedonia. Prime Minister Edi Rama, in conjunction with Muscat, helped to further negotiations with the North Macedonian government further realising Ghafoor’s dream of a ‘package deal’ of Balkan countries.
In 2018, Muscat visited North Macedonia to meet with the then Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, accompanied by officials from Steward Healthcare. Discussions centred around exploring a similar public-private partnership model that had been implemented and failed in Malta, in the Western Balkan country.
The same year, Zaev also visited Malta to secretly meet with Muscat and Ghafoor to discuss plans. The meeting was never made public but the photo’s seen by Exit confirmed that the meeting took place.
The resignation of Zaev threw something of a spanner in the works but with the help of Rama, Ghafoor hopes that his plan to get his hands on prime Balkan real estate and of course taxpayers money, will still reach fruition. If however, Zaev is not reelected, the future of the tried and tested scam is in jeopardy.
In Albania, Rama has been busy talking up the idea of PPPs in the healthcare sector during the recent inauguration of the surgical facilities at the QSUT public hospital in Tirana. He made a point of telling those in attendance that successful projects such as this were only made possible due to “the damn PPP model.”
Rama then noted that further improvements to the countries health institutions would not be made with cash from the budget or earthquake fund, but rather through private investments.
“The private sector invests money that the state does not have at the moment. This programme, this agreement, this process cannot be terminated,” he said.
This came a short while after the government put forward a draft law that provides for PPPs in the state healthcare system, as well as for private hospitals to benefit from state funding.
Article 23 of the draft law states that “non-public hospitals receive public funding through the financing of compulsory health insurance service packages” as well as “public-private partnerships”.
The law was drafted after a complex web of Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) were signed between Albania and Montenegro and Montenegro and VGH, then Steward Healthcare. In 2016, the Montenegrin government signed an MoU with VGH. Gafoor then travelled from Montenegro to Albania to meet with the government and just a few months later an MoU was signed between the two countries’ health ministries This would, amongst other things allow “organisations operating in the field of health in both countries” to cooperate.
Within months of signing, VGH had gone bankrupt in Malta and investigative portal The Shift News was publishing stories that shed light on the corrupt deal that went right to the top of Maltese politics. The billion-euro concession was then bought by Steward for EUR 1 and they promptly signed another MoU with Montenegro, while the MoU with Albania remained in force.
But who are the men behind the deal?
Shaukat Ali Abul Ghafoor is a business tycoon who made his name and fortune in Libya. A Pakistani national, he bought a Maltese passport and potentially others- helping him move between countries with privacy and somewhat under the radar. The owner of countless offshore companies set up to receive payoffs from the sale of the Maltese concession, he has preferred to stay out of the limelight, instead pushing Sri Ram Tumuluri forward to be the ‘face’ of many negotiations.
Sri Ram Tumuluri who has also visited Albania a number of times in the last couple of years has a less than stellar reputation. In Canada, he is known for running a lakeside hotel in British Columbia into the ground in just 18 months. Previous associates describe him as a fraud who fails at everything he touches. He was also found to have set up companies to receive payouts from the sale of VGH to Steward and promptly started shutting them down once the matter became subject to a magisterial inquiry in Malta.
According to a source privy to details of the negotiations, the Albanian government is adamant to push forward with Ghafoor and Tumuluri, but what happens in North Macedonia remains to be seen. One thing is for sure- if the Albanian healthcare system falls into the hands of these ‘investors’, you can bet that the only people that will benefit are those behind the deal and not patients or taxpayers.
This article was developed with the support of Journalismfund.eu
In collaboration with The Shift News