Justice Francesco Depasquale’s in his controversial judgment against Steward Healthcare International (SHCI) has claimed that the American healthcare giant had failed to deliver for three hospitals during the contractual period of around five years but evidence shows that the judge reached on completely wrong conclusions and ignored glaring evidence which demonstrated proof of delivery and an investment exceeding €60,000,000.
Justice Francesco Depasquale’s ruling – made in February 2023 and now subject to a challenge at the European Court of Justice – has been widely condemned in court filings as “more a work of fiction than a sound and proper ruling” as it made references to toilet renovations
but a forensic analysis shows that the judge didn’t take into consideration evidence which showed fulfillment of terms and delivery but the judge made highly politicised and controversial remarks in the damning judgment.
According to new European court filings, the development and construction of Barts Medical School merits specific attention as the development around this project alone shows how the judge victimised the healthcare giant.
At the European Court of Justice, Steward has slammed the judge for making accusations of fraud and impropriety against the healthcare giants’ running of three hospitals: Karin Grech, St Luke’s and Gozo General starting from 2018 when Steward took over these hospitals from Vitals Global Healthcare in 2018. In a 100-page appeal, Steward has accused the judge Justice Francesco Depasquale of bias, sensationalism and arriving at the “wrong conclusions” after making “wild assumptions” while making findings of fraud and possibly criminal conduct – and being based on “factually and legally mistaken grounds”.
The deal was originally made in 2015 when the Malta government granted a contract for the running of three hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) which sold the deal to American giant Steward in 2018. In the same year, Adrian Delia, then nationalist leader of the opposition, filed the case against Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Vitals Global Healthcare, alleging that both Vitals Global Healthcare and Steward Healthcare had not fulfilled their contractual obligations. This was seen as a political ploy against the Labour govt for media publicity and point scoring as the issue got traction with the local nationalist media which is seen as anti-foreign, anti-foreign investment and nurtures hatred for the outsider immigrants.
On 24th February 2023, Mr. Justice Francesco Depasquale at the First Hall, Civil Court, ruled in favour of plaintiff Doctor Adrian Delia’s petition and accepted his assumptions and accusations while annulling the contract for the development, maintenance, management and operation of three of the public hospitals in Malta: St. Luke’s, Karen Grech and the Gozo General Hospital.
Upon Steward taking over the Concession at the Government of Malta’s behest, the completion of the construction of Barts – which had stalled under the Vital Global Healthcare (VGH) administration – was clearly and specifically indicated to Steward as a priority by Joseph Muscat, the former Prime Minister on behalf of the Government of Malta.
Steward at the time intervened, according to evidence, to heal a worsening relationship with Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), which was threatening to leave Malta and Gozo as its students had no facilities to continue their clinical studies.
There were initial high-level meetings between Steward and QMUL leadership in London and Malta, with a view to re-engage and realign objectives, and monthly steering group meetings involving all stakeholders (Steward, QMUL, Government) were resumed. According to evidence, the Anatomy Centre was immediately built to allow for continued medical student education, since failure to do so would have resulted in the need to transfer students back to London. This meant an accelerated 5-month design, construction and refurbishment to ensure success of the QMUL programme, leading to completion of this part of the project in October 2018 in a mere eight months after Steward takeover.
Steward subsequently designed and built the Medical School in 17 months (April 2018 to October 2019) although the Malta Government and QMUL requirements involved an increased size of the facility from approximately 4,000 square metres to 8800 square metres, with the challenges that these changes involved, especially considering the requirement to build an innovative hybrid construction for a high-tech building. Steward delivered this in the shortest possible time and spent thirty-five million Euros (€35,000,000), according to court papers.
Steward appeal says the Malta court in its most superficial analysis regarding the alleged “fraud”, the court completely ignores the involvement of Bank of Valletta in the contracts which the Court considered so problematic. “The fact that the Bank of Valletta was also a signatory to the contracts goes to show that there were other interests involved, beyond those of the Government and of Steward as Concessionaire, but in its judgment, the Court completely fails to take this into account, and as a result, its analysis remains superficial and incomplete.”
Malta court’s judgment focusing on toilets, ignores € 60,000,000 investment in 3 hospitals