Malta judge’s ruling slammed at EU court over ‘false’ accusations of criminal conduct

Monitoring Report

American healthcare giant Steward Healthcare International (SHCI) has slammed Justice Francesco Depasquale’s controversial judgment as “more a work of fiction than a sound and proper ruling” in a blistering court filing, rejecting the biased court ruling on each and every point including wild allegations of criminal conduct and fraud.

In an appeal filed at the European Court of Justice, Steward has slammed the judge and his ruling 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”.

In a scathing comment, Steward has described the court ruling as “simply hilarious (if it was not made by a court of an EU member state)” as the judgment has made the government members including former health minister Konrad Mizzi look like “amateurs, virgins or, at worst, cretins, as well as devoid of any responsibility as if they were not of age”.

Steward appeal has listed12 grievances and appealed the judgment after Mr. Justice Francesco Depasquale revoked the deal between Steward Healthcare and the Government of Malta.

The deal was originally made in 2015 when the Malta government granted a contract for the running of three hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) which sold the deal to American giant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.

Steward Malta has said that Mr. Justice Francesco Depasquale has given to Dr Adrian Delia what he had not even asked for and that “such conclusions are so baseless that they skirt defamation, present the judgment as more a work of fiction than a sound and proper ruling which respects the substantive and procedural rights of the parties” and made “defamatory statements about the Appellants and their representatives and accused them of criminal conduct whilst, ironically, depicting the Government of Malta, an EU Member State, not only as innocent but as a weak, if not even an “ignorant” party, that ended up being deceived or coerced by Steward to accept certain terms or conditions against the interests of the Maltese citizen”.

Steward tells the European Court that “this is decidedly not the case, and it was, on the contrary, the Government of Malta that with various promises and assurances, convinced Steward to take over and save a broken Concession which was vital to the country, and which was then on the verge of completely collapsing, causing a great scandal for the Government”.

Steward has highlighted that the court applied wrong principle when annulling the concession and “the court was wrong and incorrectly applied the dispositions of Chapter 573 when it found that Adrian Delia had locus standi to request the recission of the contract based on alleged breach” and the termination amounts to a breach of the Constitutional and Conventional rights, the rights protected under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and of the basic founding principles of European Union Law, including respect of fundamental rights and the principle of proportionality.

Steward’s legal response to the court judgment takes exception to the unverified and false allegations and assumption made by Mr. Justice Francesco Depasquale and says the allegations of alleged fraud and malicious conduct made in the judgment are “wrong in fact and in law because there is no evidence in the records of the case that could conceivably justify the statement that the Appellants or their directors/representatives acted criminally, when taking over the Concession or at any moment after this. This shortcoming is grave when one considers the basic principle, expressly set out in the Civil Code, that bad faith must be proven and not presumed.

On the contrary, it was the Appellants who were deceived by the Government of Malta and induced to enter into the Concession. Moreover, the First Court recognised in various parts of its judgment alleged collusion that involved members of the Government and/or the public authorities concerned, particularly in connection with the granting of the Concession to Vitals. This excludes the concept of vitiation of contract based on fraud, which can never be present if (allegedly) the two contracting parties were acting in collusion between them”.