Top right: Former VGH director Ram Tumuluri, Bottom right: Technoline owner Ivan Vassallo
Make no mistake about it, a report published by The Shift today about a secret €5 million loan by Vitals Global Healthcare to the owner of the local medical supplier Technoline could have huge implications.
The government’s concession to VGH for the operation of the St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals has been questionable from the start, but no facet of the deal has been quite as strange as VGH’s deal with Technoline.
In July 2017, VGH signed a deal with well-established medical supplier Technoline for the exclusive procurement of medical equipment for its three hospitals. The deal understandably angered Technoline’s competitors, who were now forced to submit bids for equipment of those three hospitals to a direct competitor, giving it inside knowledge of their own prices.
Only a few months before this deal was struck, Technoline changed hands, with manager Ivan Vassallo buying out the firm’s shareholders – the Guillaumier and Cusens families – in two separate deals.
After this deal, a certain Pakistani national called Yaser Ali Badar was listed as a Technoline director, a move that raised eyebrows given that he was registered as living in the same Tigne apartment as VGH investors Shaukat Ali Chaudry, believed to be a relative of Badar.
Health Minister Chris Fearne with former VGH director Ram Tumuluri
Vassallo, who also happens to be the Grand Secretary of one of two freemason grand lodges in Malta, refused to state how he had financed the purchase of Technoline. Questioned by Lovin Malta, he confirmed he had been friends with Badar for around two years but said he doesn’t think there is any connection between him and VGH.
However, The Shift has now revealed that VGH had actually used a Jersey company to loan Vassallo’s company €5.14 million in December 2016, a few months before he bought out Technoline’s shareholders.
This detail emerges from a leaked share transfer agreement between VGH and Steward, in which VGH transferred its concession and subsequent contracts and obligations to the US healthcare giant.
Yet this could be even more damning than first meets the eye, particularly seeing as VGH had ended its tenure in Malta without even enough money to cover staff salaries and with major banks refusing to loan them money.
In just over two years in Malta, VGH received some €50 million from the government, a figure which raised eyebrows due to the lack of visible investment in the three hospitals. Health Minister Chris Fearne has insisted the money was spent on recurrent costs but has not published any detailed accounts, prompting Opposition leader Adrian Delia to cry foul and demand the government come clean on how these public funds were spent.
Lovin Malta rang up Vassallo this afternoon, but he dismissed questions with a brief “No comment” and “Think what you will” before hanging up.
Yet the questions won’t go away that easily. In fact, now we know VGH somehow had millions in stock to help Ivan Vassallo buy out Technoline, these questions have become more pressing than ever.