BRUSSELS: One of the world’s leading private healthcare providers Steward Health Care International (SHCI) has filed an unusual but critical complaint to the European Commission against the Maltese government and the country’s judiciary for the blatant infringement of European Union (EU) laws on several grounds.
In its formal complaint lodged through lawyers, SHCI has lashed out at the Malta court’s judge Mr. Justice Francesco Depasquale who had concluded without evidence that SHCI’s deal with the Maltese government to provide health services in three hospitals was fraudulent. The company has told the European Commission that it was clear the verdict was driven by political motives and facts were disregarded.
SHCI launched the complaint in relation to SHCI’s Maltese subsidiary, Steward Health Care Malta (SHCM), after the low-level court annulled the agreement through which Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) and later Steward took over the management of Karin Grech, St Luke’s and Gozo hospitals and came under criticism from the local right-wing nationalist press.
SHCI immediately appealed the decision arguing that the court verdict was based on bias and vendetta and that the company has been cheated and misled by the Maltese government, which has said it has decided to run the three hospitals.
Steward has emphatically rejected the narrative of the judge’s findings, described the judgment as one that fails to support its ruling with evidence and that the judgment’s narrative is speculative and highly conjectural.
Following the appeal, Steward said: “The judgment´s narrative, which is speculative and highly conjectural, could have been disproven had SHCM been asked to supply evidence on these counts to court. Such a request was never made, neglecting therefore the right to a defence.
“The judgement on the hospitals’ concession breaches EU law on various fronts. It is incompatible with the key principle of free movement of capital, and is not compliant with the general principles of legal certainty and legitimate expectations, as well as the principle of proportionality. SHCI also considers that the judge significantly and deliberately overreached his remit in his verdict.”
Steward has described the verdict as a political decision. It said: “This is a serious breach of the judicial practice and a clear indication that the verdict was arrived at as a result of political, rather than factual, motives. These failings – along with most others present in the judgement – represent major concerns for the rule of law in Malta, a country that has been afflicted by significant corruption scandals relating to the executive, legislative, and judicial arms of authority for many years (some of which have even required investigation and demands that changes be implemented by the European Banking Authority).”
Steward has warned that a politically-motivated verdict was a latest example of the deterioration of the rule of law in Malta will have serious implications for the future of foreign investment in the country. It added: “As illustrated by the wildly unsound court verdict and subsequent coordinated behaviour by ostensibly independent government agencies, SHCI has deep concerns about the rule of law and proper functioning of the pillars of Government. SHCI have submitted this complaint to the European Commission alongside pursuing our case in Malta and the request to appeal the preliminary ruling with the European Court of Justice. SHCI notes Malta’s weakening recent record of respect for the authority and legitimacy of the European judicial authorities after the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) last month complained about being ‘shut out’ of magisterial inquiries. SHCM remains committed to a fair and orderly transition and will ensure that the wellbeing of our patients and our employees remain our priority.”