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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Indian-Canadian businessman’s payments expose Malta deputy PM aide’s corruption denial

Documentary evidence shows that a company linked with Vital Global Healthcare made multiple suspicious payments to Carmen Ciantar, Health Minister Chris Fearne’s chief of staff and close associate, in late 2015 and early 2016.

Malta Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne’s Chief of Staff and close associate has denied taking several undeclared payments from controversial Indian-Canadian businessman Sri Ram Tumuluri but banking evidence establishes that she was beneficiary of several suspected corrupt payments.

Documentary evidence shows that a company linked with Vital Global Healthcare (VGH) made multiple suspicious payments to Carmen Ciantar, Health Minister Chris Fearne’s chief of staff and close associate, in late 2015 and early 2016.

Carmen Ciantar stepped down last week after leaked documents revealed she had received several undeclared payments from a company linked to controversial Indian-Canadian businessman Sri Ram Tumuluri, the CEO of UK-based Causis Group. The payments are linked to a deal in 2015 when Sri Ram Tumuluri’s firm VGH won a privatisation tender to manage three hospitals in Malta, St. Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo, despite having no relevant experience and no funding secured.

VGH signed its agreement in Malta on 30 November 2015, when Chris Fearne was Parliamentary Secretary for Health. All the suspicious payments were made by Gozo International Medicare Ltd through its account with Dubai-headquartered bank Emirates NBD. Ciantar has denied receiving the suspicious payments, but the banking evidence clearly establishes she was a beneficiary.

Read more: Indian-Canadian Ram Tumuluri’s company accused of corrupting Malta deputy premier’s official

At the time of the transfers, Gozo International Medicare Limited was subsidiary of Crossrange Holdings Limited, which in turn was 70% owned by Bluestone Investments Malta Limited and 30% owned by Pivot Holdings Limited. Gozo International Medicare Limited’s directors were Mark Pawley and Mohammed Shoaib Walajahi, an early investor in the PPP tender with Ram Tumuluri. Confirmation of the transfers was sent to an email address suspected to be linked to Walajahi.

Multiple shell companies were used to obscure the ownership of Gozo International Medicare Ltd, an approach often used by Tumuluri

The first payment of EUR 165,000 to the beneficiary Carmen Ciantar was made on 13 October 2015 for “travel expenses reimbursement” through beneficiary bank Credito Emiliano SPA.

Evidence shows the second payment of EUR 185,000 to the beneficiary Carmen Ciantar was made on 19 January 2016 for “travel expenses reimbursement” also through beneficiary bank Credito Emiliano SPA.

The third payment of EUR 93,500, according to banking records, to the beneficiary Carmen Ciantar was made on 1 March 2016 for “travel expenses reimbursement” through beneficiary bank Credito Emiliano SPA.

The transaction reference numbers provided indicate that there were multiple invoices submitted to the company by Ms Ciantar – at least 15, suggested by the 1 March 2016 transfer reference.

A subsequent fourth transaction record indicates that the same VGH-linked company altered its payment approach from Ms Ciantar to a Panama-based entity, Glotal Finance Inc.

On 14 March 2016, an amount of EUR 750,000 was paid as “payment of loan principal” for the beneficiary “Glotal Finance Inc” through beneficiary bank Bordier et Cie Geneva for a “loan agreement, reassignment agreement C.Ciantar to Glotal Finance”.

Glotal Finance Inc, which was dissolved on 15 June 2020, was wholly owned by Dahlia Investments Ltd, a company based in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Read more: Malta judge ignores €60,000,000 investment in three hospitals

Amanda Julia Ciantar, currently an associate director of KPMG in Malta, was the original sole director and owner of Dahlia Investments Ltd. It is not known if or how she is related to Carmen Ciantar. On 9 February 2016 she transferred ownership and directorship of the company to International Corporate Services Ltd (ICS), a Belizean company services provider, but the management of the Glotal-Dahlia structure was conducted through the Liechtenstein corporate services provider Audina Treuhand.

Amanda Ciantar continued to settle invoices for the administration of Dahlia Investments after this transfer was made, and was the beneficiary of several payments out of this corporate structure. An account at Credit Andorra owned by Amanda Ciantar received multiple payments totalling at least EUR 890,000 from a Dahlia Investments account with Bluor Bank in Latvia and from Glotal Finance’s Bordier et Cie account in Geneva. It can currently only be speculated who the ultimate beneficiary of this large sum of money originating from Tumuluri’s company has been.

The VGH deal in Malta and Tumuluri’s failure to deliver on his commitments have been subject to intense scrutiny in Malta and in Europe. Multiple questions are already rising on his Rs2,800-crore deal to supply e-buses to India’s Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST).

After leaked documents alleged that Ciantar had received several payments totalling €443,500 from Gozo International Medicare Ltd between October 2015 and February 2016 from Ram Tumuluri’s company, Ciantar initially refuted the allegations as “untrue”. However, within a couple of hours the Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne’s office announced Ciantar has resigned to be able to defend herself.

How cash flowed between offshore companies and individuals

The first of the initial payments, described as travel expenses reimbursements by Ciantar, came six weeks before VGH was granted a 30-year concession to run St. Luke’s, Karin Grech, and Gozo hospitals. It is not known who has received the payments of more than 800.000 Euro that are part of this group of transactions.

Carmen Ciantar is listed on LinkedIn as CEO at Foundation for Medical Services (FMS), a government entity which manages public healthcare across Malta. At the time of the transfers, she was CEO of ARMS Ltd, government-owned utilities company that came under the remit of former minister of energy and health Konrad Mizzi.

Read more: Malta judge slammed for defaming healthcare giant in controversial judgment

Within a few months of the transfers, according to local daily the Times of Malta, she had gone to work as the head of Fearne’s election campaign – during which time he also appointed her CEO of FMS. Fearne, who is now deputy prime minister, was parliamentary secretary state for health in Mizzi’s ministry when VGH was granted the much-criticised 30-year concession on 30 November 2015. Fearne’s authorisation of Ciantar’s high-value, five-year contract at FMS has been labelled “irregular” by Malta’s Auditor General.

There is no evidence to show that Fearne knew of the payments to his chief canvasser, but the sheer scale of the payments has prompted calls for further investigation by opposition politicians. Fearne has held senior positions in the administrations of both former premier Joseph Muscat and current prime minister Robert Abela, who he challenged for the leadership following Muscat’s resignation in 2020.

In February this year a Maltese judge ordered that the three hospitals be returned to public control.

“Tumuluri has been declared an international scammer and the main culprit in scams worth crores of rupees by Malta, Canada and the European Union. Serious allegations have been levelled against him and the Supreme Court in Canada has also made serious declarations about him,” BJP MLA Ashish Shelar said during a debate in the Indian parliament about tendering for electric buses from Tumuluri’s London-based Causis E-Mobility company.

Read more: Foreign investment pulled out after Malta added to FATF grey list