Malta Deputy PM’s Aide Resigns Amidst Allegations Of Receiving Undeclared Payments From Indian Businessman

Malta Deputy PM’s Aide Resigns Amidst Allegations Of Receiving Undeclared Payments From Indian Businessman
Senior Malta government official Carmen Ciantar has stepped down 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, Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH), won a privatisation tender to manage three hospitals in Malta, St. Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo, despite having no relevant experience. The deal and Tumuluri’s failure to deliver on his commitments have been subject to intense scrutiny in Malta and in Europe.

Sri Ram Tumuluri, former CEO of Vital's Global Healthcare, with Malta's health minister Chris Fearne
Sri Ram Tumuluri, former CEO of Vitals Global Healthcare, with Malta's health minister Chris Fearne

Tumuluri, whose company recently signed a ₹2,800 crore (approx. €316 million) deal to supply e-buses to India’s Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST), is facing fresh allegations of corruption in new leaked papers involving Malta's deputy prime minister Chris Fearne’s aide and senior government official Carmen Ciantar.

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 “totally and absolutely untrue”.

However, within a couple of hours, deputy prime minister Chris Fearne’s office announced Ciantar had resigned in order to be able to defend herself. Ciantar said she was “suspending” herself, but claimed this was in no way an admission of guilt.

The dubious payments 

Investigations revealed that the chief political advisor of Malta’s health minister Chris Fearne received a total of €443,500 Euros from Gozo International Medicare Ltd – part of the Vital Global Healthcare (VGH) group – in less than four months from the firm’s account at the Dubai-headquartered Emirates NBD Bank. It then transferred a €750,000 “loan repayment” into an account at Bordier & Cie Geneva, a Swiss private bank, registered to a Panamanian entity, Glotal Finance Inc., which also referenced Ciantar.

The first of the 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.

Transaction reference numbers provided in the leaked banking tranche indicate there were at least 15 invoices submitted to Gozo International Medicare by Ciantar – dating between October 6, 2015, and February 25, 2016.

Carmen Ciantar, Chris Fearne and Sri Ram Tumuluri 

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 disgraced former minister of energy and health Konrad Mizzi. Mizzi was handed a travel ban by the US Government in December 2021 on account of his involvement in “significant corruption”.

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.

There is no evidence yet that suggests that Maltese deputy prime minister Chris Fearne knew of the payments to his chief canvasser, but the sheer scale of the payments is certain to prompt 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, prompting independent MP Arnold Cassola to demand that Mizzi and former Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat be arraigned.

“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.