Steward Health Care financed spy campaign using public funds

01 July 2024

Steward Health Care authorised a €6.5 million secret operation to target perceived opponents in Malta and abroad, according to records obtained by OCCRP and shared with Times of Malta and Boston Globe. Steward allocated the costs for its spy operations to its Malta budget, which was funded by taxpayers under the €90-million-euro per year hospitals contract.

The new investigation has found that senior Steward officials coordinated operations and corresponded daily with private spies at London-based intelligence firms. Practices included using bank records, accessing sensitive phone data, and planting “fake” media stories about corruption among Maltese officials.

Malta’s ex-health minister Chris Fearne was targeted with “fake” corruption claims in the smear campaign. Initially, Fearne backed Steward taking over the Malta hospitals contract from Vitals Global Healthcare in February 2018. Their relationship seems to have soured. Steward Malta CEO Armin Ernst hit out at Fearne when payments under the Malta government contract were held up.

The original concession deal was challenged in court by an Opposition MP and the judge ordered its rescission. Steward appealed the decision and lost. The appellate court found there was active collusion between government officials and the concessionaire to defraud the Maltese public.

Steward’s spy operation also targeted an employee code-named “Pudding”, apparently prompted by concerns he might leak information to the company’s auditor, Crowe, about a possible several hundred million dollar hole in the company’s budget.

All concerned deny wrongdoing.

The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation supported the investigation with research and reporting. Help us support more investigative journalism like this.