Following the report that Zoran Zaev was looking into a public private partnership with a company linked to disgraced Maltese former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, attention has focused on the alleged middle-man. Pakistani businessman Shaukat Ali Ghafoor was reportedly working with Zaev and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama to get them to approve contracts with the controversial Steward healthcare company.
The scheme, as presented by Albanian and Maltese media outlets, would include providing public funding for private hospitals operated by Steward. The American company badly mishandled its Maltese operations, and failed to make the necessary investments despite the fact that they received the planned public funding. But Steward reportedly had the full support of Muscat, who was forced to resign after allegations his staff was involved in the car bomb murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017.
Zaev met with Muscat in 2018, and Ghafoor was reportedly there for a secret meeting, which also included Macedonian Healthcare Minister Venko Filipce. Ghafoor made millions in Libya using his links to the Gaddafi regime. He was reportedly linked to getting some of the Gaddafi funds that were frozen in Europe back to his coffers.
According to the Albanian Exit news outlet, Ghafoor was looking into a Balkan package deal, under which Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro would provide a portion of their public healthcare funding for privately managed hospitals ran by Steward.
Exit reports that Shaukat Ali Abul Ghafoor is a Pakistani business tycoon who bought a Maltese passport and potentially has other citizenships.
The owner of numerous offshore companies set up to receive payoffs from the sale of the Maltese concession, he has preferred to stay out of the limelight, instead pushing Sri Ram Tumuluri forward to be the ‘face’ of many negotiations. Tumuluri has also visited Albania a number of times in the last couple of years has a less than stellar reputation. In Canada, he is known for running a lakeside hotel in British Columbia into the ground in just 18 months. Previous associates describe him as a fraud who fails at everything he touches. He was also found to have set up companies to receive payouts from the sale of VGH to Steward and promptly started shutting them down once the matter became subject to a magisterial inquiry in Malta, Exit reports about the men who would take over part of the public healthcare of several Balkan countries.
According to Exit, the Albanian government plans to go ahead with Ghafoor and Tumuluri, despite their mishandling of the Maltese operations, but their plans in Macedonia could fall apart depending on the outcome of the April 12 elections.