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In what seems to be another strand of the disinformation campaign that was carried out against CEO of the Foundation for Medical Services and key aide to health minister Chris Fearne, Carmen Ciantar, the former face of Vitals Global Healthcare’s now defunct hospitals concession, Ram Tumuluri, is yet again the subject of more dubious news reports that are now increasingly attempting to cast him as the mastermind behind Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.

The disinformation campaign which targeted Ciantar, her daughter, and Tumuluri, began in May of this year, shortly after a cross-border investigation carried out by OCCRP, The Shift News, and the Times of Malta revealed that the original investors behind Vitals (VGH) had, using VGH’s parent company Bluestone Investments, funneled at least €21 million through VGH.

The investigation showed how the money that went from the taxpayer to VGH and then to Bluestone was used by the investors to purchase luxury items and wire dubious payments to themselves, in spite of the stated difficulties with securing financing for the promised €200 million investment in St Luke’s Hospital, Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital, and Gozo General Hospital.

At the time, Tumuluri was linked with Ciantar through unverified reports published by Pakistani media. The reports claimed that Tumuluri had paid Ciantar €443,500 through a VGH-linked subsidiary and a further €750,000 ‘loan repayment’. Ciantar had vehemently denied the reports and suspended herself from her post, openly calling on the police commissioner to investigate the claims.

Two months later, Ciantar seemingly reinstated herself as CEO, claiming she had “managed to thwart the evil plans” which led to the fake stories being planted in dodgy media outlets without elaborating any further as to whether she was investigated by the police and if so, what the outcome of those investigations was.

To begin with, Ciantar’s position as CEO of the Foundation of Medical Services was already being questioned by the press following revelations that Ciantar, who doubles up as health minister Chris Fearne’s chief of staff, was put on a contract worth a staggering €163,000 a year.

Now, following the Court of Appeal’s decision to confirm the annulment of the hospitals concession as decreed by a lower court’s judgement in February of this year, the same kind of disinformation campaign has set its crosshairs on Tumuluri again, raising questions as to who is coordinating the campaign and to what end.

At least five disinformation pieces were planted on dubious websites posing as news outlets since the Court of Appeal’s decision on 23 October, one of which was published the same day the appeals court confirmed that the hospitals concession which Tumuluri once fronted was mired in collusion and bad governance practices.

The article, published by Pakistani news channel SAMAA TV without a byline, claims that Dubai police arrested Tumuluri and detained him for a month following several complaints that the police allegedly received. The article claims that Tumuluri issued invalid checks which triggered an investigation.

Besides failing to attribute a byline, the article does not cite any named sources, does not provide any kind of verifiable detail, and fails to produce any documentation or evidence to substantiate the claims that are made. The article then goes on to repeat several talking points which the bad actors behind the disinformation campaign evidently want to get across – they are repeated almost identically in multiple articles.

A virtual carbon copy of the SAMAA TV article was reproduced in the Pakistan Observer, while another three articles that appeared in November, published by Tribune Byte, Seekers Time, and the American Daily Post, added far more sinister overtones than what was present in the original “story”. While SAMAA TV and the Pakistan Observer do seem to produce run of the mill daily news stories, Tribune Byte, Seekers Time, and the American Daily Post produce solely paid-for advertisements.

On an unrelated Facebook post in which a content creator sought to legitimise their own standing through a puff piece, a particularly observant commenter calls out one of these platform for what it really is. Incidentally, it is one of the very few external references which was not generated directly by the website itself that one can find online when using a search engine like Google, meaning that the site’s digital footprint is otherwise extremely limited.

Furthermore, while the articles publishing by Tribune Byte, Seekers Time, and the American Daily Post do carry a byline (respectively, David Rogers, Raymond Puckett, and Lauren Black), a search for more journalistic work published by the same authors for the same news portals does not yield any results.

While there are journalists bearing the names David Rogers and Lauren Black, these real journalists who have the same names that are used for the disinformation pieces have distinct, immediately verifiable digital footprints, which possibly means that these fake sites posing as news portals may have tried to further muddy the waters by using the names of credible media operators for cover.

Again, these three news reports that were all published in quick succession in November are identical copies of each other, and all three of them link back to the same article in the Pakistani Observer that is referred to above.

Screenshots from the articles showing the same exact words being used in the first few lines. The top panel shows an extract from Tribune Byte, the middle panel shows an extract from Seekers Time, bottom panel shows an extract from the American Daily Post.

All three articles immediately pivot to a narrative that clearly attempts to imply Tumuluri was the mastermind behind Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination. The articles extensively quote Daphne’s own work, juxtaposing her work with this narrative to further incriminate Tumuluri. Tellingly, the articles also attempt to discredit Tumuluri’s whistleblower filings with the US’ Securities and Exchanges Commission without naming disgraced former chief of staff to the prime minister Keith Schembri, who Tumuluri claims to have threatened him with his life.

The disinformation campaign further undermines Tumuluri by referring to yet another dubious article in the Daily Pakistan which, without citing any sources or evidence, claims that Tumuluri had an affair with a director at Technoline and that Daphne was killed when she was working on a story which would have apparently exposed the affair. The articles then list what is described as Tumuluri’s pattern of failures in the business ventures he was involved in.

While it is well known that Tumuluri is certainly no saint himself and is yet to answer to a court of law for his incontestable involvement in a clearly fraudulent concession, the real issue is determining who is behind this concerted effort to distract the media’s efforts to continue pursuing the actual prime suspects who were involved in the hospitals concession as well as those were involved in Daphne’s murder.

Given the poor quality of the articles mentioned, it safe to assume that these reports are disingenuous and orchestrated by the same bad actors. Nonetheless, this website sent a request for comment from Tumuluri himself, Dubai’s police force, and the Securities and Exchanges Commission to verify whether there is any truth in any of the dubious allegations being outlined above.

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