New hospitals owner accused in Westminster of predatory tactics and secretiveness

New hospitals owner accused in Westminster of predatory tactics and secretiveness

Last February the UK’s House of Commons debated the activities in the UK and Europe of Cerberus Capital Management, the owner of Steward Health Care that has just acquired Karin Grech, Gozo General and St Luke’s Hospital.

SNP MP George Kerevan told the UK Parliament “Cerberus Capital Management is an American private equity firm that specialises in distressed investing—purchasing so-called distressed or non-performing loans. Few people in the UK have heard of Cerberus, but it is the biggest purchaser of distressed assets in the world. Since 2010, Cerberus has acquired more than 1.2 million distressed or non-performing loans, worth more than $80 billion. Simply put, Cerberus is the world’s largest debt collector. (…)

“The key question is how Cerberus makes its money. It claims to make a return for its investors in the range of 17% to 20% per annum, which is a staggering amount. The key way it makes its money is through tax avoidance. That is perfectly legal, but hardly the business model that the Treasury should be encouraging.(…)

“The tax avoidance scheme means that Cerberus can offset the risk of purchasing so-called distressed loans. With the bulk of the financial risk removed, the true surplus profit for Cerberus comes from squeezing the distressed assets. That explains why Cerberus has been prepared to outbid rival US equity firms to acquire swathes of European distressed debt.”

His SNP colleague Corri Wilson asked “Does my hon. Friend agree that trying to get answers from Cerberus Capital Management on this issue is like drawing blood from a stone? Attempts to communicate with it, by both myself and my constituents who have been impacted, have proven entirely fruitless, and calls for a meeting have fallen on deaf ears.”

George Kerevan replied: “My hon. Friend reveals something that many other Members, and people in other jurisdictions, have discovered: the company is unwilling to engage publically and is known to be highly secretive in its operations.”

SNP MP Roger Mullin stated “Cerberus is an example of a company that operates to standards that are the very reverse of a duty of care towards small businesses in our country. Surely we can expect the Government to be concerned about the effect on the good people who have suffered at its hands. In my constituency, a perfectly good trading company of many years’ standing was completely destroyed by the actions of Cerberus, in a similar way to another company mentioned earlier.”

Labour MP Peter Dowd: “As you know, Mr Owen, in Greek mythology Cerberus was the three-headed ‘hound of Hades’ who guarded the doors of hell, to stop the dead from leaving and the living from getting in. That is a metaphor for this organisation; it stops people from leaving. It gets them by the throat and they are trapped forever, and that is not acceptable. I am not sure what to make of that name for a company, but it is well worth leaving that in the air for people to ponder on for a moment.

As hon. Members will be aware, we have been led to understand that the sale of these assets represented the Government’s largest ever financial asset sale, and we have been told that it was ‘value for money’. I would expect the Government to claim nothing less, so there is no surprise in their making that statement. However, it prompts the question: what evidence have the Government given to support that assessment? The answer is, ‘Very little’.”

The full debate is here.