Malta deputy PM and EU Commission hopeful quits amid healthcare scandal

By Thomson Reuters May 10, 2024 | 8:44 AM

VALLETTA (Reuters) – Malta deputy prime minister Chris Fearne resigned on Friday amid a corruption scandal over a 2015 government concession for the management of three state hospitals granted to a previously unknown healthcare group.

Fearne told Labour Prime Minister Robert Abela that he was resigning in the national interest while denying wrondoing. He also asked Abela to drop plans to propose him as the Maltese member of the next European Commission.

“The only thing the courts will find is my total innocence,” he told the prime minister in his resignation letter.

Fearne was junior minister for health at the time the government handed the hospital management deal to Vitals Global Healthcare. An audit report some years later found that he was sidelined in the talks with Vitals before the deal.

But on Monday the attorney general filed charges of fraud and misappropriation against Fearne and other senior government officials.

Abela has stood by his deputy, saying soon after the charges were filed that he was confident of Fearne’s integrity. After receiving the resignation letter, he asked his ally to reconsider his plans.

The charges filed on Monday followed a four-year inquiry sparked by rule of law group Repubblika.

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri and then Health Minister Konrad Mizzi face charges including money laundering, bribery, trading in influence setting up a criminal association.

Central Bank Governor Edward Scicluna, who was finance minister in 2015, is, like Fearne, accused of fraud and misappropriation.

All the accused have denied wrongdoing. An arraignment date had not yet been set.

(Reporting by Christopher Scicluna, editing by Alvise Armellini and Nick Macfie)