EU Policy. Malta backs health Commissioner pick amid hospital scandal

Chris Fearne with Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.
Chris Fearne with Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. Copyright Lukasz Kobus/ EU
Copyright Lukasz Kobus/ EU
By Marta Iraola Iribarren
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The ambitions of Chris Fearne, Maltese nominee for the next EU Commission, may be stymied after revelations of fraudulent hospital concessions, but he hasn't lost government support so far.


Malta's Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne continues to be the country's first choice for commissioner in the forthcoming EU executive, diplomats have confirmed, despite being charged by prosecutors on suspicion of misappropriation and fraud according to a judicial document seen by Euronews.

The charges relate to the country’s latest corruption scandal involving the privatisation of three state hospitals in deal between the Maltese government and Vitals Global Healthcare, dating to the time when Fearne was health minister in the island republic, a post he held until January this year.

In a Facebook post published on Wednesday, Fearne said that he has not yet been notified officially of the charges and is yet to see what is included in the inquiry.

He maintained that he has always fulfilled his duties with the utmost correctness and integrity, and he is sure of never having violated the law.

Before his social media post, Maltese media reported that Fearne told his parliamentary group that he would be willing to resign if his name is cited by the magistrate handling the case.

In May 2023, the National Audit Office (NAO) of Malta concluded an investigation on the VGH concession deal and exonerated Fearne's involvement.

The Minister for Health was excluded from “any meaningful involvement in the fate of this public health-related concession”, the NAO concluded.

“The unorthodox dynamic that persisted between the Prime Minister and the Minister for Tourism, to the detriment of the Minister for Health, remained a matter of grave concern to the NAO,” the audit stated in relation to the issue.

Joseph Muscat, Malta’s former prime minister, Keith Schembri, his former chief of staff, and Konrad Mizzi, former health minister, and Edward Scicluna, Malta’s Central Bank governor, were also named in criminal charges filed by the prosecutors on Monday.

In 2015, Muscat’s government signed a deal with Vitals Global Healthcare to run three state hospitals. VGH later sold the concession to Steward Health Care, a hospital operator, owner of 30 hospitals across the United States. The company declared its bankruptcy on Monday after months of financial problems.

The inquiry to VGH first began in 2019 to assess the role Joseph Muscat and his government played in the deal.

In 2023, a court ruling annulled the original deal concluding that Vitals Global Healthcare and Steward Health Care did not fulfil the obligations signed in the contract, that the deal was fraudulent, and that the government officials involved had acted against the national interest when negotiating.

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