Malta Deputy PM, Chris Fearne, Resigns Amid Hospital Privatization Scandal

Chris Fearne stepped down as Malta's deputy prime minister on Friday and withdrew his nomination to the European Union Commission after prosecutors charged him over suspect-ed misappropriation and fraud related to the controversial privatization of three state hospi-tals during his tenure as health minister.

In a letter to Prime Minister Robert Abela, Fearne stated he was unaware of the specific allegations but maintained his innocence, expressing confidence the court proceedings would clear his name. However, he left open the possibility of returning to public service if vindicated, writing "if, following the court case, the country calls on me to serve again, it will find me ready."

The charges against Fearne stem from a 2015 deal struck by the previous government of Joseph Muscat, Malta’s former prime minister, to hand over management of three public hospitals to private company Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH). VGH later sold the conces-sion to Steward Health Care, a U.S. operator that filed for bankruptcy this week after months of financial turmoil.

Prosecutors have also filed criminal charges against Muscat, his former chief of staff Keith Schembri, and ex-health minister Konrad Mizzi related to the privatization, which a 2023 court ruling deemed fraudulent and against Malta's national interests. The ruling nullified the original contracts, citing failures by VGH and Steward to meet their obligations.