[WATCH] PM says Fearne remains Malta nominee for EU commissioner despite charges

Prime Minister Robert Abela addresses the media after reports that criminal charges have been filed in connection with the hospitals inquiry

Prime Minister Robert Abela (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Prime Minister Robert Abela (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Prime Minister Robert Abela has said Chris Fearne will remain Malta’s nomination for European Commissioner despite possible charges against the former health minister.

“It remains to be seen whether he was simply charged for holding the role of health minister and deputy prime minister, or because he was directly involved in any wrong doing,” Abela told the press on Monday afternoon.

The PM held a press conference at Castille after reports that criminal charges had been filed in connection to the hospitals inquiry. Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri and former minister Konrad Mizzi among other are expected to be charged in connection with the case.

“Those who will be charged, no matter what role they held in government, are presumed innocent for now,” the PM said. “Those who value justice do not want the law to be politically weaponised.”

He questioned whether it is true that “loyal servants of the state” will be charged without having a chance to give their views on the case.

“That injustice needs to be fixed. This country is governed by the rule of law,” he said.

Chris Fearne for EU commissioner

Speaking on deputy prime minister Chris Fearne’s nomination for EU commissioner, Abela said he always found “a man who was loyal to the government and the people of Malta”, and a decision on him would not be taken if he is not in the possession of the process verbal.

He also confirmed Fearne will be charged in connection to the Vitals inquiry.

“The charges alone will not change my decision to nominate him for commissioner,” he said.

The deputy PM was health parliamentary secretary under Konrad Mizzi when the hospitals deal was concluded with Vitals Global Healthcare in 2015 and later health minister when the concession was transferred to Steward Health Care in 2018.

Following MaltaToday’s report, Fearne took to Facebook to say that he was certain of his innocence as he wrote, “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Court will find nothing but my complete innocence. I make it clear that I speak confidently and openly. As a minister and citizen of a democratic and European country, I continue to believe firmly that justice should not look at anyone's face and should appear to be doing just that.”

‘Joseph Muscat is still presumed innocent’

When asked why his rhetoric seems to align with Joseph Muscat’s, Abela said he is still presumed innocent.

“I defend Joseph Muscat’s right in undergoing a fair and unbiased process. To have someone who simply because he was a Labour PM, is not given his rights, for me is unacceptable,” he said.

He also went on to say that the inquiry was not carried out from a neutral standpoint, and sought to find guilt from the get-go.

Abela remained adamant he had not seen the inquiry conclusions, and only knows that charges had been issued earlier on Monday.

Unfair charges on public service officials

Unprompted, Abela said charges will be issued against certain public officials who “were only serving the country and government.” He also confirmed charges will be filed against former finance minister and current Central Bank Governor Edward Scicluna. 

He said that he would not be suspending anyone based on only the charges, and once again repeated that he had to read the process verbal before taking any decision.

“I will not let the government get paralysed,” he said.

The PM, without mentioning him by name, made reference to now retired health ministry permanent secretary Alfred Camilleri.

“He is someone whose credentials are not doubted by anyone, and yet he will be charged. That is unacceptable,” he said.