Nationalist Party MEP David Casa on Sunday warned Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne of the “difficult test” he has to face before assuming his role as EU Commissioner due to his inaction over the Steward hospitals’ deal.

In a post on Facebook reacting to Saturday’s announcement that Fearne will be nominated as the next EU Commissioner to replace Helena Dalli, Casa warned that the grilling before the European Parliament will be a difficult one.

“Before Fearne starts packing for Brussels, he should remember that the position of Commissioner is not automatic but depends on a test before the European Parliament.

“Fearne will have to give us a satisfactory explanation [as to] why he allowed the Maltese and Gozitan people to continue to be robbed for years through the fraudulent hospital deal before entering the Berlaymont. It won't be an easy test for sure,” Casa warned.

MEP candidate Peter Agius made a similar warning, saying: “Chris Fearne: Make sure to get back the €400 million stolen by Vitals/Stewart before your grilling for Commissioner.”

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Fearne thanked Prime Minister Robert Abela for the nomination and the trust shown in him.

“For many years I had the honour and privilege of serving as a surgeon, then as an MP, Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister.

"Now, while I will keep the posts of Minister and DPM, I thank the PM for the nomination for European Commissioner which will allow me to serve on a European level,” he wrote.

The concession for the running of the three hospitals was initially given to Vitals Global Healthcare but was in 2018 taken over by Steward Healthcare after this bought a majority stake in Vitals.

Almost a year ago, a court annulled the privatisation deal for the running of St Luke’s, Karin Grech and the Gozo General hospitals. That judgment, in February last year, called the contract "fraudulent".

In October, the Court of Appeal confirmed the judgment and upheld the cancellation of the contracts, on the basis that Steward had also failed to deliver on their promises and concluded that the entire deal appeared to be fraudulent.

The appeals court also said it believed there was “collusion” between Steward and senior government officials and that the government had failed to protect the national interest in upholding the deal.  

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