Chris Fearne, Edward Scicluna and three top civil servants will likely be charged with crimes related to the Vitals hospitals deal, Times of Malta is informed.

The five are believed to be within a second tier of suspects eyed for criminal prosecution. While not suspected of having played leading roles in the fraudulent deal, they are understood to have come under scrutiny.

Fearne, currently EU Funds Minister, took over the hospitals concession when Konrad Mizzi resigned from cabinet in 2019. Scicluna, currently Central Bank Governor, was Finance Minister at the time of the deal.

While Scicluna, 77, is at the twilight of his working career, the same cannot be said of Fearne, who is Malta's nominee to become an EU Commissioner later this year. 

The prospect of facing criminal charges will still shock both men: neither was singled out for any blame by a National Audit Office investigation into the deal, and they barely featured in documents filed as part of a civil court case that led to the deal being annulled. 

Fearne: 'I never broke any law'

In a Facebook post, Fearne said he still had no indication about the details of the inquiry and insisted there was nothing that could cause him embarrassment. 

Fearne recalled serious anonymous allegations had similarly surfaced last year and the police had concluded there were no grounds for any criminal action. 

"I have no doubt there will be the same conclusions this time around. I have never broken any law or ministerial ethics," the minister said, pointing out, however, that he could only speak on his behalf. 

Sources said Fearne called for a vote of confidence from fellow Labour MPs on Thursday afternoon, insisting that he "never took a penny" from the hospitals' deal.

Fearne told MPs he had no problem stepping down from his post but the parliamentary group unanimously backed him. 

Speaking on Friday, Prime Minister Robert Abela appeared to back his deputy, saying he, not a magistrate, would decide who should resign from political office. 

Scicluna was unavailable for comment.  

Times of Malta is, at this stage, not naming the civil servants likely to face criminal charges.

Digging into an inquiry

Lawyers at the Attorney General’s office are currently poring over a magisterial inquiry into the deal that was concluded last week.

The inquiry was tasked with assessing whether Joseph Muscat or any of his ministers involved in the deal had committed crimes in negotiating, approving or managing it.

Its contents remain secret, but sources say Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri are among those suspected of having committed money laundering-related offences. Muscat has gone on record saying that he has “no doubt” he will face criminal charges, saying the inquiry is politically motivated. Mizzi and Schembri have not spoken publicly.  

The hospitals deal handed three state hospitals - St Luke's, Karin Grech and Gozo General Hospital - to Vitals Global Healthcare and subsequently Steward Health Care to run.

It was mired in controversy from the start, and a National Audit Office investigation concluded that Vitals should have been barred from bidding for the contract from the outset.

In 2023, a court annulled the deal altogether, following a civil case filed by former Opposition leader Adrian Delia. The court concluded that Vitals -and later Steward - did not fulfil their contractual obligations, that the deal was tainted by fraud and that top government officials had colluded against the national interest to approve it.

We asked Labour supporters what they make of the Vitals inquiry

In parallel to that case, Magistrate Gabriella Vella was leading the inquiry concluded last week. With the probe now concluded, it is up to attorney general lawyers to decide whether to file criminal charges against anyone involved.

Prime Minister Robert Abela says he would like the attorney general to publish the inquiry’s conclusions. But Abela has also sought to leverage the inquiry for political gain: he has publicly accused the magistrate who led it of being part of an “establishment” that is out to damage Labour and said citizens would “scrutinise the judiciary” through their vote on June 8.

Polls suggest Labour enjoys a massive 10-point lead over the Nationalist Party and will win by up to 28,000 votes.

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