Chris Fearne’s decision to resign following criminal charges sets a high standard for political conduct, the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry said on Saturday.

“We have become accustomed to seeing private persons resign from office following inquiries that implicate public authorities, while politicians carry on business-as-usual. Fearne's resignation sets a high standard for political conduct,” the Chamber said in a statement.

Fearne stepped aside as deputy prime minister and EU funds minister on Friday, sticking to that decision despite Prime Minister Robert Abela publicly asking him to reconsider it.

He asked Abela to also withdraw his nomination to serve on the EU’s next Commission. Fearne was Malta’s nominee to replace the outgoing Helena Dalli.

The former minister faces charges of fraud and misappropriation in relation to the deal to privatise three state hospitals, signed during the Joseph Muscat-led government. He is one of two dozen people who stands accused of crimes related to that deal.

Fearne insists he is innocent and said on Friday that he was tendering his resignation because it was the “right thing to do” in the circumstances.  

He is the only person in public office implicated in this case to have resigned so far.

The Malta Chamber said Fearne had behaved ethically in way that “should be followed by the entire political class”.

“In his resignation letter he highlighted the importance of political integrity, respect for democratic institutions and towards the solemn oath of office,” the Chamber said. “He emphasized loyalty to the nation and its people above personal or party interests, asserting that the duty of a politician is to uphold the best interests of the country, its institutions and its people.”

The Chamber said it was important for court proceedings to be expedited, noting that justice delayed “punishes the innocent and favours the guilty, and also creates unnecessary uneasiness in people’s well-being and peace of mind as well as unnecessary instability in the economical climate.”

A magistrate will start hearing the case against Muscat and various other defendants on May 28. It remains unclear when the case against Fearne and other defendants who are being charged separately will begin.

In its statement, the Chamber also reiterated its calls "for a clear demarcation between the political decisions to be taken at ministerial level and the administrative/executive functions to implement the same." 

Apart from ministers like Fearne and Muscat, prosecutors have also filed criminal charges in connection with the case against a top civil servant and two former top civil servants. 

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