Economy Minister Silvio Schembri will be retaining two high-ranking officials facing charges of fraud, saying it would be "rushed" to force them out.

The ministry's permanent secretary Ronald Mizzi and CEO of ministry-led agency Projects Plus, James Camenzuli, are among 24 people facing criminal charges over the 2017 deal the Muscat government struck with Vitals Global Healthcare to run three state hospitals.

Apart from being the ministry's top civil servant, Mizzi also serves as chair of Malta Investment Management Company Limited (MIMCOL), having been appointed to that role by the minister. 

As a permanent secretary, Mizzi's falls under the responsibility of top civil service chief Tony Sultana.

Details of the accusations have not been released- Economy minister

Mizzi 'very professional'

When contacted on Friday and asked about Mizzi and Camenzuli's futures, the minister stressed it was important not to take any rushed decisions.

“As things stand today, it would be very dangerous to make any rushed decisions; we’re talking about the day-to-day running of the country here,” he said, describing the situation as “delicate”.

Asked if it was appropriate for Mizzi to continue in his role while facing charges of fraud, Schembri replied it was “appropriate we continue moving forwards as a government and as a country.”

Stressing he had always viewed Mizzi as “someone who is very professional in his work,” the minister said he did not want to “risk the country moving forwards by taking any rushed decisions.”

Contacted about Camenzuli later on Friday, Schembri said his original comments applied to the Projects Plus CEO too, adding that the details of the accusations levied against both men had still not been released.

Schembri’s comments were provided before Chris Fearne announced his resignation as deputy prime minister and the withdrawal of his bid for European Commissioner on Friday afternoon.

Contacted after those events, the economy minister said he stood by his earlier comments.

Schembri was speaking just days after Opposition Leader Bernard Grech called on all public officials facing charges to step aside until criminal proceedings have been concluded.

Stressing there should be “no special preference” for those facing charges, Grech rebuffed words from Prime Minister Robert Abela on Monday – when it first emerged that charges were being filed – when Abela said he would presume innocence and not suspend anyone until he saw evidence of the accusations against them.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, APS bank announced it had dropped former health permanent secretary Joseph Rapa, who is facing identical charges of fraud to Mizzi, from its board of directors.

Fielding questions from Times of Malta on Friday, Culture Minister Owen Bonnici said former finance permanent secretary Alfred Camilleri “deserves a medal” after being asked if he should continue as chair of the national orchestra following revelations Camilleri is facing charges of fraud in connection with the hospitals deal.

Questions were sent to Principal Permanent Secretary Tony Sultana.

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