Malta’s deputy prime minister resigns, ends EU Commission bid, as he faces charges in hospital deal

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Malta’s deputy prime minister resigned Friday, and ended his European Commission bid, after he was charged with fraud in a hospital scandal roiling the Mediterranean island nation.

In his resignation letter, Chris Fearne denied wrongdoing but said he must put Malta before everything else.

In the letter, he asked Prime Minister Robert Abela to withdraw his candidacy to be Malta’s candidate for the European Commission.

“I want to be clear, I am taking this step not because I have any doubts on my innocence, but because it is the right thing to do,” Fearne wrote.

He resigned days after news emerged that he is facing charges of fraud and misappropriation of funds related to an investigation into the government's 2015 deal to turn over management of three hospitals to a private company. The concession was annulled by the courts last year in a judgment that cited fraud.

Fearne, who was a junior health minister at the time of the deal, is one of a number of past and present officials facing charges, including former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Muscat also denies wrongdoing.