Fact-check Malta: Do smear campaign reports clear Chris Fearne?

Shocking new revelations into a Steward-funded campaign orchestrated to smear former Health Minister Chris Fearne led inaccurate claims over whether this absolved Fearne of his ongoing legal troubles linked to a concession awarding three of Malta’s public hospitals to a private consortium. The deal was later taken over by US healthcare giant Steward.

The concession was scrapped by courts last year, in a ruling that described the deal as “fraudulent”. A magisterial inquiry stemming from suspicions into the deal was concluded in April, finding grounds for several top government officials, including Fearne, to be charged. Fearne stands accused of fraud, misappropriation and fraudulent. He vehemently denies all charges.

Fearne stepped down from his role as deputy prime minister and minister in May, withdrawing his nomination as Malta’s next European Commissioner in the process, saying he wanted to clear his name.

On Monday 1 July reports published by Times of Malta, OCCRP, and the Boston Globe revealed that Fearne had been a target of a coordinated disinformation campaign allegedly funded by Steward, in an effort to discredit him.

The reports led to widespread confusion over what this means for the future of legal proceedings that Fearne is facing. Some public statements have appeared to conflate Monday’s developments with ongoing court proceedings against Fearne, suggesting that they automatically absolve him of wrongdoing and clear the way for his nomination for the role of European Commissioner to be reinstated.

But, while Monday’s revelations add a new layer of complexity to what was already a convoluted saga, they do not directly impact the proceedings against Fearne, nor do they automatically absolve him of the charges he is facing.

What did Monday’s reports say?

Details emerged on Monday of how senior Steward officials worked with private spies at two London-based intelligence firms to target their perceived opponents, including Fearne, to dig up dirt and plant “fake” stories in the press, in a bid to undermine their credibility.

On Tuesday morning Fearne asked police to investigate what he described as a “€6 million frame-up” against him, saying that the “malicious plan” was designed to politically eliminate him.

How do the revelations affect the case against Fearne?

Lawyers who spoke to Times of Malta explained that the news will likely have little direct bearing on the ongoing proceedings against Fearne, pointing out that the charges that Fearne is facing are distinct from Steward’s plot to sully his good name.

Fearne’s lawyers (as well as those of several other defendants) are currently contesting the prima facie evidence, hoping to convince the courts that there is insufficient evidence to proceed with the charges.

In separate, but linked, proceedings, the courts dropped charges against Sciacca Grill, one of the companies named in a magisterial inquiry, saying that prosecutors failed to present sufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

In any case, lawyers who spoke to Times of Malta say, Monday’s reports don’t alter the fact that Fearne will still have to fight the charges in court, as he was doing.

“The courts will go ahead as planned so, at least on a judicial level, little will change as a direct consequence of the news,” one lawyer said.

Fearne himself hinted as much in a Facebook post on Tuesday morning, saying that he will “continue defend and confirm my integrity in the Courts of Law”.

Can Fearne use these reports in his defence?

However, the lawyers said, Fearne and his lawyers may choose to use these reports as part of his defence strategy, presenting them as evidence of his innocence.

“There is nothing stopping lawyers from presenting these reports as evidence in the ongoing case,” one lawyer told Times of Malta.

It would then be up to the courts to decide how this impacts the case, the lawyers say.

So, while this week’s news won’t have a direct effect on Fearne’s case on a procedural level, lawyers say that “only time will tell” how court proceedings develop over the coming weeks.


The reports of a smear campaign against Chris Fearne are entirely separate from the charges that he is currently facing in Malta’s courts. The reports do not absolve Fearne of the charges, nor do they have a direct impact on court proceedings.

Court proceedings are set to go ahead entirely unchanged, with Fearne and his lawyers contesting the prima facie evidence in the hope that he will be cleared of the charges.

However, lawyers say that the reports may well be used by Fearne’s defence lawyers as part of their strategy for his defence.

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Fact Check, Health, Politics

Author(s): Neville Borg

Originally published here.