Valletta – Malta.
Former PN leader awarded damages in libel cases originally filed against former labour official Toni Abela over 2014 Kulhadd article
By Matthew Agius
Former PN leader Simon Busuttil has been awarded damages in a libel case originally filed against former labour official, now judge, Toni Abela over an article in the newspaper Kulhadd which Abela had been editor of.
Busuttil had taken umbrage at a 2014 front page story which reported him as having benefited personally from a number of direct orders which continued inside the paper under the subheading: “Boxing Day gifts for Busuttil’s company.”
Magistrate Francesco Depasquale noted that Busuttil, as part of law firm Ganado Sammut Advocates, had incorporated a consultancy company on EU matters called Europa Research and Consultancy Services Ltd in 2003. This company bought 50% of the shares in EMCS INvestments Limited in 2006, with the other half being purchased by the three lawyers who made up Ganado Sammut Advocates.
Ganado Sammut Advocates ceased operating in 2011 and so Europa Research and Consultancy Services was left in the hands of EMCS as of 1 July 2012. It emerged that the research and consultancy company, of whom Busuttil is a shareholder, holds a third of the shares in Gansam Holdings which holds half the shares of Europa Research and Consultancy Ltd.
In an article published in March 2014, the Sunday newspaper Kulhadd had made reference to what Busuttil had said on TV panel programme Xarabank two days prior, where he had insisted that he had always got contracts through tenders. The Kulhadd piece had alleged that Busuttil’s law firm had earned nearly half a million euros in consultancy contracts from the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs, that Busuttil had benefited from a person direct order and that Europa had been handed €34,000 in contracts as a “boxing day gift” and that the firm of EU expert consultants had also given advice on the opening of a wine bar.
It emerged that the Contracts Department had given Europa Research and Consultancy Services limited one tender, shared with three other companies, for a €2 million mechanical and biological treatment plant in the North of Malta.
Magistrate Francesco Depasquale observed however that no proof had been brought, other than a single letter which had been published with the article, to show that the company or law firm had been given any Direct Orders as reported.
Although Busuttil had a shareholding in Europa, it emerged that the Direct Order mentioned in the article”in large font on the front page of the newspaper” was not given to him, but to Europa. Neither was evidence presented to prove the “boxing day gift” allegations, said the court.
Therefore if could not be said that the applicant Busuttil had personally been given any direct orders and much less contracts which the article described as gifts.
Declaring the article to be libelous and defamatory, the court condemned the defendant Aleander Balzan, who stepped in for Abela mid-way during the proceedings on account of the former’s appointment to the Bench, to pay Busuttil €1000 in damages.