The Malta Independent 15 December 2017, Friday

Updated (2): Busuttil wins €1,000 in damages against Kullhadd newspaper

Thursday, 7 December 2017, 15:19 Last update: about 7 days ago

Former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil has won €1,000 in damages over an article which made the front page of Kullhadd’s Sunday newspaper back in 2014 entitled ‘Direct orders for Simon Busuttil’.

The courts, presided over by magistrate Francesco Depasquale, ruled that the article is defamatory through the observation that no evidence had been presented to prove that Busuttil had “personally” benefitted through some direct order.

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The libel suit had initially been instituted against former deputy leader of the Labour Party (PL) Toni Abela, in his capacity as former editor of Kullhadd, but was then replaced in the suit by Aleander Balzan after he was appointed judge.

Claims were made in the article that when Busuttil was a Member of European Parliament (MEP), the Maltese law firm which he held a 16.7 per cent shareholding had benefitted from €500,000 in consultancy fees for services provided to the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs.

Under a sub-title entitled ‘A Boxing Day gift for Busuttil’s company, claims were made that the same firm, Europa Research and Consultancy Services Limited, had been awarded three contracts in 2012 worth €34,000.

Further on in the article, it was alleged that the same company had also been awarded a contract to provide consultancy services on the opening up of a wine bar.

In his defence submissions, Abela argued that the editorial work carried out in relation to the article were perfectly in line with what is expected of him by law. Abela added that the article amounted to fair comment, and that the paper was within its right to write about Busuttil’s work.

Depasquale observed that throughout submissions, the only evidence produced by the respondents showed only one government tender won by Europa Research and Consultancy Ltd relate to back in September 2010. The company had won the contract, worth €1,984,173 together with three other companies.

The only evidence found showing how Busuttil had benefitted from a direct order was a letter issued by the direct orders section in the Finance Ministry, which was reproduced in the article.

The letter granted approval to engage the consultancy company in the provision of ‘management and technical support’ worth €52,000 for six months from February 2009, excluding VAT.

The court observed that contrary to what had been said in the article, the contract was not awarded to Busuttil but for the company in which he held 16.7 per cent shares.

Depasquale stressed that the right to freedom of expression had to be balanced with the right to respect for private life.

 

Simon Busuttil statement

Simon Busuttil in a statement later in the day, said that "after years trying to dirty my name, the PL media today came out as liars, and were condemned by the courts in a libel case.

He said that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and the PL media had ran a mudslinging campaign saying he received a million euros in consultancies, adding that this was not true at all. He stressed that Prime Minister Muscat himself had repeated this.

He said he will not wait for Prime Minister Muscat to carry responsibility for this, "as he did not carry any responsibility on much more grave situations." 


PL reaction 

The Labour Party said the court had confirmed that a company in which Busuttil was a shareholder had been given direct orders. People would judge whether the company took many direct orders and if Busuttil had benefitted from them, the party said in a statement.

The PL said no legalisms would hide the fact that “Busuttil and his friends had gorged under PN administrations through decisions that raise serious questions on meritocracy, a subject that Busuttil liked to mention.

 

 

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