The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

Police asked to investigate Neville Gafa as he loses libel cases against TMI on medical visa scandal

Kevin Schembri Orland Monday, 2 May 2022, 11:30 Last update: about 14 days ago

The court has asked the Commissioner of Police to investigate allegations made that Neville Gafa attempted to bribe witnesses in a libel case regarding the medical visas scandal.

The request was made in judgements in which the court, presided by Magistrate Victor Axiak, ruled against former government official Neville Gafa in two libel cases he had instituted against The Malta Independent on Sunday's former Editor David Lindsay.

The two articles, titled: "Government official was netting up to €150,000 a month in medical visa scam" and "Receipts show € 35,000 in payments made to Neville Gafa' by Libyan middleman," were printed in The Malta Independent on Sunday in August 2016.

ADVERTISEMENT

Gafa testified in January 2017 that he was a Project Director at the Health Ministry as well as a liaison officer between that ministry and the Office of the Prime Minister at the time. In 2014, he was in charge of coordinating requests from the Libyan authorities so that Libyan patients would be brought to Malta for care.

Gafa argued that the content of the articles was libellous and defamatory, and aimed to tarnish his reputation.

TMI countered that Gafa's allegations were unfounded, and that the content of the articles was not libellous or defamatory, and that the articles consisted of verifiable facts and comments regarding an issue of public interest. The articles constituted fair comment and acceptable criticism.

The article titled "Government official was netting up to €150,000 a month in medical visa scam" revealed the existence of a racket through which the applicant had earned up to €150,000 a month (between €2 million to €3 million in total) in connection to the granting of medical visas to Libyans who suffered injuries in the war in Libya and were sent to Malta for care under an agreement between the Maltese and Libyan governments, the court judgement read. "Among other things, the author wrote that according to his sources, the people behind this racket stole money from wounded people, including children, who ended up not receiving the necessary care."

Gafa had sent a right or reply denying the allegations, saying among other things that there was never a Libyan who paid money for the medical visas, the court noted.

The court found that from the testimony given in court, this is an exceptional case where the newspaper managed, on the basis of the preponderance of the evidence, prove the truth of the principal allegations published. It is true that the evidence of the allegation that some people who remained without care died was not brought, but sufficient evidence that shows that there were a number of people who were denied the necessary care, even while they were already in the country, was brought. In a situation like this where the principal allegations were proven to be substantially true, the court does not need to waste time on looking to see that every single fact in the article was proved.

On the defence of fair comment, the court said that the respondent's comments were on material that was of public interest and on an issue that the public must have a legitimate concern on. "The respondent also managed to prove that the alleged facts that go to the pith and substance of the matter", were substantially true.

The court  accepted the respondent's defences of truth and fair comment, and denied the applicant's request for damages.

The court recommended that the police investigate allegations made by witnesses produced in this case regarding attempts by the applicant, after the opening of the present case, to buy their silence.

The court remarked that "this judgement does not mean that there is enough evidence from a criminal law aspect for the applicant to be involved acts of bribery. That is solely a question of a criminal nature that does not fall under the competence of this court, and so that is why it can and should be investigated in the competent forum. It is also a fundamental principle in the law that, until there would be the final outcome of such criminal proceedings, the applicant remains presumed innocent."

On the second article titled: "Receipts show EUR 35,000 in payments made to Neville Gafa by Libyan middleman," the court noted that the article had included the right of reply Gafa had issued, denying that there were Libyans who paid, but that the newspaper was in possession of receipts that show that an applicant had paid around €35,000 between the end of August 2015 and the beginning of October 2015 to a person named Khaled Ben Nasan, who was acting as an intermediary between applicants and Gafa.

High-up Libyan officials had spoken to the newspaper expressing their preoccupation that medical visas might have been given to applicants who were not genuinely in need of care in Malta, the court said. The author had said that the paper was shown a letter addressed to Gafa with a request to issue visas for a top Libyan delegation, including ministers, to come to Malta to inquire about the patients sent to Malta for care, but it seems they never received their visas.

The court's decision on this case was the same as it was on the first, where the defence of truth and fair comment were accepted and Gafa's request for damages was denied. Again, it was recommended that the police investigate alleged claims that there were attempts by the applicant after the opening of this case to buy the silence of witnesses. The court again said that this judgement does not mean that there is enough evidence of guilt.

Lawyer Peter Fenech represented David Lindsay.


 

  • don't miss