The below content was originally published via the The Times of Malta.
The directors of a fiduciary company who had sued former Minister Tonio Fenech, for allegations linking them to the oil scandal which broke out shortly before the 2013 general elections, have been awarded €7,500 in libel damages.
Joseph Cordina, former financial controller of the Labour Party, Carmel Scerri and Martin Fenech as directors of Intershore Fiduciary Services Ltd, had jointly instituted libel proceedings against the former minister over statements made in a press conference on February 21, 2013 wherein it was alleged that the three applicants were behind the Enemalta oil scandal.
In that press conference, Mr Fenech had made reference to a report entitled ‘Powerplan Limited Investigative Audit Report’ exhibited in the course of legal proceedings against George Farrugia, whose name lay at the heart of the oil saga.
Mr Farrugia’s siblings were alleging that as owner of Aikon Ltd, whose sole shareholder and director was Intershore Fiduciary Services Limited, George Farrugia had been directing contracts of work into his own company rather than the family-run business, managed by Powerplan Ltd.
Mr Fenech had said that after weeks of attempts made by the PL to implicate certain ministers in the oil scandal, it had “clearly emerged that the PL financial administrator was behind the scandal”.
Following that press conference, the story had been given prominence in the PN newspapers, with an article entitled ‘MLP financial administrator behind oil scandal’ published the following morning in in-Nazzjon, with a similar report being carried by il-Mument on February 24, 2013.
Mr Cordina, in fact, also sued separately, Alex Attard and Victor Camilleri as former editors of the two newspapers respectively for the allegedly defamatory articles.
In the course of the three libel suits it emerged that neither George Farrugia nor Joseph Azzopardi, the auditor of Powerplan Ltd, had been summoned as witnesses to confirm the documents referred to in the press conference.
On the contrary, the applicants had supplied a detailed explanation to the FIAU where it resulted that before offering their fiduciary services to Mr Farrugia they had undertaken all necessary verification through the Know-Your-Client procedure.
In fact, the FIAU had concluded that it had “no further enquiries at this stage”, which the court took as an indication that there had been no irregularities on the part of the applicants.
Magistrate Francesco Depasquale observed that the evidence showed that Mr Fenech, then evidently performing his duty as a politician and relying upon information passed on to him by his party, had “tried to create a story to counter the attack by the PL” which at the time had been laying into the PN over the oil scandal story.
Moreover, the court observed that as soon as the applicants had been informed by George Farrugia’s siblings of his suspected wrongdoing, they had terminated their professional relationship with Aikon Ltd on November 1, 2010.
As for the damage caused to the respondents by the defamatory allegations, the court observed that there was “absolutely no reason” for Dr Fenech and Mr Scerri, as private individuals, to have been mentioned by the former minister.
In respect of Mr Cordina, the intended damage had been achieved since he had withdrawn his PL candidacy for the upcoming 2013 elections.
Concluding that the published statement had been defamatory, the court awarded Mr Cordina €1,500 in damages, whilst according Dr Fenech and Mr Scerri €3,000 each.
The court also upheld Mr Cordina’s libel against il-Mument, awarding him €2,000 in damages. The other libel in respect of in-Nazzjon was rejected since the court upheld the respondent’s plea that the article in question had merely reported faithfully the statements made by the minister and had added no further “comments and facts not mentioned by the minister”.
In a statement, the Labour Party said that the court noted that the Nationalist Party had created a story to attack the PL which was then attacking the PN with the oil scandal.
The PN strategists at the time included former leader Simon Busuttil, who was now the party’s spokesman on good governance.
But how could he be credible on good governance when he had tried to defend the oil scandal, the PL asked.