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Book prize judges rush to denounce claims of ‘corruption’ in Vella Gera award

A storm in the Facebook teacup breaks out after bestselling Maltese author Alex Vella Gera denounces claims of corruption by unnamed Civil Society Network activists

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
7 November 2017, 8:03am
Alex Vella Gera’s Trojan
Alex Vella Gera’s Trojan
One of Malta’s best known authors, Alex Vella Gera, has denounced claims by alleged members of the Civil Society Network that his National Book Prize award for Trojan was the result of subornation by Mark Camilleri, the chairman of the National Book Council.

Judges from the adjudicating panel and Vella Gera’s publisher rushed to decry the accusations on Facebook.

In a post Vella Gera said that CSN activists on “private messages and Facebook threads” had suggested his prize award was influence by Camilleri.

The people were not identified.

“Since I criticised the presence of Manuel Delia as a speaker during the first CSN protest, CSN activists accused me of hypocrisy for not having spoken up over the problematic position of Camilleri as chair of the National Book Council,” Vella Gera said.

“These activists are claiming the award for Trojan was corrupted. It’s a serious accusation and I ask anyone with evidence to speak to me, in totally good faith. I want to know, genuinely, who was involved, perhaps unknowingly in corruption, and if true I will take immediate action. I’m not bluffing. But the evidence has to be clear, not hearsay,” Vella Gera said.

Vella Gera had snubbed the ceremony for the award of his book prize at the Prime Minister’s office at Castille in protest at the government’s scandals.

 

Two judges from the adjudicating panel have so far denied the claims.

Prof. Claire Vassallo of the University of Malta said she “could attest to the fact that there was no influence on the judges whatsoever. I can also say that this is the case each and every time I have accepted to be judge for the National Book Council – both before and during Mark Camillieri’s term of office.”

Another adjudicator, Andrei Vella Laurenti, said he was disappointed at the attack on the judges’ integrity. “Their accusations are totally unfounded. Their hollow rants are aimed to discredit us as judges and to have the people believe that the current chairman of the council Mr Mark Camilleri is a Labour lackey. I understand that to some people his position might be problematic but I believe that this is not the right context to discuss such an issue.”

Vella Laurenti said Camilleri never influence their work as judges, and that the jury discussed openly the results with him. “Vella Gera took the prize because he is a brilliant author. His book satisfied all the criteria. No more, no less. The implications put forth by some members of the CSN are preposterous…. Whoever is behind this fabrication should check the facts before lashing out in the name of freedom of expression.”

Vella Gera’s publisher, Joe Mizzi of Klabb Kotba Maltin, was equally irked by the allegations. “It’s a serious accusation and I ask anyone spreading these rumours for a clarification. As a publisher and citizen, I am not ready to be tarnished by these accusations and I have every right to defend KKM’s integrity as a publishing house and business.”

Before his appointment as chairman in 2013, Mark Camilleri had been tried in a criminal court on charges of obscenity together with Vella Gera for publishing a short story by the author. Both were acquitted. The two were later accorded a Republic Day honour for their role in advancing the cause of freedom of expression, but Vella Gera refused the award.

The Civil Society Network has so far organised three successful protests in the wake of the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, in which they are calling for the resignation of the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
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