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PN deputy leader contender Toni Bezzina loses appeal on public works’ libel

Nationalist MP Toni Bezzina used underlings at the Public Works Department to carry out works at the PN club in Zurrieq in 2012

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
20 October 2017, 6:24pm
Nationalist MP Toni Bezzina (left)
Nationalist MP Toni Bezzina (left)
The Court of Appeal has upheld a first court’s decision to throw out two defamation suits by Nationalist MP Toni Bezzina, a contender for the PN’s deputy leadership post.

In June 2016, Bezzina lost two suits over reports in Labour organ KullHadd and GWU newspaper l-Orizzont, published in 2012. Bezzina, an employee of the Public Works Department, was said to have used government workers on his watch to carry out works on a PN party club in Zurrieq during working hours.

The Labour Party today said Bezzina had abuse of his role as a public sector employee, and even made his own underlings sign a false declaration. It turned out that the employees recanted their affidavit.

The PL also said that Bezzina’s position was no longer tenable.

On his part Bezzina said that an internal inquiry had confirmed that no worker had done any work on the PN club during office hours and that he had personally paid for the material used. These facts, he said, had not been denied in any court.

In both the original judgements, the court, presided by Magistrate Francesco Depasquale,  established that in March 2012, Bezzina was the head of the rapid intervention unit within the resources ministry and that he was also the president of the PN’s sectional committee in Zurrieq.

A few days before the local councils elections, Bezzina asked Joseph Borda – a principal technical officer in the same department and therefore a subordinate – to send three workers to the PN’s party club in Zurrieq to carry out maintenance works.

Borda approached three workers – Charles Curmi, Paul Inguanez and Mario Bugeja – who after finishing off from works in Ta Xbiex drove to Zurrieq where they met Borda.

The three workers spent between two to three afternoons working on the PN club. Days after the works were completed, the story appeared in the newspapers.

After hearing the testimonies, the court established that Bezzina and Borda called the three men to Bezzina’s office where they were given a document. A few days later, Borda took the three men to the office of a notary to sign a document under oath.

“It transpires that the three workers did not want to sign the affidavit but were eventually convinced to do so,” the court said. Borda was not asked to testify in the libel proceedings.

Inguanez would later sign a second affidavit to deny the contents of the first document.

Bezzina insisted that it was not true that the three men were told to work during work hours. Howevever, all three workers said their working hours were until 4:30pm. Therefore, the workers said, the hours fell within their schedule.

The court said the facts as reported by l-Orizzont have been proven and it also transpired that Bezzina had drafted the declaration which was later signed by the three workers.

“It has also been proven that the workers were taken to the office of a notary trusted by Bezzina to sign a second affidavit under oath.”

The magistrate pointed that it was the newspapers’ duty to report cases which involved public persons and to ensure that the citizens are aware of decisions taken by politicians.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.