PBO libel over corruption allegations thrown out of court

A court has dismissed a libel case by former PN Secretary General Paul Borg Olivier against the editor of a Maltese newspaper, over reports of alleged corruption in his regard made by former PN councillor Nicky Dimech

A court has dismissed a libel case that was filed by former PN Secretary General Paul Borg Olivier against the editor of a Maltese newspaper, over reports of alleged corruption in his regard made by former PN councillor Nicky Dimech.

Borg Olivier had sued Josef Caruana, editor of l-Orizzont for libel in 2013, after an article titled Bejn Fatti u Interpretar suggested that an unidentified individual with close ties to the PN had informed the paper that the secretary general of the time had been involved in “cases of corruption or attempts at corruption.”

The allegation had apparently been based on statements made in the press by Nicholas Dimech and had also been repeated before the court in libel proceedings Borg Olivier had filed against MaltaToday.

Dimech had claimed that Borg Olivier had phoned him up before a council meeting and told him to award a contract to a certain bidder who had previously been a Nationalist candidate. The bidder was Green MT, a company which belonged to the GRTU, whose director general at the time was Vince Farrugia - a former PN candidate.

Dimech confirmed the allegations he had made, on oath, from the witness stand, in the case against Caruana.  

Borg Olivier denied calling Dimech about the contract, saying he had called him to speak about another issue. The allegations were being made spitefully after Dimech’s inglorious dismissal from the council, said the PN stalwart.

Magistrate Francesco Depasquale disagreed, however. “It appears that the writer, apart from resting on what his source told him  - which source never testified before this court...also rested on the fact that these allegations had already been made public much before and had been reported on in the media,“ observed the court.

“Although no evidence that the applicant was ever involved in any corruption or attempted corruption was brought, aside from Nicky Dimech’s testimony, the writer was commenting on facts which were already in the public domain and which he could, therefore, discuss liberally. More so when the person being commented...was involved in the political sphere and therefore subject to a far stronger level of criticism and scrutiny.”

Corruption was a public interest issue and as the allegations were already public there was sufficient reason for these to be commented on without fear of defamation or insult resulting.

“A democratic society like Malta’s must permit that allegations of corruption be discussed and debated fully and freely," said the magistrate.

"Nothing should hamper journalists and, even more so, common citizens, from reporting and commenting about cases of corruption or alleged corruption, because in the moment this happens a message would be sent to those involved in these actions that the law and the courts can be used to muzzle the fight against corruption, a fact which certainly is not befitting a democratic country like Malta where Human Rights and fundamental liberties form the foundations of our society.”

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