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MaltaToday appeals against €18,000 libel fine

Appeal challenges the conclusion of the court that Fenech is not a “public official” when MaltaToday contended that Fenech was “public figure”.

James Debono
30 July 2012, 12:00am
VAB Ltd director Peter Fenech.
In an appeal presented last Friday against a sentence imposing the payment of €18,000 in libel damages, MaltaToday has challenged the court's conclusion that Peter Fenech - the politically-appointed chairman of the Malta Mediterranean Conference Centre - did not owe any arrears to government, and cannot be described as a public official.

The case revolves around a story published in 2006 in which MaltaToday correctly revealed that the government had waived Lm100,000 (€232,000) in arrears owed by VAB Company Ltd, of which Peter Fenech is a director, when the same company was demanding Lm138,000 (€320,160) a third party with whom they had a management agreement. 

In an official communication with MaltaToday, Government had denied any knowledge that the company was in the process of recovering money from a third party when waiving the arrears on the basis that the company lacked the assets to repay its dues.

In the appeal presented by lawyers Tony Abela and Charmaine Galea MaltaToday pointed out that the story in question was truthful when reporting that arrears to the tune of Lm100,000 were waived by government in view of the fact that the company claimed to be bankrupt.

The appeal points out that Peter Fenech was the director and judicial representative of VAB Company Ltd and that Fenech is also a shareholder together with his father in Franks Holding Company, which owns 50% of the shares of this company. 

It also points out that as director of VAB Fenech has serious responsibilities to the extent that he is personally responsible for any fraudulent activity in the company.

The appeal also notes "while the company was seeking to have its arrears waived by government, it was also suing a third party to recover fees related to a management agreement amounting to Lm138,000."

The appeal also points out that while Peter Fenech denied in court that he was involved in any negotiations with government on the waiving of the arrears in his testimony the ex commissioner for lands Albert Mamo revealed that Peter Fenech was involved in the negotiations with government in his role as company lawyer.

The appeal also pointed out that the sentence ignored the fact that MaltaToday had contacted Peter Fenech before the story was published, but the latter chose to hang up the telephone and ignore questions sent by email.

"Fenech had every opportunity to reply to the questions made by the journalist. Therefore he has no right to complain and expect to be rewarded simply because he evaded questions which were being made in the public interest."

The appeal also challenged the conclusion of the court that Fenech is not a "public official" when MaltaToday was contending that Fenech is a "public figure."

The appeal points out that given his role as a political activist and Chairman of the Malta Mediterranean Conference Centre, Fenech is surely a "public figure."

It also refers to a previous sentence recognising this fact.

James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
Anthony Azzopardi
Will somebody please tell us who rendered this verdict. Mr. Debono you are either reporting all the info or the story becomes irrelevant. As I understand this Peter Fenech got over a 233,000 Euros in arrears waived off because one of his companies declared bankruptcy and also got appointed as a Chairman of MMCC. Wonder if this government will lay claim to the fine to cover part of the waived arrears. I guess it pays to be within the PN inner circle. Yet the government without hesitation will cut off the supply of electricity and water to some pensioners because they fall behind in their payments of a few hundred euros. Could you please tell us again how the Maltese can claim that they are living within a democratic country.
m borg
Apart from the judgement, €18,000 by maltese libel case standards is way above normal. Let's not forget that EFA publicly, on National Television libeled Dr Alfred Sant and all he was fined was Lm2000 which in my opinion is much more serious case than this case.I guess magistrates give out judgements on how they wake up in the morning and how hot or cold their coffee or tea was.When are we going to get courts that are consistent in their judgements.?
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