Panama polemicist Mark Sammut and his Gibraltar company sued over copyright breach

University of Malta professor sues Panama Papers polemicist Mark Sammut and his Gibraltar publishing firm over intellectual property breach

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
18 July 2017, 8:27am
Mark Sammut and Prof. Raymond Mangion
Mark Sammut and Prof. Raymond Mangion
A legal spat has spilled into the courts after the author of a book on Maltese constitutional law claimed his intellectual property rights were breached.

Prof. Raymond Mangion, who heads the Faculty of Laws’ department of legal history, sued notary Mark A. Sammut and his Gibraltar company Whitelocke Publications, for breaching his intellectual property rights by distributing his book ‘Constitutions and Legislation of Malta 1914-1964’ against his wishes.

But in a preliminary decision, the courts liberated Sammut – author of a Panama Papers polemic that took the Labour government to task over its offshore scandal – because his name does not appear in the publishing deal, even though he is the sole shareholder and director of Whitelocke.

The case will now continue against Whitelocke Publications, where papers deposited in court show that the company is registered at Suite 925A, Europort, Gibraltar – a financial centre in its own right which does not tax non-resident companies that do not have a Gibraltar bank account. Non-resident companies – which are of course not described as ‘offshore’ in Gibraltar law – are otherwise liable to just 10% tax on profits remitted to the British dependency.

In April 2016 Prof. Mangion signed a publishing deal with Russell Square Publishing Limited, a company in which Sammut was a 50% shareholder.

Russell Square is a Malta-registered company whose CEO is Prof. James J. Busuttil, an American scholar who has the company address listed in London, where he also lectures. Sammut himself has in the past had legal works published by both Russell Square Publications, which included a foreword by Mangion himself, and Whitelocke.

But in March 2017, Prof Mangion’s lawyers informed the company that Mangion was terminating the deal since the book was not published within two months’ time as agreed in the deal.

In his claim, Prof. Mangion told the court that when he sent notice of termination, Russell Square informed him that it had assigned the publishing rights of his book to Whitelocke Publications, a company owned by Sammut.

Prof. Mangion insists this was an illegal action, because Russell Square could only assign those rights to an associated company. Mangion insists that Whitelocke is not an associated company in terms of UK law, since it is not controlled by either Russell Square or its shareholders. But Sammut says that legally, he was a shareholder in both Russell Square and Whitelocke at the time Mangion’s book deal was assigned to the Gibraltar company.

Soon after sending notice of termination on 24 March, 2017, Whitelocke’s sales manager Nick Mould informed Prof. Mangion that the first volume of his work had already been published by Russell Square and legally deposited with the British Library, while a second volume published by Whitelocke was awaiting distribution.

Russell Square’s Maltese lawyers also insisted that Mangion had signed for the delivery of the books back on 7 January, a fact protested by Mangion’s lawyer who said this did not mean he had renounced his rights.

In court, Mark Anthony Sammut and Whitelocke argued that Mangion’s agreement with Russell Square Publishing specified that the deal was subject to English laws and that any disagreement would have to be resolved in the London Arbitration Centre.

In his decision, Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti said Whitelocke could not be liberated from the proceedings since Mangion’s agreement had now been assigned to the company. But it said that since Sammut featured nowhere in the assignment agreement, he could not be brought into the case even if he is the director and shareholder of Whitelocke. The case continues.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.