Ivan the incorrigible

For long, Ivan Camilleri has been the ugly face of Maltese journalism. As a reporter at Net, TVM and then the Times, his repulsive character propelled his almost every action in journalism

Times journalist Ivan Camilleri
Times journalist Ivan Camilleri

When the chief investigator in the Caruana Galizia assassination, Keith Arnaud, testified in court in a defamation case instituted against MaltaToday by disgraced, former Times journalist Ivan Camilleri, he confirmed that a certain ‘Ivan’ from The Times, had tipped off alleged mastermind Yorgen Fenech about what was being planned in the newsroom prior to his arrest on that fateful morning in November.

Now at the time there were two Ivans in the Times’ newsroom. The late Ivan Fenech had already passed away by then, and was surely never on talking terms with Yorgen Fenech. And then there was Ivan Martin, who of course has vehemently denied being the Ivan mentioned by Arnaud, and Ivan Camilleri.

Arnaud told the court that Fenech sent his uncle a WhatsApp text on the eve of his arrest, saying an ‘Ivan’ from the Times of Malta had tipped him off on the newspaper’s heightened activity at the Portomaso marina.

As Arnaud testified, I am told that Ivan Camilleri froze. The text he read out was sent on 19 November, 2019 at 7pm, where Fenech had communicated with his uncle Ray about interest from The Times on some unspecified event at Portomaso, where Fenech had his boat moored. Indeed, at that point, a photographer from The Times had already been despatched to keep an eye out on Fenech’s boat.

Arnaud was called to testify by advocate Peter Fenech, Ivan Camilleri’s lawyer in one of four defamation case filed by Camilleri. Camilleri was in fact sacked the day after Arnaud had told the compilation of evidence against Fenech, that the Tumas CEO had been tipped off by a certain ‘Ivan from the Times’.

Previously testifying on 19 December 2019 in the compilation of evidence against Fenech, Arnaud had replied to a question from in parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi that Fenech had name-dropped a Times journalist alerting him of the newspaper’s interest in him.

The next day on 20 December, Ivan Camilleri was sacked. By way of digression, I have to point out that at that point, The Times also took a decision to reverse its previous stand to rubbish a story I had written about Ivan Camilleri’s shoplifting exploits at Valyou supermarket. Only when Arnaud testified in court at that very point in time, did The Times decide to dig further into the shoplifting story and obtain further proof of the darker exploits of Ivan Camilleri.

But back to the present case. In court, Arnaud read out the WhatsApp texts, in which Yorgen Fenech told his uncle: ‘Portomaso Marina hawn Ivan tat-Times’ (There’s Ivan from the Times at the Portomaso Marina). In actual fact, it was a Times’ photographer who had been asked by his editor to be at the marina on the eve of Fenech’s arrest.

In a second text, Fenech precised that ‘Ivan told me because he was in the newsroom and heard them talk’. (Ivan qalli jien għax kien newsroom u semagħhom jghidu.)

Now Ivan Camilleri today continues his work as a writer, offering his services to individuals. Somehow, you can see his writing style live on with uncanny resemblance in some online pieces. Perhaps he has found a new job as a ghost writer…

For long, Ivan Camilleri has been the ugly face of Maltese journalism. As a reporter at Net, TVM and then the Times, his repulsive character propelled his almost every action in journalism. His former colleagues resent his offensive traits. He simply is a nasty piece of work, a man possessed of a repellant personality that gives you the creeps. So let me dig up one memory from 2013.

Always a bit of a Nationalist loudmouth, Camilleri did the unthinkable in 2013 when he ‘tore’ up his vote to declare he would not vote in the general election that saw Labour back into power. The reason, as Camilleri was only to ready to declare with certain confidants, was that his wife had not been retained in her Brussels job. Indeed, she could not have had her term at the Permanent Representative extended, despite evidence that the Gonzi administration seriously considered changing public sector employment rules by amending a legal notice to accommodate the Camilleris (Ivan was then a reporter in Brussels for The Times).

Anyway, we are now in 2021, and the lead investigator in the Caruana Galizia assassination has told the court that an Ivan from The Times was indeed name-dropped by Yorgen Fenech as his source from inside the newspaper.

Yet after this testimony, I was later informed by particular sources with a vested interest, that the said ‘Ivan’ was indeed Ivan Martin; something that I laughed off immediately. Even though, wonder of wonders, the same information appears to have reached the willing pen of University of Malta academic Simon Mercieca, a gun for hire when it comes to outrageous statements and other claims that invite gastrointestinal disorders. Mercieca went for the bait, and without any attempt at verification, regurgitated the claim that Ivan Martin was the leak.

Ivan Martin was fast to categorically deny the allegation, and indeed, there is no doubt that he is believed, to even go by his past record. For the fact is that the police are in the possession of more WhatsApp messages from Yorgen Fenech, which refer an ‘Ivan’ whose accommodating character towards Fenech bears no resemblance to Ivan Martin.

When The Times sacked Ivan Camilleri they rid journalism of someone unfit for the job. They would have done it sooner, had Camilleri’s parading as some beacon of opposition to ‘Labour tyranny’ not fooled management there. It seemed that mudslinging and excessive antics could be tolerated, when the targets were Labourites. I’ve always seen that as a big mistake in journalism.

Quality journalism requires good journalists who do not trade in prejudice. But Camilleri was tolerated. Today his retaliation are scattergun libel cases, shooting off the legal challenges in the hope of exhausting his accusers. He will find plenty of lawyers hungry for litigation.

No word from the Institute of Maltese Journalists of course on defamation cases being used to deliberately cow us into backing down. That’s why the integrity of our trade suffers, because those who know better do not speak up about those members who bring the trade’s reputation down.