The mother of non sequiturs

If Konrad Mizzi's interpretation of the Court rulings is correct (which it is not), he should have sailed through the libel cases with ease. Instead Mizzi opted for emotional sympathy

If Konrad Mizzi's interpretation of the Court rulings – to the effect that there was not enough evidence for an inquiry into the Panama Papers revelations – is correct (which it is not), Minister Mizzi should have sailed through the libel cases with relevant ease, gaining political points in the process
If Konrad Mizzi's interpretation of the Court rulings – to the effect that there was not enough evidence for an inquiry into the Panama Papers revelations – is correct (which it is not), Minister Mizzi should have sailed through the libel cases with relevant ease, gaining political points in the process

I have been following the libel game (or is it a circus?) for the past 45 years or so – as a person accused of libel, as a person claiming to be libelled, or as just an interested spectator.

Suddenly it seems that the established rules of the game are facing an uncanny metamorphosis apart from the fact that the way libel laws were applied in Malta for donkey’s years, has changed over the years... slowly but surely.

Some recent developments have obviously changed the rules of the game. The consequences are intriguing.

Consider the decision taken by Minister Konrad Mizzi to withdraw the libel cases he had filed – against Simon Busuttil and Jason Azzopardi – on claims concerning money laundering allegations subsequent to revelations that had emerged from the Panama Papers.

The minister in a straight face – said he would not continue to pursue the lawsuits in view of recent court rulings that found he had not been involved in any illegalities. Now this takes the biscuit: it is unbelievable and incredible – it must be the mother of all ‘non sequiturs’!

If his interpretation of the Court rulings – to the effect that there was not enough evidence for an inquiry into the Panama Papers revelations – is correct (which it is not), Minister Mizzi should have sailed through the libel cases with relevant ease, gaining political points in the process.

But Mizzi opted for emotional sympathy in the light of the “emotional and administrative toll” that defending against “baseless allegations and repelling slander” took on him while delivering a number of projects, including the power station shift from fuel oil to gas, and attracting “the largest foreign direct investment into an ailing national energy company, which has now registered profits”.

My heart bleeds for him.

Avoiding judgements in libel cases – and embarrassing friends called to testify – has never been like this before!

In the past, judgements were avoided only by the two sides of the case coming to an agreement of sorts – the accused who has allegedly libelled the plaintiff makes a declaration withdrawing the ‘allegation’ plus an apology and the case is withdrawn. Particular magistrates used to push for this sort of settlement that avoided the necessity of a sentence.

This sort of arrangement was touted in the case the Prime Minister opened against the late Daphne Caruana Galizia, now inherited by her family, this being a civil law case.

Their reaction to the Prime Minister’s proposal of acknowledging that he has nothing to do with the infamous Egrant was one of shock. In ordinary circumstances, the two sides would sit on a table and draft out a declaration acceptable to both. But the PM’s move was interpreted as some sort of blackmail.

To be sure, considering the emotional background of the circumstances in which Daphne’s heirs found themselves, the Prime Minister’s ‘offer’ seems ruthless and insensitive, but it is a logical way how to close the chapter – not far off from the way many libel cases ended up in the past. In this case, it seems that not even an apology was requested.

There is, of course, a subtle – but important – difference that Labour likes to skim over in the Egrant case. The Aaron Bugeja inquiry found that there was no legal proof that linked the Prime Minister’s family to Egrant. The enquiry result does not declare that such a link does not exist but only that there is no proof that it does. This is a negative and not a positive statement as the Labour propaganda machine tries to make it.

The Prime Minister’s attempt to use recent Court decisions to his favour is perhaps acceptable in this case. Not so Konrad Mizzi’s.

Not so, either, in the infamous Chris Cardona libels – again against Caruana Galizia – about his alleged jaunt in a German night club/ brothel.

The libel cases were struck off the list by the Magistrates’ Court in accordance with a legal procedural move that brought about an unexpected twist to the proceedings: the fact that the minister did not show up in court and the defendant made a formal cancellation request meant the court case he instigated is cancelled.

Whether this was because Cardona had not realised the forensic use of a mobile phone, indicating the geographical position of whoever is carrying it, is irrelevant – as is also the interesting moot point as to whether a party in a civil court can force mobile operators to give such information about the other party’s mobile.

However, there was another sticking point: at the request of Cardona, the Court of Magistrates issued a garnishee order of €46,000 Daphne Caruana Galizia, on the basis of the defamation cases against her. This procedure was never used in civil law libel cases and shocked many. In fact, the government promised to exclude its applicability in cases of libel.

The effect of the precautionary warrants on her assets meant her bank accounts were frozen to that amount until the case is concluded.

More interesting is the fact that the Caruana Galizia family are now suing Cardona for withdrawing his case and the relative garnishee orders without having presented any evidence in the libel cases as this meant that the libel cases had been filed “maliciously, frivolously and vexatious.”

Libel cases have never been like this!

Blaming the euro

According to Bloomberg, Italy is preparing to sell as much as €1.8 billion of state-owned real estate as it seeks to rein in soaring debt. These properties are mainly army barracks, hospitals and office buildings that are no longer in use.

In this way Italy is trying to solve a problem for which it blames the euro – in spite of the fact that the great majority of the countries in the eurozone have fared well.

According to Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank: “Low growth in Italy is a phenomenon that dates back a very long time before the euro”. Italy remained competitive in spite of a constant increase in public debt only thanks to periodic devaluations of the lira.

The euro made this ploy impossible while long-term solutions to the problem were never sought by Italy’s political class who just stayed put while blaming the euro for their self-wrought woes.

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