Panama polemicist loses EU court bid after being admonished for publishing book

European Court throws out bid by Mark Sammut to have black mark removed from his EU staff report

Mark Sammut (left) at his book launch in 2017
Mark Sammut (left) at his book launch in 2017

The EU Court in Luxembourg has thrown out a bid by Mark Sammut – the notary and Malta Independent columnist – to have a black mark on his civil service record removed.

Sammut, an employee of the European Parliament’s directorate-general for translation in Luxembourg, was admonished in his staff report in 2016 for failing to inform his superiors of his intention to publish a book on the Panama Papers, entitled ‘L-Aqwa fl-Ewropa. Il-Panama papers u il-Poter’.

In October 2018, using the legal services of Paul Borg Olivier, the Nationalist Party’s one-time secretary-general, Sammut asked the EU’s General Court to annul a rejection of his complaint to remove from his staff report the statement, and to pay him damages.

Sammut insisted he was not under an obligation to inform the DGT of his intention to publish the book. But the General Court of the European Court of Justice disagreed and denied him a request for compensation for a negative staff report, ordering him to pay all legal costs for the court case incurred by the European Parliament.

In March 2017, Sammut informed his director-general (DG-Translation) of his intention to publish a second edition of the work in question. The Parliament took the view that his request was inadmissible on the ground that it was a second edition and that, therefore, that request could not be regarded as prior to publication of that work.

His staff report for 2016 included an assessment that he “appears to have omitted to inform the appointing authority of his intention to publish a book, ‘L-Aqwa fl-Ewropa. Il-Panama Papers u l-Poter’, in 2016.”

He requested a review of his staff report, specifically that the assessment at issue be removed. But in January 2018, the DGT informed him that it would follow the conclusions of the Reports Committee and refuse to remove the assessment.

Sammut took the matter to the General Court of the EU, requesting that it overturns the DGT’s refusal to strike off the negative comment from his staff report.

The European Parliament disputed his arguments. In the decision rejecting the complaint, it had said Sammut had not given the Parliament prior notice of his intention to publish the book in question.

In its decision, the General Court said that it was legitimate, in a democratic society, to subject officials on account of their status, to restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression, in order to preserve the relationship of trust between the institution and its officials.

Sammut also insisted the book does not refer to any activity of the European Union, but a Maltese internal policy debate.

The European Parliament disputed this: “Although the title of your book suggests it and as you yourself describe in paragraph 2 of your complaint, your book deals with Panama Papers and offshore undertakings. The Parliament has adopted measures in relation to the use of undertakings offering money laundering and fraud. Specifically, in June 2016, the PANA Committee... was created and investigated the links between the Union and its Member States with the Panama Papers. I therefore consider that there is a link between your book and the work of the Parliament.”

The Court agreed, holding that the work of the PANA committee referenced in the book was linked to the Maltese situation, so the subject matter was linked to the work of the EU, as well as the Maltese presidency of the European Council.

Sammut claimed he suffered “non-material damage both in his place of work and in his personal life” as well as an impact on his literary activity, apart from losing out on promotion and becoming the subject of disciplinary proceedings.

But the Court said he did not provide any details on how to quantify the material damage he alleged, and rejected his claim for compensation.

The Court also threw out his request to have a Maltese MP and MEP testify in his favour.

Sammut, a former Labour candidate, authored his self-published polemic in 2016. The book launch was attended by just one newspaper, the Nationalist Party’s organ In-Nazzjon.

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