Joe Brincat’s arrest in Italy three decades ago revisited in libel case

The arrest and subsequent sentencing of former Labour Party deputy leader Joe Brincat in Italy 33 years ago was brought up in court recently during libel proceedings against MediaToday executive director Saviour Balzan

A cutting of the newspaper Alternattiva from 1989 that reported on an Italian court's decision to sentence Joe Brincat to prison over a case of contraband jewellery from two years prior
A cutting of the newspaper Alternattiva from 1989 that reported on an Italian court's decision to sentence Joe Brincat to prison over a case of contraband jewellery from two years prior

Former Labour deputy leader Joe Brincat’s arrest in Italy 33 years ago, resurfaced during libel proceedings against MediaToday executive director Saviour Balzan.

Testifying in front of Magistrate Rachel Montebello, Balzan recounted how in 1987 Brincat was arrested in southern Italy after being caught red-handed in possession of contraband jewellery.

The defamation case was filed by Brincat over an opinion penned by Balzan in MaltaToday last September.

Balzan said the libel proceedings were vexatious and based on wrong assumptions. He said the reference to Brincat’s case in Italy was a side remark in a long opinion piece that focussed on former Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia’s public statement on political appointees.

When taking the witness stand, Balzan recounted the events from 1987, when Brincat was arrested in Italy.

Balzan said that the original articles in the press in 1987 had clearly indicated the efforts made by the late Guido de Marco, then deputy prime minister, to intervene with the Italian authorities to release Brincat from prison.

He said that the Times of Malta had reported de Marco’s comments back then where he made it clear that he would be talking to his Italian counterparts to intervene in Brincat’s case.

Balzan gave a detailed account of how the Italian police had scouted Brincat as he returned to a junk yard to inspect a damaged car belonging to Maltese national Colin Shires.

Colin Shires had crashed his car and was in intensive therapy in an Italian hospital.

As Brincat and Shires’s wife retrieved the hidden, undeclared jewellery and cash from the wrecked car that was being kept in judicial custody, the Italian police pounced and arrested both of them.

Balzan said that all this could be verified from the reports of ANSA in 1987, which were also quoted and cited in court.

Brincat was eventually released from incarceration only because of the Maltese government’s intervention, specifically that of Guido de Marco, Balzan testified.

Two years later the same Italian court found Brincat guilty and condemned him to four months imprisonment and a fine of 400,000 Italian Lira.

Brincat had not appeared in court inspite of de Marco’s declaration two years earlier that he would vouch for Brincat’s return to Italy to face justice.

Balzan testified that at the time, all the Maltese press had tried very hard not to report the case and there were those such as Fr Joe Borg – today chairperson of the Maltese church’s Beacon Media Group –  who had defended him.

When the newspaper Balzan was involved in at the time, Alternattiva, published the sentence by Neopolitan Magistrate Lorenzo di Napoli, Brincat had filed three defamation cases, which he subsequently lost.

Balzan insisted in his testimony that no one could change the facts or alter history and Brincat’s defamation case was simply vexatious and a waste of time. 

More in Court & Police