Valyou director told Times bosses Ivan Camilleri had stolen over €11,000 in goods

Valyou supermarket director told Times editor and director sacked reporter Ivan Camilleri had stolen anything between €11,000 to €18,000 in goods

Ivan Camilleri
Ivan Camilleri

A Valyou supermarket director told the Times’s editor Herman Grech that former journalist Ivan Camilleri had stolen anything between €11,000 to €18,000 in goods from the supermarket over a period of months, when confronted by him and Allied Newspapers director Michel Rizzo.

“Michel Rizzo and I went to Valyou Supermarket and spent over an hour with (Ray Mintoff). Several people had told us after our first statement, that we had been misled.”

Grech described as a “barefaced lie” the suggestion that the newspaper had been “looking for grounds” to fire former journalist Ivan Camilleri, as he testified in libel cases filed by MaltaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan against Camilleri, who is also counter-suing.

Camilleri was dismissed by the Times in December 2019, in the week that Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech was arrested and in the wake of a cross-examination of lead investigator Keith Arnaud.

Weeks earlier, MaltaToday had reported that Camilleri had shoplifted thousands of euros worth of goods from Valyou supermarket. He subsequently vehemently denied the claims in a Facebook post, accusing Balzan of attempting “to conjure a story out of an innocent incident”, prompting Balzan to sue for libel. Camilleri subsequently counter-sued.

All related cases had sittings before magistrate Rachel Montebello this morning.

Times of Malta editor-in-chief Herman Grech explained that the Times had initially issued a statement backing Camilleri, but had later backtracked after investigating the matter further.

The original statement had accused MaltaToday of misconstruing the facts in a malicious attempt at misleading readers. This statement was subsequently updated two months later after an internal investigation which said it had “discovered a contradictory version of events, which was confirmed by a number of individuals.”

Asked today by Camilleri’s lawyer as to whether he had been aware of Valyou director Ray Mintoff’s sworn testimony in other proceedings involving Allied on the same merits, Grech said he only knew that he had testified. “It is a barefaced lie to say that we were looking for grounds to fire Camilleri,” Grech insisted, leading to a brief, heated exchange between the lawyers for the parties.

In a previous sitting, Grech had told the court that he had spoken to Valyou boss Ray Mintoff, who had initially “downplayed” MaltaToday’s report.

But when pressed further, Mintoff had then told him that the shoplifting incidents were a recurring problem and that Camilleri had repaid €5,000 of the outstanding amount for goods which he believed had been taken and not paid for.

Cross-examined today on this point by lawyer Veronique Dalli, Grech said “the figures were staggering, amounting to between €11,000 and €18,000.” He added that Mintoff told him that he had not filed a police report about the incident as he didn’t want a big story and didn’t want the publicity.

Lawyer Peter Fenech, appearing for Camilleri, who was also present in court today, confronted the witness, saying that there was testimony which was “practically the opposite” of what Grech had testified. Dalli interjected, reminding the court that there was also the testimony of Times of Malta’s managing director Michel Rizzo, which corroborated Grech’s version.

“From my side, I need to ask questions, but just because someone writes something doesn’t make it true. Many people write things about me [too],” Grech explained.

Dalli asked the witness to explain what had led to the retraction of its initial statement. “It was a discussion we had with Ray Mintoff. Michel Rizzo and I went to Valyou Supermarket and spent over an hour with him. Several people had told us after our first statement, that we had been misled.”

“10 days before the MaltaToday statement, another director, not Mintoff, had called me and asked to meet me. I had not gone, but later I learned that he had wanted to speak to me about this issue.

“The statement where we stood by Ivan Camilleri, we made a mistake,” Grech said. “Other people had told us to take a closer look at what happened.”

Fenech reserved cross-examination. Veronique Dalli and Andrew Saliba were legal counsel for MaltaToday.