Adrian Delia takes Lovin Malta editor to task over Yorgen Fenech message allegations

Adrian Delia is suing Lovin Malta for libel over an article that claimed Delia messaged Yorgen Fenech during a parliamentary debate about 17 Black

Former PN and Opposition leader Adrian Delia performed a personal cross-examination of Lovin Malta editor Julian Bonnici in a libel case he had filed against the journalist.

The politician is suing Lovin Malta for libel over an August 2021 story in which it was alleged that Fenech claimed Delia had messaged him during a parliamentary debate about the businessman’s secret company, 17 Black

The story titled “Yorgen Fenech claimed Adrian Delia messaged him During 17 Black Debate” was immediately denied by Delia in a reaction on social media. Delia also demanded that the article be retracted.

Delia filed the libel suit within 24 hours against the online news portal and its editor Julian Bonnici, declaring that the allegations in his regard were “absolutely not true.”

The story referred to text messages Fenech sent to a businesswoman claiming that Delia messaged him while debating an urgent motion that he himself had pushed forward in Parliament after the business tycoon had been outed as the owner of 17 Black – a Dubai-based company with alleged ties to government corruption.

Bonnici appeared before magistrate Rachel Montebello this afternoon,  assisted by lawyer Andrew Borg Cardona. Delia’s lawyer, Vincent Galea was unable to attend for health reasons, but Delia declared that he had no objection to Bonnici testifying in the absence of his lawyer.

Bonnici confirmed to the court that he had written the article himself.

Delia questioned the defendant about the parliamentary session mentioned in the article, asking whether he had a transcript of the sitting or whether he could name who had been present. Bonnici replied that he did not have a transcript, and that he could not remember off the top of his head who was present aside from Rosianne Cutajar in that sitting.

“Were you present in parliament during that session?” “No.”

“Was someone from your media house present?” “I wasn’t working with Lovin Malta at the time," Bonnici replied.

The journalist told the court that he had made reference to other news articles and not parliamentary scripts when compiling the article.

Delia asked whether the journalist had spoken to Delia or contacted him before publishing the article. ”No, I had sufficient evidence,” Bonnici replied, explaining that third parties had sent him messages between Yorgen Fenech and Delia.

“What form did they take? “ asked Delia. “It was a picture of the message as they are shown on the court records,” Bonnici replied, clarifying that he had not seen it on anyone’s phone.

Despite this, Delia pressed on, asking Bonnici whether he had seen it on Delia’s phone, or Yorgen Fenech’s phone. Bonnici said he had not.

Delia read from the script, “a year on from this debate Yorgen Fenech was arrested.

At the time, sources had already indicated to him that Yorgen Fenech was a person of interest.”

“Do you recall who had called for the debate?” Delia asked. The opposition, replied Bonnici.

Delia as PN leader, had asked for the debate to be held as Fenech was outed as owner of 17Black, specified the plaintiff.

“Had you not at least heard what I had to say during that debate?” Delia asked the journalist. “The article is not about the debate but what Yorgen said in a message,” Bonnici replied.

“The context of the debate was not relevant at the time as it changed complexion completely a year later…by the time the article had been written, Fenech had been arrested, more information had come out…It was just a detail.”

Bonnici had seen a picture of the data extracted from a phone, he said. “I have sources and experts who worked closely with the investigators in this case and they showed them to me.”

Delia said he was not interested in the persons who showed it to him, or their identity. “But I can ask whether he obtained the information directly from them or from third parties,” Delia argued.

Bonnici was asked whether he had verified the content of the messages with the recipient. But the journalist said his sources had specifically asked him not to as it would reveal their identity.

These were sources “involved directly” with the extraction of the data, he said.

Delia asked Bonnici whether he would be exhibiting them in these proceedings. Borg Cardona said he would be exhibiting things which were now in the public domain. “I am informed that since then, certain aspects of the case have become public domain and we can refer to that.”

Delia protested that had the documents been in the court file, he would be asking the defendant questions about them.

Bonnici said that at the time, 2021, he had received the messages and was told not to publish them as they would reveal his source. “Later Mark Camilleri published them in full on social media,” Bonnici said.

The case continues in March.