Cachia Caruana wins ‘cocaine party’ libel against One News

Labour MP Joe Mizzi had claimed on One TV that Richard Cachia Caruana put pressure on him to replace the head of the Security Services and interferred with police over an alleged cocaine party

Malta's former permanent representative to the EU Richard Cachia Caruana has been awarded €1,000 in libel damages
Malta's former permanent representative to the EU Richard Cachia Caruana has been awarded €1,000 in libel damages

Malta's former permanent representative to the EU Richard Cachia Caruana has been awarded €1,000 in libel damages, in a case he had filed against Labour MP Joe Mizzi, and Kurt Farrugia as editor of One TV in 2012.

The case had been filed after Mizzi, in a recorded interview on the Labour Party TV station, claimed that Cachia Caruana had exerted pressure on him to replace the head of the Security Services between 1996 and 1998. Mizzi also implicated Cachia Caruana in an alleged case of interference with the course of justice, in relation to a cocaine party allegedly organised by individuals close to Cachia Caruana.

Cachia Caruana had denied knowledge of any such party and denounced Mizzi’s allegations as “unfounded, false and tarnishing to my reputation” in a statement he had released at the time. His denials were repeated in court, under oath. He had explained he had filed the libel as Mizzi was alleging that he had interfered with a police investigation and had abused the systems and organs of government –criminal offences in themselves.

Cachia Caruana categorically denied issuing instructions to the prime minister in his role as advisor and told court that while he had clearance to see all documentation relating to the government, this did not extend to documents about the Security Service. From time to time, he would issue recommendations relating to management and not operational decisions, he explained.

Former Commissioner of Police George Grech had testified in 2013, telling the court that he had received instructions from Mizzi to raid the yacht “Karwela”, as Mizzi had information that a cocaine party was going to be held on board.

The raid took place, but no drugs were found, he added. Asked by the court whether anyone else, apart from Mizzi, had approached him with information about the yacht in question, he had replied in the negative. He also denied the suggestion that he had given the name of the wrong yacht to the minister.

Mizzi had testified, telling the court he had removed Cachia Caruana’s police protection and redeployed the officers. He claimed he had then been subjected to pressure to reinstate the police protection, including from Grech, who he said had been pressured by “another prominent person”, who was not identified. The court noted that had qualified his statement by saying he had not been placed under pressure directly by Cachia Caruana.

He had insisted the police had raided the wrong boat, saying that he knew the Karwela was not a yacht and didn’t moor at the place that had been indicated to him.

A Criminal libel case had also been filed in tandem with the civil case for damages, but was declared extinct in 2018 after the offence of criminal libel was taken off the statute books.

Farrugia had pleaded fair comment and, whilst accepting editorial responsibility, denied being directly involved in what had been said. He pointed out that the statements which formed the subject of the libel case had been uttered by his co-defendant Joe Mizzi, who was being interviewed in his capacity as an MP and former minister responsible for the Police.

Mizzi had also argued he had replied to the questions in his capacity and as was his right as a representative of the people, with political criticism. Mizzi said his criticism had been based on facts which he was personally aware of and which dealt with material of public interest about public administration.

The libel case was delayed as the court had to wait for the outcome of Constitutional references and appeals filed by the defendants before the case could proceed.

In a decision handed down on Tuesday, Magistrate Axiaq declared the story to be libellous, noting that “there had not been the slightest attempt on [the defendants’] part to verify the information which had been passed on to him years before, pointing out that the almost 15 years had passed from when Mizzi had been minister to the date of the broadcast in question.

The applicant’s reputation had been tarnished by the allegation, ruled the court, which also noted that no apology had ever been offered – rather the defendants had continued to insist on the allegations during the course of the lawsuit.

When awarding damages, the magistrate took into account the far higher level of permissible scrutiny on persons in public office when compared to the ordinary citizen. “Naturally, this does not justify the harm done when this criticism was based on incorrect information.”

Mizzi and Farrugia were ordered to pay €1,000 in damages to Cachia Caruana, as well as bear the costs of the case.

Lawyer Joseph Zammit Maempel appeared for Cachia Caruana. Lawyer Pawlu Lia represented the defendants.