Yorgen Fenech tip-off was one reason why Ivan Camilleri was dismissed, Times of Malta officer says

The court hears Allied Group chairperson testify in the libel case filed by former TOM journalist Ivan Camilleri against Saviour Balzan

Ivan Camilleri was sacked by Times of Malta in 2019
Ivan Camilleri was sacked by Times of Malta in 2019

Ivan Camilleri was dismissed from the Times of Malta because of alleged shoplifting and for tipping off Yorgen Fenech on his impending arrest, a company official has testified.

The evidence was given by Paul Mercieca, non-executive chairman of the Allied Group, which publishes the Times of Malta.

Mercieca was testifying in the libel case filed by Camilleri against MaltaToday Managing Director Saviour Balzan and Illum journalist Yendrick Cioffi over articles that implied Camilleri had a ‘cosy relationship’ with certain businesspeople.

Mercieca testified that on 19 December 2019, he received a phone call from the company’s Managing Director Michel Rizzo asking him to discuss the allegation that Camilleri had tipped off murder suspect Yorgen Fenech of his arrest.

A tight group of journalists in the Times of Malta newsroom knew that Fenech was going to leave Malta on his yacht and a photographer was dispatched to Portomaso to keep a watchful eye. It is understood that Camilleri got wind of this information and tipped off Fenech.

This evidence had come out in court, however, only the name ‘Ivan’ had been mentioned.

Testifying today, Mercieca said he asked Rizzo and editor-in-chief Herman Grech how solid their sources were. “They assured me the sources were reliable and the ‘Ivan’ mentioned in court had been Ivan Camilleri,” he said.

This incident, and another one in which Camilleri was exposed as having shoplifted from the Valyou supermarket in Naxxar, were the reasons for his dismissal from the newspaper, Mercieca said.

Camilleri was dismissed by the company in December 2019 and has denied having tipped off Yorgen Fenech.

The next person to take the witness stand was Saviour Balzan, who explained the motivation behind his writing.

Balzan told the court that he is privy to email correspondence exchanged over the years within the news organisation which exposed the former journalist’s toxic personality.

The emails show that Camilleri had been given multiple warnings over the years for incorrect behaviour, including badmouthing the newsroom’s then two senior officials, editor-in-chief Steve Mallia and his deputy Herman Grech.

Balzan said Camilleri had been investigated by Times of Malta over allegations that he had been on the take from well-known businesspeople and one evening a company employee was tasked to check Camilleri’s computer.

Balzan testified that a call for Camilleri’s dismissal in the past had been stopped by Mario de Marco.

Balzan also testified that Camilleri enjoyed close links with the directors at Virtu Ferries, which was exhibited in his constant writings against the ferry company’s direct rival, Captain Morgan and the Zammit Tabona family. He claimed that several unsigned articles that appeared in an online news portal critical of the Zammit Tabona family and Balzan himself, had an uncanny resemblance to Camilleri's writing style.

Lawyer Veronique Dalli is appearing for Balzan and Cioffi, while lawyer Peter Fenech is appearing for Camilleri.

The case is being heard by Magistrate Rachel Montebello.