PQs showing €600,000 direct orders tabled in defamation suit

Court hears proceedings of defamation suit filed against MaltaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan by Jesmond Bonello, Content House director.

Jesmond Bonello
Jesmond Bonello

MaltaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan told a court in a defamation suit filed against him by Content House director Jesmond Bonello, that new parliamentary questions answered in the House had shed new light on the extent of the contracts awarded to Bonello under the previous administration, including contracts his media company received by Malta Enterprise where Bonello served as a board member.

Balzan told the court that MaltaToday, the newspaper he owns, had been “ostracised wherever Bonello was involved”, and said that the PQs show that a previous testimony given by Bonello in court had been inaccurate and peppered with mistakes.

Bonello, a former Times journalist, sued MaltaToday for defamation over comments made by Balzan in his weekly column, where the latter contended that the firm had benefited from direct orders thanks to the privilege enjoyed by Bonello under the previous administration.

Balzan exhibited documents in court which he said proved that Bonello and other public officials called to testify, had failed to mention tenders, contracts and direct orders awarded to Bonello’s agency.

“Bonello had claimed that while serving as director of Malta Enterprise he never accepted any work from ME. However parliamentary questions have revealed that he lied and that he was awarded direct orders from ME. Furthermore, he not only received direct orders but placed ME’s very media packages in his own publications, even if they had nothing to do with ME’s target audience. For example, he placed an advert for the Employment and Training Corporation in a magazine for tourists published by his company Content House,” Balzan said.

“Other such adverts were placed in the Malta Football Association magazine, Gwida and the Commercial Courier. In this way, Bonello received commissions from the media package from Malta Enterprise, of which he was director, and then claimed the commission from the advert he sold to his own publishing company. Parliamentary questions published in MaltaToday show that between 2008 and 2013 he received €600,000 in direct orders and public tenders.”

MaltaToday had reported that documents tabled in Parliament showed that Content House benefited from over €600,000 in direct orders, and in total some €1 million, and this also included public tenders, from various government ministries between 1998 and 2013.

In 2008, when Content House was still in its infancy, Bonello was awarded a tender of marketing services worth over €100,000 by MITA. At the time, the MITA chairman was Nationalist MP Claudio Grech.

“This was a retaine- based contract, which can generate money easily. Compared to other agencies, Content House had no experience in the sector, yet Bonello was privileged. Not only did he get direct orders but used media packages to the advantage of his own publications,” Balzan said.

Despite Bonello’s previous claims that he had earned “peanuts” from his Air Malta consultancy, Balzan exhibited a PQ revealing that he had received €16,300 between November 2010 and December 2011.

At the same time his publications earned €73,000 in advertising from Air Malta. “While nothing of this is criminal, the media has an obligation to reveal the political networks involved and the way these contracts were awarded. Such networks are in place even today,” Balzan noted.

He said that not only did Bonello have a conflict of interest, but that he lied to the courts, as bad public officers who testified before Bonello in the court room.

“In 2007 he did not have the necessary experience needed to take on the government work he was being awarded. Whenever Jesmond Bonello was involved, MaltaToday was always at a disadvantage. His attitude was that of apartheid towards my company,” Balzan said.

Dr Edward Saliba, representing the plaintiff, asked where the documents exhibited by the witness came from. Balzan replied that they were the result of PQs tabled in parliament. “I have no involvement in the political camp whatsoever, let alone with the drawing up of these PQs. It is normal behaviour that following a change in administration PQs are tabled challenging prior appointments and the award of particular contracts. My employees were not behind the tabling of these PQs,” Balzan said.