Update 3 | Simon Busuttil files four libel suits against two media houses

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil denies requesting Daewoo-related files ‘in exchange of permit for Gaffarena petrol station’ • It-Torca acting editor reacts • Labour: 'Accusations of sleaze will come back to haunt you' • PN: 'Government should take action on Gaffarena-Zammit scandal' 

PN leader Simon Busuttil
PN leader Simon Busuttil

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has filed four libel suits against GWU-owned newspaper it-Torca and l-Orizzont and Labour media ONE TV and ONE Radio over reports that he had asked businessman Joe Gaffarena to pass on documents related to the Daewoo scandal.

The leader of the Nationalist Party accused it-Torca of fabricating the whole story. “The article is one big lie, an invention without a grain of truth. Same goes for the features on ONE TV and ONE Radio and the report in today’s Orizzont. I want to fight the lies of the Labour Party,” Busuttil said.

The PN leader confirmed that he had met [Joe] Gaffarena before the 2013 general election. The meeting was held on Gaffarena’s request, Busuttil added. “I am proud to have had the courage not to entertain his request for a permit for his petrol station which was built illegally. If anything, this is a certificate that I not only believe in clean politics, but I also follow through with my beliefs.”

Busuttil claimed that Gaffarena had turned to the Labour Party because the PN had refused to grant the permit. Accusing the PL of being spineless, the PN leader said the government immediately awarded the Gaffarenas with a permit for their illegally built petrol station as well as a €1.65 million expropriation deal.

The PN leader added that were it not for media reports, the Gaffarenas would have also struck a deal on Palazzo Verdelin in Valletta. “This is institutionalized corruption,” Busuttil added.

It-Torca yesterday accused Busuttil and the PN of “abusive blackmail”, claiming that in the runup to the 2013 general election, Busuttil had met Joe Gaffarena and asked for “documents related to the Daewoo scandal”. The newspaper said that, “most probably the files were requested to attack John Dalli”.

It-Torca reported that the meeting between the two was by former health minister Joe Cassar. The newspaper quotes “sources close to the PN leadership”.

It further said that Busuttil “was under the impression that Joe Gaffarena – owner of Daewoo in the mid-90s – could have provided him with important material to use it against John Dalli”.

Quoting sources, it-Torca alleged that the PN had pushed for the arrest of Dalli, during Dalligate: “But when this plan failed, Busuttil lost his interest in Joe and Mark Gaffarena and told them ‘you know what you have to do’, referring to MEPA’s refusal to grant a permit for the petrol station.”

The GWU-owned newspaper contacted Joe Gaffarena, who refused to confirm or deny the alleged case. He added that he knew Joe Cassar and could have met Busuttil when he was still deputy leader.

Statement by l-Orizzont editor Josef Caruana

L-Orizzont editor Josef Caruana said the newspaper believed in the people’s right to be informed of everything that was in the public interest. “We too are after uncovering the truth. There are a lot of things to be uncovered, including what sort of relationship existed between the Gaffarena family and the PN,” Caruana said.

The editor, who is also acting editor of it-Torca, said uncovering what went on between the Gaffarenas and the PN could shed light on “the way the PN is reacting today”.

Caruana said the newspaper had sought comments from a spokesperson for the Nationalist Party which was published in its entirety in the paper. The spokesperson said that Gaffarena had requested a meeting with Busuttil over the Qormi petrol station permit. “The reply was in the negative. The permit which was requested at the time was subsequently issued by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat,” the spokesman told it-Torca.

According to it-Torca, Gaffarena said that his original permit for the petrol station had been issued by Eddie Fenech Adami. “But after Gonzi was elected Prime Minister, and I invited him and his wife over at my house for dinner, I received a phone call from MEPA saying they would be withholding the permit,” Gaffarena said.

Gaffarena told it-Torca that he gave Net TV close to €1,500 in advertising last June - “spots which were being run during the news interval where they attacked me”.

Labour Party: Busuttil never declared his meeting with Gaffarena

In a statement, the Labour Party said the Torca report uncovered how Gaffarena met Busuttil close to the general election, something which was not known before.

“Simon Busuttil on Sunday spent half an hour throwing mud at other people but at no point did he deny the Sunday report or explain what went on during the meeting. He is filing a number of libel suits without explaining what went on in the meeting, even though there are conflicting statements,” the PL said.

The PL said this reminded people of how Busuttil had denied meeting the Gozitan whistleblower only for the whistleblower to say that Busuttil told him he should not have continued with the works if he knew the PN were going to lose the election.

“Accusations of sleaze will come back to haunt you,” the PL said.

PN: Government should take action against scandals that have shocked the nation

The Nationalist Party retorted that the government should take action on a series of scandals that “have shocked the entire nation”.

“A recent report by judge Michael Mallia confirms the dangerous links between the Gaffarenas and the Zammit, both families of which are protected, looked after, and paid hefty amounts of money by the Labour government,” the PN said in a statement.

They reiterated that Busuttil had the courage to refuse Joe Gaffarena’s request for a permit for his illegally-built petrol station, unlike the “spineless” Labour Party. 

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