Caruana Galizia's drug dealing allegations about Gaffarena deemed ‘fair comment’

A libel suit filed by Mark Gaffarena against Daphne Caruana Galizia over her allegations that he might have been aware of a drug dealing operation on his property, has been dismissed

Mark Gaffarena sued for libel after a blog entry on Caruana Galizia's website alleged that Antoine ‘Cavett’ Azzopardi had been dealing on land which Gaffarena owned and had allowed him to use rent-free
Mark Gaffarena sued for libel after a blog entry on Caruana Galizia's website alleged that Antoine ‘Cavett’ Azzopardi had been dealing on land which Gaffarena owned and had allowed him to use rent-free

A libel suit filed by Mark Gaffarena against blogger and Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia, over her allegations that he might have been aware of a drug dealing operation on his property, has been dismissed.

Gaffarena sued for libel after a blog entry on Caruana Galizia's website in June 2015 alleged that Antoine ‘Cavett’ Azzopardi had been dealing drugs from an illegally-operated Qormi restaurant on land which Gaffarena owned and had allowed him to use rent-free. 

The article alleged that Azzopari was “probably also dealing drugs out of Cavett's Place, in partnership with Marco Gaffarena or behind his back in his property.”

Azzopardi had been convicted of cocaine possession in 2014 and is undergoing separate criminal proceedings on charges of trafficking cannabis. The court noted that Azzopardi had also been found guilty of operating a business without the necessary permits.

Gaffarena had said that, while he was not interested in what Azzopardi did in his private life, he had never been caught dealing drugs in the establishment which he had lent to him.

The court considered that illegal drugs and related activity were matters of public interest, as was the fact that illegal commercial operations in areas where this is not permitted – Handaq in this case – had been proliferating uncontrollably. “It doesn't appear that sufficient efforts by the competent authorities to control this have been made,” the magistrate observed.

It noted that whilst Gaffarena was a private citizen, he was also a central figure in an expropriation scandal that had led to the resignation of a government minister. The article did not accuse Gaffarena of trafficking drugs, but had only said that this might have been going on in his property, possibly without his knowledge.

The magistrate said that while he understood how the plaintiff could have felt annoyed by his being mentioned in the context of drug trafficking, the court pointed out that conclusions could be drawn by ordinary citizens in the light of the fact that Azzopardi was being allowed to use the property to operate a business, rent free. Therefore, held the court, Caruana Galizia's conclusions constituted “fair comment” and were not libellous.

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