Speaker turned persona non grata awarded €6,000 in libel damages

A speaker at a networking forum at Smart City four years ago has been awarded €6,000 in libel damages after he was turned away as a ‘persona non grata’ at the event

A speaker at a networking forum at Smart City four years ago has been awarded €6,000 in libel damages after he was turned away as a ‘persona non grata’ at the event.

Martin Vella, former editor of Property and Life as well as the Economic Update magazines, was sued for libel twice by Anthony Micallef, a businessman and former President of the Maltese Libyan Chamber of Commerce.

The two parties had fallen out after Vella had allegedly changed his mind about buying a printer from Micallef’s company. The latter had then refused to pay for an interview and adverts which were published in the Economic Update, claiming that the content had not been up to scratch.

When Vella was asked to organize the ‘Malta-Tunisia-Libya B2B Networking Forum 2014’, by the Tunisian Embassy in Malta, he allegedly tried to get even by ensuring that Micallef was removed from the list of speakers at the event.

Days before the official inauguration of the event, Vella had sent an email to Micallef, copying a number of third parties which included the Tunisian Ambassador and high-ranking police officers, declaring that Micallef as a ‘persona non grata’, whose presence was not wanted at the event.

In another email to the Tunisian Ambassador, which is the subject of a separate libel suit, Vella had declared that Micallef was ‘a negative, destructive and obstinate person’ who had refused ‘a handshake’ in the past.

In an attempt to diffuse the embarrassing situation, the Tunisian Embassy had tried to make amends by issuing a formal invitation to Micallef, but Vella had done all he could to make sure that  the guest speaker was kept away. In the end, neither Micallef nor any representative from the Maltese Libyan Chamber of Commerce had attended the event.

Two libel suits were filed, during which Vella had alleged that the decision to declare the applicant as ‘persons non grata’ had been taken jointly by the organizing committee.

However the court, presided over by magistrate Francesco Depasquale, observed that there had been no organizing committee, all evidence indicated the defendant as the person handling the organization of the event.

In fact, an advertising brochure had expressly stated that “The Economic Update’s editor Martin Vella” was organizing the one-day business event, the court observed.

The court held that the intention of the defendant in sending the emails, had clearly been ‘to harm the plaintiff by defaming him and tarnishing his reputation with third parties.The emails were declared to be defamatory by the court, which ordered Vella to pay the plaintiff €4,000 and €2,000 in respect of the two cases.

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