Busuttil loses libel on Labour’s challenge that he once earned less than minimum wage

No libel: court upholds 2014 PL TV spot disproving Busuttil's “less than minimum wage” claim

Former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil

A court rejected former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil’s assertion that a TV broadcast disproving his claim to have earned less than minimum wage for three years, was defamatory.

The 14 May 2014 Labour broadcast had made reference to Busuttil’s public claim that he had earned less than minimum wage for the three preceding years and that his company had taken over €1.5 million in direct orders and government contracts.

Busuttil had sued the Labour party president and executive secretary for the TV ad that said: “Simon Busuttil’s company took €1.5 million in contracts and direct orders... amongst them consultancies about pig farms, wine bars and rabbit breeding.”

But when the court presided by Magistrate Francesco Depasquale saw the replies to a number of parliamentary questions for the 1998-2013 period, it saw that the amounts paid by various ministries to the company totalled just over €1 million.

Depasquale noted that Busuttil, as part of law firm Ganado Sammut Advocates, had incorporated an EU affairs consultancy company, Europa Research and Consultancy Services Ltd (ERCS) in 2003. In 2006, another company, EMCS Investments Limited, bought 50% of the shares in ERCS. The rest of the shareholding was held by Gansam Holdings, which had as its shareholders the three lawyers who made up Ganado Sammut Advocates, including Busuttil.

ERCS Ltd was also granted a tender, together with another three companies for a biological treatment plant worth €1.9 million.

Ganado Sammut Advocates ceased operating in 2011 and so ERCS was left in the hands of EMCS as of 1 July 2012. The court noted that ERCS still exists with the same shareholders it had in the past, including Busuttil, who holds a third of the shares in Gansam Holdings which, in turn, holds half the shares of Europa Research and Consultancy Services Ltd.

Busuttil, therefore holds a 16.7% share in Europa Research and Consultancy Services Ltd.

The court therefore ruled that the comments Busuttil had complained about were substantially correct. It also pointed out that the broadcast had not singled him out, but had only spoken of a company in which he was involved, which was also proven.

The comments had been made by a political party at the apex of the electoral campaign for members of the European Parliament and “could not fail to be taken as political criticism of a political person on an issue of public interest that must be acceptable in a democratic society,” held the court.

The broadcast had been a Broadcasting Authority production and therefore the ordinary TV viewer would be well aware of the fact that the comments were being made in the context of the ongoing campaign, said the court, as well as being “intelligent enough to understand what was being said was political criticism of a political person,” in this case the Leader of the Opposition.

The broadcast comments could certainly not be taken as defamatory and libellous in his regard, held the court, as they “reflected the political thinking of the Labour Party at the time, based on facts that it had confirmed.”

The suit was dismissed with costs against the plaintiff.