Ryan Mercieca loses libel case against Torċa editor

Former PN candidate Ryan Mercieca loses a libel case against former it-Torċa editor Josef Caruana after court finds that stories on sham NGOs and allegations of misuse of EU funds were 'substantially correct'

Ryan Mercieca has lost a libel case against former it-Torca editor Josef Caruana (pictured right)
Ryan Mercieca has lost a libel case against former it-Torca editor Josef Caruana (pictured right)

Ryan Mercieca, secretary of the Gozo Youth Council, has lost a libel case he filed against Josef Caruana, the former editor of it-Torca over a series of articles published in January and February 2016 in which it was alleged that Mercieca had scammed large amounts of EU funds by setting up fake NGOs.

Suspicions that Mercieca’s ‘Innovative Gozo’ was a sham NGO were also flagged by MaltaToday in May 2017.

The GYC was disbanded after evidence emerged that one of the NGOs represented on the council – Students’ Voice – was defunct and that the existence of another NGO (Xaghra Youth Groups) was dubious. Another eight NGOs were suspected of being “ghost NGOs” and although direct evidence of this was not found, it was noted that the administrative reports they had presented were “generally very weak and uneven and in most cases do not report the activities of the organisations satisfactorily”.

Merciceca who was a PN general election candidate at the time the articles went to print, had claimed that the allegations were defamatory.

But the court of Magistrates, presided by magistrate Francesco Depasquale, said it “could not but observe that the plaintiff presented a forged document and he himself misled the court by giving the impression that the money had not been passed on.”

Over a number of articles, it was alleged that Mercieca had failed to pass on financial documentation in connection with a project, that the parish priest and members of the Kor Angelicus choir had not been aware that he was nominated to represent the choir before the Gozitan NGO association and that he had not passed on money collected during activities to the entity which should have been a beneficiary.

“It emerges from the evidence that although the plaintiff contends that none of what was said is true, this was not the case. It emerges, in fact, that the plaintiff was the only person who managed the finances of EU projects involving many thousands of Euros, which although allocated to the Association would all be managed by him.” The Association would issue blank cheques to him and on one occasion he was given a payment of several thousand euros in his own name by the Association, observed the court.

It was also true that in a General Meeting of the Association, financial documentation was incomplete and could not be presented on time.  

“It also turns out that monies which should have gone to charity were not passed on until the first article was published and a tampered receipt was presented to give the impression that in fact the money had been passed on,” the magistrate said, noting that the association had been encountering problems whilst Mercieca was Secretary General and had even been the subject of an investigation by the Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations.

The facts were substantially true, said the court as it dismissed the case, although some were not entirely correct, despite the detailed investigation by the author. “As a whole they are substantially correct and therefore comments about them certainly cannot be taken as defamatory.”

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