Contractor cleared of slander in FTS allegation of €30,000 bribe

Contractor John Vella had informed the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools that an Education Ministry official had asked for a €30,000 backhander to issue pending payments for works Vella had carried out at Gozo Sixth Form

A Gozitan construction contractor has been acquitted of slandering an Education Ministry official.

Munxar resident John Vella had informed high ranking officials of the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools that Ministry official Edward Caruana had asked for a €30,000 backhander to issue pending payments for works Vella had carried out at the sixth form in Gozo.

Vella was the contractor commissioned for the school building.

Caruana, a Technical Advisor at the Education Ministry would supervise the works and kept tabs on the project’s progress. He denied the allegation from Vella, albeit conceding that he had been invited for a family dinner by Vella.

Called to the witness stand, Minister Evarist Bartolo had testified that when he heard the allegation he had immediately taken action. He stated that payments to Vella were stopped as the works were not carried out as agreed, something that was also confirmed by the project architect, Clint Camilleri.

The Court observed that Vella had not made the allegations in public, but had reported them to his superiors.

“What certainly emerges from the evidence is that Edward Caruana made the report on 1 September 2015, and a few days later, charges of defamation were made against Vella. It doesn’t make sense that the Commissioner of Police first issued charges against Vella and then, after thinking that maybe John Vella might have been right, issued charges against Edward Caruana," the court said.

"This means that initially the Commisioner did not take Vella’s grave allegations seriously."

It also noted that the article of the law he had been charged under had since been deleted.

Magistrate Ian Farrugia acquitted Vella.

Lawyer Joe Giglio was defence counsel.