Joe Brincat files libel suit against MaltaToday managing editor

Former Labour minister Joe Brincat has filed libel proceedings over an opinion piece that rekindled memories of a case in which he was arrested in Italy

Former Labour Justice Minister Joe Brincat
Former Labour Justice Minister Joe Brincat

Joe Brincat has filed for libel against MaltaToday’s managing editor Saviour Balzan over an opinion piece that recalled the time when the veteran lawyer had been arrested in Italy.

Brincat claimed that Balzan’s opinion piece, The Wrong Fight On Good Governance, suggested that he had been cleared in Italy as a result of favouritsism.

The libel application filed by Brincat himself this morning, asks the court to liquidate damages in his favour because the article exposed him to public contempt "when [Balzan] alleged that he [Brincat] had been freed from an inquiry through some favour, when in fact he was completely cleared because no crime had taken place".

The article in question made a reference to the 1987 case when Brincat had been arrested in Italy and accused of aiding and abetting a client involved in the trade of valuables.

"Had it not been for the late Guido de Marco (father of Mario) – who was PN justice minister at the time and enjoyed cosy relations with his Italian counterpart – Brincat may well have spent years behind bars. It was a riveting story that made the front-page of defunct newspaper Alternattiva, alas not one to have reached the internet years…," Balzan wrote.

In a statement released after filing the libel case this morning, Brincat said that the Italian court had set him free as there was insufficient evidence to even arrest him. 

Brincat acknowledged that Guido Demarco and Vincent Tabone went to Italy to defend him, but insisted that this fact "would have had no effect on the Italian prosecutor who had also successfully prosecuted prime ministers, ministers and politicians".

Brincat insisted he had been cleared by the Italian courts, which held that no crime had been committed, in December 1994 and had subsequently filed a human rights case before the First Chamber of the  European Commission of Human Rights due to delays in the proceedings, which he also won.

The European judgment, Brincat noted, states that he had accompanied the wife of a client who had been injured in a road accident to a scrapyard where the damaged vehicle had been taken.

The woman had then tried to retrieve a banknote, concealed in the car’s petrol tank, which had formed part of a ransom for a kidnapped person. Both the woman and Brincat had been arrested, the latter spending weeks in custody before being released.