Libyan envoy Gafà files constitutional case over ‘amateurish’ medical visa libel hearing

Neville Gafà files constitutional proceedings over ‘Babylon’ hearing in which he accuses Libyan witnesses of being coaxed

Neville Gafà
Neville Gafà

The Labour government’s ‘Libyan envoy’ Neville Gafà – an official at the Office of the Prime Minister - has filed constitutional proceedings against the Attorney General decrying the “amateurish” manner in which the last sitting in a libel case he had filed, was held.

Gafà had sued The Malta Independent editor David Lindsay for libel in 2016, over articles implicating him in the Libyan medical visas scandal. In the last sitting, held on 28 October, five witnesses testified from Libya via Skype, telling the court that Gafà had demanded thousands of euros in return for medical visas for treatment in Malta.

But in a court application filed today, Gafà’s lawyers, Edward Gatt and Mark Vassallo, said that presiding Magistrate Victor Axiaq had shown “great hostility” towards the accused and his lawyers when they opposed the production of the witnesses who had not testified before the prosecution closed its evidence in 2018.

The new witnesses had not been accompanied by any judicial authority or official in Libya “but rather, everything points to this video conferencing being a private activity organised by these individuals, or rather, by whoever is behind them.”

Gafà argued that “immediately, massive communication problems emerged”, as the individuals spoke in a Libyan dialect and not Arabic, requiring two interpreters. “At the same time, a person was identified who claimed to be their interpreter. Asked by the court what qualifications he had, this person replied that he was a teacher, but a teacher of what nobody knows for sure.”

The video quality was very bad and the picture was elongated to the point where the full faces of the interpreter and the witness were not visible, said the lawyers. Neither was it possible to ascertain that the witnesses, who testified individually, were going to separate rooms or simply gathering behind the camera, just out of shot, when not testifying.

As it was not possible to cross-examine someone who had not first testified, the court had ordered that the men testify, only for them to be “bombarded with direct questions by the defendant’s lawyer,” complained Gafà’s counsel.

To add insult to injury, said Gafà’s lawyers, the court had allowed witness Ivan Grech Mintoff, a right-wing politician who has taken up the Libyan medical visas as his cause, to be present throughout the sitting. Grech Mintoff had “actively participated in these proceedings by consistently and continuously making suggestions under his breath to the interpreter in the courtroom and consulting with the other party’s lawyer,” they said.

“Unfortunately and even if not intentionally,” the magistrate had permitted this mise en scene, organised by the defendant and the persons behind him, “to don the veil of judicial process to obscure and hide that which this testimony really was – a publicity stunt of barefaced lies by persons who did not want to return to their country.”

Denouncing the sitting as “Babylon”, Gafà said the shambolic way the video conferencing was conducted not only was not befitting a court of law, but also breached his fundamental human rights. “It is a state of fact that that which the plaintiff, in this case, is claiming was in fact much worse for those present in the courtroom and the video… clearly would be much more indicative of the Babylon which the Court of Magistrates permitted in this case.”

The court application ends with a demand that the court declare that he had suffered a breach of his right to a fair hearing and order the expunging of the entire video and relevant transcripts of testimony from the acts of the proceedings.