Cash-for-passport TV sting ‘lacked evidence, was dishonest’ says French court

Passport agent Chetcuti Cauchi wins French defamation suit after Appeals Court says M6’s Enquête Exclusive used edited footage to misrepresent and defame Maltese

Jean Philippe Chetcuti
Jean Philippe Chetcuti

The Maltese passport agent whose firm suffered a French TV sting with edited footage that cut and stitched an undercover recording, has won a French defamation lawsuit.

CC Advisors Ltd and Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates senior partner Jean-Philippe Chetcuti, had initiated legal proceedings after a French news programme in September 2019 secretly filmed the agents, portraying them as if they were bragging about political connections.

Posing as a potential buyer of Maltese citizenship, the M6 journalist had secretly filmed Chetcuti discussing the application process for the controversial cash-for-passports scheme, But a French court has found that the excerpts broadcast “misrepresented” them and lacked good faith, because it edited the footage in such a way that it misrepresented what had been said throughout the meeting.

Today the original programme no longer exists on French TV channel M6’s website, after it was removed. The programme had branded Malta a “corruption paradise”.

The narrator claimed Chetcuti had bragged about their warm relationship with senior government ministers. But as the unedited footage obtained by Chetcuti in a French court case shows, the excerpts of the conversation aired in the broadcast were fabricated and taken out of context.

Shortly after the programme, CC Advisors Ltd had its agent licence temporarily suspended until the regulator of the Individual Investor Programme completed its review of all files handled by Chetcuti Cauchi. It found no irregularities.

After winning legal proceedings requesting the full, unedited footage of the meetings from the TV channel – in which the court imposed a daily fine of €1,000 on the TV channel for resisting to release the footage – CC Advisors Ltd and Chetcuti filed a criminal defamation case in the French court against Nicolas De Tavernost, chairman of M6, and Bernard Berger de la Villardiere, CEO of Ligne De Front, the production company of the investigative series Enquête exclusive (Exclusive Inquiry).

The two men were arraigned before the Criminal Court of Paris in June 2022, but were acquitted of the charges in October when the court accepted their defence, namely that their own footage should not be used as evidence against them.

However, the Appeals Court admitted as evidence the raw footage of the secretly recorded meetings.

The French Court of Criminal Appeal recently concluded that the journalists’ allegations were “lacking in evidence, detrimental to honour and reputation, and characterised dishonest behaviour punishable under criminal law”.

“In this case, the remarks… are not based on a sufficient factual basis (and) …not in line with those made by the persons concerned during the interviews with the journalist,” the court ruled.

“In view of this misrepresentation, the benefit of good faith cannot be allowed, and the managing editor has committed a civil wrong based on public defamation of individuals, a conviction remaining proportionate to the principle of freedom of expression, the limits of which have been exceeded,” it continued.

The Paris Court of Criminal Appeal found them guilty of criminal defamation in respect of Jean-Philippe Chetcuti Cauchi and CC Advisors Ltd, condemning them to pay €4,000 in damages to Chetcuti and €2,000 to CC Advisors Ltd.

A report by the Permanent Commission Against Corruption tabled in parliament found no evidence of wrongdoing by Chetcuti or any government officials.