Labour MP with declared Gaffarena relationship wants newspaper investigated over report

Lawyer MP takes exception at newspaper’s court report that described him as a Labour MP in its headline • MP has also sued MaltaToday for defamation over report outlining his relationship with Mark Gaffarena

Labour MP Joseph Sammut
Labour MP Joseph Sammut

Labour MP Joseph Sammut has requested Speaker Anglu Farrugia “to investigate” a report by The Times which revealed that Sammut had been indicated by Mark Gaffarena’s defence counsel as a possible witness in a court case.

Court reporting is covered by privilege and any note or act submitted in a court case can be reported or access by the public.

On Saturday, The Times reported that Sammut – who at one time was a business associate of Mark Gaffarena – had been indicated as one of the witnesses called by Gaffarena to testify in his defence in the court case following the Valletta property expropriation scandal.

Addressing the adjournment in parliament, Sammut argued that the report was “unfair” and a clarification was “required”.

He took exception at the article’s headline, which correctly referred to him as a Labour MP: “If I’m working in my capacity as a lawyer, and I did not sign the letter as MP, why refer to me as an MP? It’s true that I represent the Labour Party in parliament but I am also a lawyer.”

He claimed that with no such distinction between the profession and the political life, lawyers aspiring to become politicians would have to “pack up and leave now”.

According to the newspaper, Sammut was listed as a witness “to testify on the contents of a letter he sent to the Land Department” in the name of Gaffarena and his wife. The letter was not cited in the Auditor General’s audit of the expropriation, with the report speculating that it could be one of the documents that were missing from the Lands Department file on the deal.

However, the Labour MP – who confirmed writing to the department in his capacity as Gaffarena’s lawyer – insisted that newspaper report was “incorrect” in saying that the letter was a request for expropriation of Gaffarena’s 50% share in Old Mint Street.

He insisted that the letter had been included in the report of the Auditor General, and called on the Speaker to launch an inquiry – or even ask for a police investigation – to determine how a letter that formed part of an inquiry had now gone missing.

Sammut even hit out at the author of the report as “an amateur who should find a job elsewhere” and asked the Speaker to “look into how these journalists can write such articles”.

“If Gaffarena is asking me to appear in court it’s not to defend one side or another but to testify on the contents of the letter which I sent to the Lands Department,” he said, tabling the letter in question in parliament.

“The more pertinent question is, if the letter is indeed missing, how did The Times come to know of it? The letter is mentioned in the report, so even this part is incorrect. But if so, who has the letter? How can they refer to it if it’s missing?”

In the letter dated 28 July 2014, Sammut writes to the Lands Department on behalf of Gaffarena, expressing his client’s interest in swapping his share of the Old Mint Street property with lands in Handaq, Hal Mula and Mriehel.

“The letter asks the director whether he is ready to consider Gaffarena’s request and, if the reply is in the positive, to initiate the necessary procedures so that the exchange can take place,” Sammut said.

The backbencher went on to ask what “motivated the newspaper to misguide its readers or who wanted to misguide the readers”.

Sammut has also sued MaltaToday for defamation over its newspaper reports describing him as a former business associate.

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