Court finds for MaltaToday in Austin Gatt libel over Enemalta oil scandal

MaltaToday published emails showing oil trader George Farrugia mentioning meeting with minister Austin Gatt  

Former investments minister Austin Gatt
Former investments minister Austin Gatt

Former minister Austin Gatt has lost a libel case he filed against MaltaToday over its reports on the oil scandal.

Gatt had sued for libel after MaltaToday reported that George Farrugia had allegedly met the minister over the supply of oil to the state energy corporation Enemalta.

Gatt denied ever meeting Farrugia to discuss oil procurements and in a reaction, MaltaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan said the emails MaltaToday had in its possession showed that George Farrugia had met with minister Austin Gatt, but did not in any way infer that Gatt was aware of or involved in any illicit deals.

Farrugia was implicated in a series of kickbacks paid to Enemalta officials for the procurement of oil to the state utility company.

Email correspondence, bank transfers and online chats revealed by MaltaToday show how businessman George Farrugia played a pivotal role in Enemalta’s oil procurement decisions, while oil commodities companies Total and Trafigura worked closely with Enemalta’s top officials, the former Mediterranean Oil Bunkering Corporation chief Frank Sammut and Farrugia himself.

Other correspondence showed that Farrugia did meet minister Austin Gatt during the time that Enemalta was under his responsibility, according to an email he sent to a Total representative.

Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, in his judgment acquitting Saviour Balzan, held that he had been in possession of emails which could at first glance have given the impression that Gatt was being used by Farrugia to seek an advantage.

“It emerges, finally, that the paragraph of the article which the applicant is complaining about implies that it was George Farrugia who had contact with many interested parties which included ‘also allegedly Minister Austin Gatt,’ but nowhere in the article does it impute any bad or corrupt actions to the applicant.”

Magistrate Depasquale opined that investigative journalism is needed for a lively and healthy democratic society and must be protected by the courts. The court noted with disappointment the fact that the defendant had spent four years to present his evidence piecemeal, saying the resulting delays did no good to society or to the justice system. The court dismissed the libel suit, ordering both parties to suffer their own costs.

Lawyers Veronique Dalli and Andrew Saliba were counsel to MaltaToday.

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