Updated 10.45 with PN statement
The body that represents the legal profession in Malta is to launch an investigation into one of Yorgen Fenech's lawyers who offered hundreds of euros in cash to a Times of Malta journalist.
In a statement, the Chamber of Advocates said the allegations made against Gianluca Caruana Curran were “very serious”.
It said it had asked its committee for advocates and legal procurators to “investigate the alleged conduct” of the lawyer, one of the team defending Fenech, who stands accused of complicity in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Earlier, Times of Malta revealed how Caruana Curran had physically handed a set of €500 notes to journalist Ivan Martin at the end of a 20-minute meeting on Monday morning.
Martin rejected the cash offer, told the lawyer that he couldn’t accept payment and immediately informed his news editor.
Caruana Curran has admitted that “remuneration was offered”.
The news was met with shock and condemnation by fellow lawyers, media activists and the Caruana Galizia family.
Jason Azzopardi, who represents the family, has called for the Commission for the Administration of Justice to take “severe steps”.
The commission is a constitutional body responsible for the behaviour of judges, magistrates, lawyers and legal procurators and has the power to take disciplinary action.
In a statement, the Institute of Journalism in Malta said Martin should be “applauded for his handling of the situation” and noted that the bribery and the accepting of a bribe is a criminal act.
“The fact that an experienced defence lawyer misread the journalist’s outreach is serious enough in itself. To add to that a flagrant assumption that for the journalist to do his work, he needed a bribe speaks volumes on the kind of society we are living in today.”
Caruana Curran has claimed Martin "led us to understand that we could use his services to help neutralise the bias in the reporting in the media".
Although Martin has been a Times of Malta journalist since 2013, the lawyer insisted: "It was only after he was offered remuneration for his services, that he mentioned that he was full time with the Times of Malta".
Labour Party: A matter of grave concern
The Labour Party in a statement said it welcomed the investigation by the Chamber.
"The reported attempt of the legal representatives of Mr Yorgen Fenech to pay an independent journalist for ‘unbiased reporting’ is a matter of grave concern and a serious attempt at undermining an important pillar of democracy," it said in a statement.
"Partit Laburista welcomes the investigation by the Chamber of Advocates and reiterates its commitment to defend the right of free speech and protect journalists in their duties."
PN: Parliament must protect journalists
The Nationalist Party said its continued support towards quality journalism and deplores the reported attempt of paying to influence news reporting.
"The courage and determination shown by Times of Malta newsroom in exposing this attempt is to be applauded. Journalists in Malta face several obstacles including threats from SLAPP and bullying."
Spokesperson Therese Comodini Cachia said the reported attempt as well as these threats are serious and urgent action is needed to ensure that our journalists and newsrooms receive the protection they deserve.
While it is positive that the Chamber of Advocates has called for an investigation, parliament needs to act to ensure that journalists and free media is strengthened and protected.