A passport agent and his consulting firm have won a defamation case against a French TV which secretly filmed them discussing the application process for the controversial cash-for-passports scheme, with a court finding that the excerpts broadcast “misrepresented” them and lacked good faith.
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.
In the exposé, the journalist for the French TV channel M6 posed as a representative of potential wealthy African clients seeking a Maltese passport. The programme had branded Malta a “corruption paradise”.
The narrator claimed Chetcuti had bragged about their warm relationship with senior government ministers.
From the outset, Chetcuti said 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 proceeded to file a criminal defamation case in the French court through French criminal lawyer Henri de Beauregard.
They filed a criminal complaint against Nicolas De Tavernost, chairman of M6, a French media group, and against Bernard Berger de la Villardiere, CEO of Ligne De Front, the production company of the investigative series Inquiète Exclusif (Exclusive Inquiry).
This led to a magisterial inquiry finding sufficient grounds to indict the two media executives in criminal proceedings for breach of privacy and criminal defamation.
They were arraigned before the Criminal Court of Paris in June last year 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 not to incriminate them, and, in any case, that their claims did not insinuate any impropriety on the part of Chetcuti other than being well-versed in immigration law in a way to serve his clients better.
However, an appeal was filed, with the Appeals Court admitting 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 last week found no evidence of wrongdoing by Chetcuti or any government officials.