Former Nationalist Party general secretary Paul Borg Olivier has had a libel suit against Maltese daily newspaper L-Orizzont thrown out of court. 

In a judgment passed on Monday morning, a magistrate's court declared that corruption was a matter of public interest and that allegations concerning it were to be “discussed and debated fully and freely.”

Dr Borg Olivier had felt libelled by a front page article published in February 2013 titled “Between Facts and Interpretation”, just days before the March 10 general election.

The article was based on an anonymous interview with someone claiming to have been very close to PN centres of power. The author of the article made reference to allegations which emerged in a libel case concerning former PN Sliema mayor Nicholas Dimech, who was suing Malta Today.

Mr Dimech had recalled an episode back in July 2010 when the PN general secretary had allegedly called him over a tender regarding green waste, urging the mayor to award the contract to one particular bidder, namely Green MT.

GreenMT is owned by the GRTU, whose director general - Vince Farrugia - was at the time a PN candidate.

Mr Dimech had told the court that Dr Borg Olivier had called him shortly before the local council meeting which was to discuss the award of the waste collection contract.

Dr Borg Olivier denied this, saying any phone conversation he might have had with Mr Dimech concerned a totally different issue. Mr Dimech, he said, had acted out of spite since he had dismissed him from his post as Sliema mayor.

Allegations were already in public domain 

The court, presided over by magistrate Francesco Depasquale, observed that the author of the article had not only relied on the unidentified source, who was never summoned to testify, but had also based his report on allegations made public in earlier proceedings and reported in the media.

Although the alleged corruption had not been proved, the article had referred to allegations which had already been made public. Moreover, corruption allegations were a matter of public interest especially when the figure targeted by such allegations was involved “in the political sphere and therefore subject to a far stronger level of criticism and scrutiny,” the court remarked.

In a democratic society like ours, such allegations of corruption must be discussed and debated fully and freely, the court observed, dismissing the applicant’s claims.

"Nothing should hamper journalists and, even more so, common citizens, from reporting and commenting about cases of corruption or alleged corruption, because as soon as that happens a message would be sent out to those involved in these actions that the law and the courts can be used to muzzle the fight against corruption, a fact which certainly does not befit a democratic country like Malta where human rights and fundamental liberties form the foundations of our society.”

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