A magistrate yesterday put off a defamation case involving a former manager at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools pending the outcome of police investigations into fraud and corruption allegations.

The case, ongoing for the past year, is against Gozo contractor Giovann Vella, who is accused of tarnishing Edward Caruana’s reputation when he reported to the authorities that Mr Caruana asked him for a €30,000 bribe while he was working on a government school in Victoria.

Lawyer Joe Giglio, appearing for Mr Vella, objected to the postponement, arguing that his client was suffering a double injustice.

He said that, unlike what had happened in another case when a contractor also alleged corruption – involving former Gozo minister Giovanna Debono’s husband – Mr Vella was prosecuted after reporting it.

“Mr Vella told the authorities, including the Education Ministry, that the minister’s canvasser asked him for €30,000 to process his pending payments.

Instead of offering Mr Vella whistle-blower status so that the police could prosecute Mr Caruana, the police started proceedings against Mr Vella for tarnishing Mr Caruana’s reputation,” Dr Giglio complained.

All Gozo contractors know Mr Caruana asked for commissions

“It is incredible how this country works. Mr Vella – who was supposed to be a whistle-blower – ended up becoming a victim,” Dr Giglio continued.

He said his client had absolutely no problem with repeating in court that Mr Caruana had asked him for money and with proving his case. “All Gozitan contractors know that Mr Caruana asked for commissions on government work,” Dr Giglio added.

While acknowledging that the case in question was distinct from other claims against Mr Caruana which were being investigated by the police, lawyer Stefano Filletti, acting for Mr Caruana, argued that the court had to see whether the police would take further criminal action against Caruana.

Admitting this was an “unusual case”, Magistrate Ian Farrugia decided that, although the case would be decided upon its own merits, Mr Caruana could incriminate himself if he mentioned something that was being investigated by the police.

He said that he would give the police some more months to decide what to do about the other claims made against Mr Caruana before the case before him continued.

Earlier this week, the Times of Malta reported that although a 200-page dossier about allegations of fraud and corruption in the FTS procurement system and involving Mr Caruana and other officials was handed over six months ago, investigations by the police were still ongoing.

The dossier was submitted to the police economic crime unit last September 22 by former FTS chief executive Philip Rizzo.

A copy was also given to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

When he stepped down last December, Mr Rizzo accused Education Minister Evarist Bartolo of spending months trying to dissuade him from reporting Mr Caruana’s ‘abuse’.

The police confirmed on Tuesday that they are still “actively” investigating the FTS, pointing out that hundreds of documents had to be studied.

Mr Caruana suspended himself from the FTS on full pay pending the police investigations.

ivan.camilleri@timesofmalta.com