Two Labour Party officials said in court yesterday they felt offended by Nationalist Party media allegations that they had travelled to Dubai with a group of businessmen for their own personal gain.

MLP deputy leader Charles Mangion and the party's spokesman on foreign affairs and IT, Leo Brincat, were testifying in libel proceedings before Magistrate Silvio Meli.

Dr Mangion, Mr Brincat and Charles Buhagiar, the spokesman on public transport and construction, had sued Radio 101 editor Louiselle Vassallo and journalist Nathaniel Attard.

Dr Mangion was the first to take the witness stand and explained that he headed the party delegation that went to Dubai last summer.

Before setting off, the MLP had made a public declaration announcing that is was planning to visit Dubai. On hearing this, some businessmen contacted Mr Buhagiar and expressed their interest to accompany the Labour delegation as they were interested in exploring potential business opportunities in Dubai.

Dr Mangion said Mr Buhagiar had then asked him if he had any objections to the businessmen travelling to Dubai. Dr Mangion said he did not see any problems so long as it was first cleared with Labour Leader Alfred Sant.

When Dr Sant gave his approval, the party's international secretary, Joseph Mifsud, was instructed to coordinate the trip.

Dr Mangion explained that the businessmen did not form part of the official party delegation. They were on the same flights and stayed in the same hotel but this was because they used the same tour operator.

He was questioned about an allegation that he had a commercial relationship with the businessmen. He explained that he and his wife owned a company with businessman Patrick Dalli and his wife. The company, called Elcar Developments Limited, had been set up in 1992 or 1993 and developed and sold property in Malta.

Dr Mangion added that, in line with the code of ethics, he had declared his involvement in Elcar in the statement of assets made in Parliament. He also noted that Elcar was not involved in the Dubai trip and Mr Dalli had travelled as a representative of other business.

When asked about the Nationalist media allegation that it was for personal ends that he formed part of the Labour delegation that went to Dubai with the businessmen in question, he said: "This is a lie and I have nothing to add".

He explained that the MLP had financed the trip of the Labour delegates, as it was obliged to do, but the businessmen had paid their own expenses.

He further added that the businessmen were not present during meetings that had been pre-planned, including one with Tecom. However, they were present for some events such as a visit to a land reclamation site.

Mr Brincat testified that he essentially agreed with what Dr Mangion said. He said he was never involved with the businessmen in question and denied the allegations made by the media reports adding he felt libelled by them.

He added that when he learnt that the businessmen would be going to Dubai he asked if they would be forming part of the delegation, as he did not agree with the idea, and was assured that they were not.

Lawyer Pawlu Lia represented the MLP. Lawyer Michael Zammit Maempel represented the PN media.

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