The former editor of In-Nazzjon, Nathaniel Attard, has been ordered to pay €3,000 in libel damages to Leo Brincat, former Minister of the Environment and now a member of the European Court of Auditors.
The newspaper had, on November 26, 2014, published an article entitled 'Nefaq €1 miljun fuq titjiriet f'19-il xahar' with reference to the public funds allegedly spent by the then minister on work-related travel.
Magistrate Francesco Depasquale observed that between March 20, 2013 and November 5, 2014 the minister had gone abroad on 21 occasions for a total expense of €143,360, with flight expenses amounting to €82,140.
These expenses had been the subject of a parliamentary question tabled by Claudette Buttigieg on November 4, 2014, a few days before the publication of the allegedly defamatory article.
After evaluating the documents evidence as well as the testimony given by Mr Brincat and the director for corporate services within the same ministry, the court observed that the editor had presented "no proof whatsoever to justify the publication of his story".
The court remarked that Mr Attard's argument based on the notion of fair comment and value judgment was only valid if supported by 'facts that were substantially true.'
"The right to freedom of expression is no licence to tarnish the reputation of someone else," the court concluded.
For this reason the court declared the article to be defamatory and condemned the defendant to pay €3,000 in damages.
Lawyer Aaron Mifsud Bonnici was counsel to Mr Brincat.
Lawyer Peter Fenech was counsel to Mr Attard.
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